Feared eviction wave swells as Long Beach renter protection, federal aid runs out

As local, county and state eviction moratoriums sunset or near their final days, advocates fear a looming wave of evictions that could exacerbate homelessness in Long Beach.

The city’s eviction moratorium ended on Sept. 30, and housing advocates have upped the pressure on city officials to intervene. Two weeks ago, tenants from two apartments on the outskirts of Downtown marched down a busy Pine Avenue, denouncing rent increases and allegations of tenant harassment.

The marchers also visited the apparent apartment complex where Councilwoman Mary Zendejas lives to pressure her to support laws that would protect them from eviction.

Norberto Lopez, project director with Long Beach Residents Empowered, said aid for tenants at the local level is drying up. The county’s temporary eviction moratorium was only extended by one month before it was set to expire Oct. 30.

“We are racing against the clock to keep people home by preventing evictions,” he said.

A state law offers some eviction protections and support for landlords, however, it will sunset on Feb. 1, which worries Mike Murchison, a local lobbyist for property owners.

“The pandemic won’t end on Feb. 1,” Murchison said.

This has left tenants and property owners alike facing uncertainty as to what protections could come later down the line.

Andrew Mandujano, an organizer with Long Beach Tenants Union, said the recent extension for the county’s eviction moratorium that ends Nov. 30 is helpful for the tenants he has worked with, but he says the problem for them will still exist.

“We’re just kicking the can farther down the road,” he said. He and his colleagues have been asking the City Council to intervene and enact laws that protect renters from evictions and harassment.

Another uncertainty residents face is the lack of future federal aid. Lawmakers in March were able to agree on a coronavirus relief bill—the CARES Act—a $2.2 trillion economic rescue package in which some individuals received $1,200 stimulus checks.

Long Beach received approximately $40 million in CARES Act funding, some of which was distributed through loans to some business owners. Through this program, money could go to renters for home repairs, but landlords had to approve.

And the city’s Emergency Rental Assistance program, which received over 2,000 applications, was partially funded with federal aid. Last month, the city began distributing checks worth $1,000 through a lottery system because there wasn’t enough funding for everyone who applied.

The Trump Administration this month called off ongoing negotiations between Democrats and Republicans to agree on a second rescue package until after the Nov. 3 election. Long Beach stood to lose roughly $189 million in funding.

“It’s very unfortunate,” City Manager Tom Modica told the Post previously. “Clearly, there’s a need for it.”

Modica said it was those federal dollars that were used to fund specific causes such as housing and education.

Alongside calls for eviction protections, advocates have also called for tenant harassment protections as some renters allege some landlords are using scare-tactics to evict tenants. The marchers from two weeks ago targeted a specific landlord, Bradley Johnson, who did not respond to calls for comment.

Vice Mayor Dee Andrews reintroduced a tenant harassment policy to the City Council on Tuesday, which came about after his office received complaints about Johnson, who tenants say removed security doors from their building and gave some of the tenants a 60-day notice to vacate for rehabilitation of the unit—a move advocates say defies the county’s eviction moratorium.

The council voted 5-3 to craft the new anti-harassment ordinance—however, as currently written, the ordinance wouldn’t be enforced by the city. Tenants would still have to sue in civil court.

A couple living in a Central Long Beach apartment complex told the Post in Spanish that they were previously infected by COVID-19 and for months did not receive pay as they stayed home to recuperate.

Their shared anxiety is that one day they’ll come home and see that their possessions have been brought out from their homes and their doors are locked.

One of the couple’s neighbors, Rosa Delmy Villasenor said the uncertainty of her housing situation gave her anxiety attacks, and her son experienced thoughts of suicide as a result of the stress.

But through the constant worrying, she reassured her family that they would make it through the pain.

“Life is like this sometimes,” Villasenor said in Spanish. “Sometimes we fall, but I tell them we’re going to be OK.”

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Sebastian Echeverry is the North Long Beach reporter through the Report for America program. Philanthropic organizations pledged to cover the local donor portion of his grant-funded position with the Long Beach Post. If you want to support Sebastian's work, you can donate to his Report for America position at lbpost.com/support.
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