Tens of thousands of tenants on the Central Coast, struggling to pay rent amid the economic impact of the pandemic, face the threat of eviction next month -- unless the Legislature enacts new protections by September 1.
With the legislative session scheduled to finish at the end of this month, Santa Barbara Assembly member Monique Limon is at the center of a high-stakes, high-pressure political battle to extend protections against evictions for renters and mortgage foreclosures for homeowners and mom and pop landlords.
"This is a crisis, this is an emergency," Limon told Newsmakers in a conversation from her apartment in Sacramento. "This pandemic has gone on way longer than any of us expected...and right now we are trying to find a fix for it."
As chair of the influential Banking and Finance Committee, Monique is playing a key role in seeking a compromise among and between lobbyists for the financial services industry, landlord organizations and advocates for tenants -- not to mention members of the state Senate and Governor Gavin Newsom, all of whom are engaged actively in the deliberations.
A confluence of events - the spike in unemployment ignited by the pandemic, last month's expiration of $600-a-week unemployment benefits from a federal relief bill and the looming Sept. 1 expiration of a moratorium on eviction proceedings that was imposed temporarily by the California Judicial Council - has created a doomsday deadline for at least four million renters throughout the state believed to lack the resources to pay their next month's rent.
Two key pieces of legislation -- Assembly Bill 1436 and Senate Bill 1410 -- are the vehicles through which Limon and other lawmakers are seeking a solution to the problem, which raises the specter of vast numbers of people suddenly becoming homeless. Both would extend protections that were put in place shortly after the pandemic hit last spring, and provide processes and procedures for rent and mortgage payments to be delayed,
Santa Barbara's state Senator Hannah Beth Jackson, who chairs the Judiciary Committee in her house, will preside over a crucial hearing on the issue next week.
"No one’s talking about giving anything away for free – we’re talking about giving people more time to pay their debt," Monique said. "Both on the economic and on the health side, this is not a time when we can afford to see more people end up on the street or homeless."
In our conversation, Limon also:
Emphasized her appeal for locals who may be grappling with the bureaucracy in trying to secure unemployment benefits to contact her local office for help;
Acknowledged that California's original "dimmer switch" approach to reopening the economy has not worked and said she "would be supportive" if public health officials decide on a second shutdown in the face of increasing Covid cases;
Bemoaned the failure of Congress and Donald Trump to work out a deal to expand and extend federal relief funding.
"Every single day that goes by that the federal government doesn’t tell us what the future holds...financially, is another day that we get closer to seeing people lose their homes, seeing them lose their ability to cover health care insurance and creating a greater issue for our state for the health side, the pandemic side but also the economic side," she said.
"The (political) narrative gets changed -- 'people just want freebies and don’t need it.' I have hundreds and hundreds of stories, hundreds of people who have reached out to our office who need this money," she added. "So the stories for me are very real, of people who want to go back to work, who want us to reopen, who want life to be healthier, but have these economic challenges – and that’s who we are talking about this helping."
You can watch our full interview with Assembly member Monique Limon by clicking below...and the podcast version is here.