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Stopping foreclosures, protecting renters—LA braces for economic fallout from coronavirus

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“You will not lose your housing during this crisis because you can’t make the rent,” mayor says

Under an order issued by the mayor on Sunday, an eviction moratorium is already in place in the city of Los Angeles.
Liz Kuball

The Los Angeles City Council is moving to advance a broader moratorium on evictions, as the novel coronavirus bruises the local economy.

At a meeting that lasted for eight hours on Tuesday, stretching from morning to night, the council advanced dozens of proposals to help cushion the impacts of the outbreak. One proposal would strengthen the mayor’s order barring landlords from evicting tenants, both commercial and residential, who are unable to pay rent.

“For too many of our residents, coronavirus has the potential to be devastating health-wise and economically,” said council president Nury Martinez. “When I talk about the working poor being one life emergency away from being homeless—this is that emergency.”

Individually and together with other measures introduced today, the moratorium would build upon an executive ordered issued Sunday night by Mayor Eric Garcetti to freeze evictions.

The City Council’s proposal would give tenants up to 12 months to pay back their rent, instead of the six months provided for residential tenants and three months provided for commercial tenants under the mayor’s moratorium.

Renters who are “hanging on by their fingernails” are “not going to be able to pay this back quickly,” said councilmember Mike Bonin.

Bonin, who coauthored the motion, said he wants to ensure tenants would not be required to show proof that they were impacted by COVID-19, as the mayor’s order implies. But the city attorney’s office and head of the city’s housing department cast doubt on whether that would be legal.

To aid property owners, another proposal would mandate that banks and financial institutions “suspend mortgage foreclosures and mortgage late fees for the duration of the public health crisis.”

Another would require employers to show “just cause” when terminating employees. Workers who are terminated would have to be let go in order of seniority, and they’d “have right of first refusal to return to jobs once businesses reopen.” Another would create a “local emergency leave program” to give low-wage workers 14 days of paid leave during a major disaster or public health emergency.

Most of the proposals will require further action by the city attorney’s office and the council before they would go into effect.

Under an order issued by the mayor on Sunday, an eviction moratorium is already in place in the city of Los Angeles.

Initially designed to protect renters in residential properties, the eviction moratorium was expanded tonight to apply to commercial tenants who are able to show “an inability to pay rent due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“You can be rest assured that you will not lose your housing during this crisis because you can’t make the rent,” Garcetti said in announcing the moratorium.

The order covers income losses related to workplace closures, child care expenses due to school closures, and health care costs tied to having COVID-19 or caring for family or household members who have the disease.

The eviction moratorium is part of new guidelines and efforts that Garcetti has laid out to stem the spread of virus and curb the economic impacts already being felt by many workers.

As the city encourages people to stay home, there has been increasing attention on populations who do not have a permanent home and their difficulties following these directives.

On Saturday, two formerly homeless mothers and their children “reclaimed” a Caltrans-owned home in El Sereno that was vacated for the now abandoned 710 freeway extension.

“I’m fighting not just for myself, but for other people that have children, and for seniors, who are the most vulnerable,” said Martha Escudero, one of the women who moved into the house. “We can’t let those children and seniors be on the streets.”

The group calls itself Reclaiming Our Homes. Its members are calling for major investments in public housing and would like to see vacant housing used immediately to give people without homes a place to safely wait out the public health emergency.

Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, says he’s worried about renters being able to get access to information about their rights right now. So many organizations run walk-in clinics, or have first-come, first-served policies that require waiting in a big room with others.

Gross says he’s meeting with his staff and the attorneys that offer services to their clients to figure out how they are going to move forward—without compromising anyone’s health.

The city of LA’s housing and community investment department, which handles housing inspections and enforces the city’s rent stabilization ordinance, has closed its walk-in counters. But residents can call (866) 557- RENT or (866) 557-7368 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday or submit questions online.