San Jose: Mayor Proposes Protections for Renters Affected by Government Shutdown

Wednesday, January 23, 2019
Emily DuRuy with John Woolfolk
San Jose Mercury News

With the government shutdown dragging on and hundreds of federal workers in San Jose set to miss a second paycheck on Friday, Mayor Sam Liccardo is proposing prohibiting landlords from evicting tenants affected by the current gridlock in Washington.

In a memo Wednesday to the City Council, Liccardo suggested the city adopt an ordinance that would put a temporary moratorium on allowing landlords to evict certain tenants for not paying rent.

“Just as surely as Will Rogers could find no trick to being a humorist when you have the government working for you, there’s no difficulty crafting a horror story when the government shuts down,” the mayor told reporters Wednesday afternoon at City Hill. “We’re trying to save our federal employees from the federal government.”

In recent days, reports have surfaced of federal workers selling prized possessions to try to make ends meet and taking on extra gigs, like driving for Uber, to keep their families fed and warm.

Ashley McQueen is a single mother of three kids aged 10 and under living in San Jose. When she accepted a job working at NASA Ames, she thought the work would be rewarding and stable. Now, she’s furloughed, delivering groceries for Instacart and contemplating sending her children back to the Washington, D.C. area to live with family.

“It would truly break my heart,” McQueen, 33, said. “It would have a huge impact on the kids’ lives but I really don’t want them to see me struggle.”

Not having to worry about getting evicted, she said, would be a huge relief.

“I think that’s incredible,” she said, “and I’m lost for words.”

Tenants covered by the ordinance, the mayor said, should include those with federal housing vouchers or subsidies and federal employees or contractors who are not being paid because of the shutdown. The ordinance would last for 90 days or 30 days after the shutdown, whichever is first. If the shutdown runs longer, the council could extend the protections.

The City Council is expected to consider the idea at a special meeting Thursday, where San Jose is already expected to finalize a short-term loan program to pay Transportation Security Administration officials and other airport workers. If the council passes the ordinance, it would take effect immediately.

“Every tenant deserves some reasonable level of assurance that the dysfunction of Washington, D.C., will not leave their families sleeping on the street,” Liccardo wrote in the memo.

It’s unclear whether any tenants in San Jose who are affected by the shutdown have actually faced eviction and the city doesn’t know exactly how many local tenants would stand to benefit. But according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, nearly 177 federal rental assistance contracts covering more than 7,000 units have expired or are close to expiring, and that doesn’t include federal workers who don’t use vouchers but are struggling to pay rent in one of the nation’s most expensive housing markets.

“With us heading to Friday with a second paycheck being missed,” Liccardo said, “it would seem as though the footprint’s in the snow.”

To ease the burden on landlords, the mayor wants the city to consider temporarily waiving certain taxes and fees, such as occupancy fees and business license taxes. Tenants would be expected to pay all rent due once the shutdown is over and their backpay arrives. And the ordinance would not prevent landlords from going to court to recoup unpaid rent in the future, if tenants don’t oblige.

There already are some protections for Section 8 voucher holders. Federal law bars landlords from holding them accountable when the local housing authority cannot pay, and the local division of the California Apartment Association is encouraging members not to evict federal employees who can’t pay. But the law doesn’t cover all tenants affected by the shutdown and not all landlords will voluntarily comply.

In a statement, Joshua Howard, the senior vice president of the California Apartment Association, said the group applauds the mayor’s goal to protect workers, but pushed back at the proposed ordinance.

“Rather than create a new law,” Howard said, “it would be more appropriate for the city to provide interest-free loans to all individuals impacted by the government shutdown.”

Residents worried about being late on a rent payment, Howard continued, should talk to their landlord.

“We are confident that rental property owners will exhibit understanding under these difficult circumstances and work to keep residents in their homes,” he said.

Transportation Security Administration canine handler Nick Sandoval said that he’s been coming to work every day hopeful the funding standoff will end soon, but worried about paying rent on his downtown San Jose apartment. He hasn’t approached his landlord yet, but is hopeful the owner will understand.

“I have to talk to them and let them know I won’t be able pay it,” Sandoval said Tuesday afternoon, before the mayor released his proposal. “I’m almost expecting them to understand. But you never know. They’re under no obligation to give me any leeway.”

The ordinance would change that.

Blasting the federal government for failing to end the gridlock, Liccardo said San Jose would do whatever it can to help the city’s residents.

“We are doing what local communities throughout the country are doing,” the mayor said, “and that is pulling together.”


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