Palo Alto plans to adopt on Monday an emergency moratorium on residential evictions — a move that city leaders hope will help residents who have been laid off and are struggling to pay rent as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
With the moratorium, the City Council is looking to follow the lead of San Jose and San Francisco, each of which has recently prohibited residential evictions. San Francisco Mayor London Breed also had announced on Tuesday a moratorium on evictions for small- and medium-sized commercial tenants, a measure that San Jose is also preparing to adopt.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has already signed an executive order stating that local laws to prohibit eviction of residential and commercial tenants due to nonpayment of rent related to COVID-19 will not be pre-empted by state law over the course of the emergency.
While Palo Alto's urgency ordinance pertains only to residential evictions, a report from the office of City Attorney Molly Stump, asks the council to consider following the leads of San Francisco and San Jose and potentially adopting a ban on commercial evictions.
The report from Stump's office cited the substantial economic damage that the coronavirus crisis is causing to the city and the region. As businesses close or reduce hours to comply with orders from public-health officials, workers will "suffer significant wage loss due to layoffs or reduced work hours," the report states. Others will lose income either because they are sick with COVID-19, are caring for someone who is sick, are self-quarantining or are caring for children as schools are closed.
"Many tenants have experienced sudden income loss, and more severe income impacts are anticipated in the coming weeks. The loss of wages caused by the effects of COVID-19 may impact tenants' ability to pay rent, leaving them vulnerable to eviction," the report states.
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Housing activists and tenant advocates have urged the city to move ahead with the moratorium on evictions. Mitch Mankin, policy and advocacy associate at SV@Home, a nonprofit that supports affordable housing, urged the council to take action to protect the city's most vulnerable residents.
"We know that everyone is being impacted by this public health crisis and that the most vulnerable members of our community, especially those who are housing insecure or experiencing homelessness, are being hit the hardest," Mankin wrote.
Annette Kirkham, senior attorney at Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, provided a draft ordinance for the council to adopt and argued in a letter that the city should immediately move ahead with an urgency law prohibiting landlords from filing nonpayment-of-rent evictions through the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.
The letter, which Kirkham wrote on behalf of her organization as well as Sacred Heart Community Service and Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County, also urges the city not to perform any "homeless encampment sweeps and abatements" during this time.
"We are in an unprecedented public health crisis, and those who are low-income, and are already highly rent-burdened are most at risk during this crisis," Kirkham wrote. "There are many different ways renters' incomes will likely be impacted, including illness, illness of a family member, work closures due to lost customers or governmental restrictions on public activities, absences from work due to school closures, and lost clients or work for those who are self-employed or work in the 'gig' economy for companies such as Uber or Doordash."
Palo Alto resident Annette Isaacson made a similar plea.
"Many house cleaners in Palo Alto are being laid off due to the coronavirus, and they are just the tip of the iceberg," Isaacson wrote. "Many folks have less than $400 in savings. They will not be able to pay their rent."
Under the proposed ordinance that the council will consider Monday, the moratorium would remain in effect for the duration of the local public health emergency proclaimed by the county. While the March 16 order is set to expire on April 7, Newsom had indicated recently that the public-health emergency will likely stretch for months.
To qualify for the ordinance's protections, tenants would be required to document the income losses they have suffered because of COVID-19 and provide them to their landlords. Tenants also would be responsible for payment of rent once they are able to pay or after the end of the public health emergency.
The ordinance also gives residents 120 days from the end of the state of emergency to make full payment of the back rent, according to the reports.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.