Los Angeles County supervisors agreed on Tuesday to what they called a final small extension of a years-long eviction moratorium, which will shield tenants from being pushed out through the end of March as the county works to find tens of millions of dollars to pay back landlords.

The agreement on an extension comes just days before the Jan. 31 expiration of the current ban, which has been credited with helping reduce homelessness in the region by about half as it kept people in their homes even if they were behind on rent.

There had been a multitude of state, county and local ordinances that prohibited evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the county’s moratorium was the last legislative barrier stopping what tenants’ rights groups have been calling an eviction cliff that could start Feb. 1.

Supervisors had originally considered a more expansive extension that would have added six months of eviction protections for most renters, but it was whittled down to two months after objections by a majority of the board, who were reluctant to extend the ban.

Supervisor Janice Hahn, who chairs the board and represents the county’s 4th District, which includes Long Beach, said cities need to step up to provide better protections for renters.

“You need to be showing up at their City Council meetings and urging them to put in tenant protections for you in your cities,” Hahn said to members of the audience.

New protections approved by the supervisors Tuesday will allow households who make 80% of the area median income (about $95,300 for a family of four) who have self-certified they were financially affected by the pandemic to continue to be protected from eviction due to non-payment through the end of March.

Those households could have 12 months to make up any missed rent payments between July 2021 and the end of the extension.

The extension will also block evictions through March from being served against households for taking in people or animals who were not originally part of the lease.

Landlords and real estate groups called on the supervisors to vote against the extension, citing the years of missed rent that some have experienced and calling the rent relief “woefully inaccurate” for the amount owed to property owners.

“The consequences of doing nothing could be dire,” said Supervisor Lindsey Horvath, one of the authors of the extension. “No one should become houseless because of this crisis.”

The city of LA passed a stronger policy last week, which will prevent evictions for another six months and require landlords to pay relocation assistance to tenants that are displaced by big rent hikes. It also barred evictions of people with additional people or pets not on the lease through February 2024.

Andre Donado, project manager for Long Beach Residents Empowered, said that the group is already seeing pre-pandemic levels of evictions despite the existing moratorium still being in place. Donado added that the group would be pushing for more protections, including increased funding for legal services for tenants facing evictions.

“I want to be optimistic because we have more progressive council members right now,” Donado said. “With the declaration of emergency for homelessness, I think it gives us an opportunity to fight for homelessness prevention and more protections for renters.”

Long Beach saw its homeless population jump by 62% from 2020 to 2022 and is preparing to do its annual point-in-time count this week. Mayor Rex Richardson declared a state of emergency for homelessness this month and has linked people living on the streets to unstable living conditions.

Paul Barragan-Monge, policy director for Richardson, said prior to the supervisors’ vote Tuesday that the city was monitoring the county’s action, but Richardson’s office hasn’t proposed any policy, noting they were still working to understand the implications of the LA extension.

“Obviously if there’s inaction or action (by the county), it implicates what we’ll do in the city of Long Beach,” Barragan-Monge said.

While Long Beach did initially pass its own COVID-19 protections for renters, it eventually deferred to state and countywide policies.

The city has passed some tenant protections in recent years, but they only prevent no-fault evictions like when property owners want to renovate their units. Non-payment of rent is considered a breach of the lease and could open up tenants to eviction after the end of the county moratorium.

It’s unknown how many Long Beach households could be behind on their rent and could face eviction once the county’s moratorium expires.

Long Beach distributed about $68 million in rental assistance payments to landlords and utility providers with the help of federal relief funds distributed to cities. According to city data, that amounted to about 8,700 payments to landlords compared to the 19,438 applications that were submitted and the $230 million in aid that was requested.

The supervisors’ vote Tuesday would establish a new rental assistance program using $5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to help pay back “mom-and-pop” property owners, which the county defined as people who owned less than four rental units. Supervisors said they would work to allocate an additional $45 million to help pay back the rents for residents making 80% of the area median income.

Supplemental income and rental assistance received by tenants and eviction moratoriums have been credited with keeping the region’s homeless population dramatically lower, according to researchers at the Economic Roundtable whose December 2022 report, “Breaking the Fall,” estimated that these efforts likely cut the rate of growth for homelessness by 43%.

Dan Flaming, president of the Economic Roundtable, said eviction moratoriums were the most powerful of the interventions implemented by local governments in preventing homelessness.

“Prevention is really important to the extent that we can keep people from becoming homeless,” Flaming said. “It’s a much more feasible and cost-effective solution than trying to provide permanently subsidized housing down the road.”

Flaming called the county’s efforts to pay back landlords a thoughtful policy because mom-and-pop operators are critical to a healthy housing market.

“It would be very damaging to the efforts to keep people housed and the effort to expand the housing inventory if small landlords retreat from the market,” Flaming said.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.