Measures needed to protect San Francisco North Bay renters
On Oct. 19, no stopgap measure can or will prevent the eviction of the Camacho-Barbosa family, featured in The Press Democrat on Sept. 1. This is the reality Sonoma County tenants face as a result of the failure to enact comprehensive tenant protections at every level of government.
Even still, the Camacho-Barbosa’s need to remain housed during the pandemic and others like them is repeatedly overshadowed by a narrative prioritizing the concern of “mom and pop” landlords. In essence, it is the ‘All Lives Matter’ response to calls for racial justice, only in this case we’re talking housing justice.
In Sonoma County, the livelihoods of 15,000 homeowners with the privilege to own multiple properties outweigh the basic needs of 40% of households who rent, including 10,800 households identified by the Bay Area Equity Atlas as facing an imminent risk of eviction resulting from the public shelter-in-place health order first adopted on March 17.
The time is now to dispel this toxic narrative employed by real estate lobbyists and their beneficiaries, that displacement is one’s own fault, and take steps towards a future with the means to vanquish the housing crisis. Let us imagine collective home ownership as a reality for the Camacho-Barbosa family and among each of the remaining 10,800 Sonoma County tenant households who quite literally are facing loss of life, not just property.
The ‘strong protections’ called for amidst the ‘dual pandemics’ of COVID-19 and racism, have not come to fruition. Foreclosures, stress sales, etcetera are rarely imminent matters of life and death. The wide racial and wealth gaps in our local housing landscape must not be viewed as isolated issues in need of servicing.
Ofelia Camacho-Barbosa’s uncertainty for her parents’ health and her family’s future will continue given the limited scope of federal, state and local tenant protections-but it may not be too late. We need fiercely bold and transformative action to correct an inequitable system compromised from its foundation.
Rental assistance for the next six months of rent payments is a necessary stopgap response to immediately prevent tenants from mass evictions.
However, any rental assistance program must include debt assistance to relieve tenants who have accrued debt as a result of missed payments. A letter from the Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative sent to the Board of Supervisors indicates that a median income household cannot reasonably pay back missed rent payments in less than twelve months.
With the impending recession caused by the pandemic poised to possibly extend into 2024, according to a recent study from the Sonoma County Economic Development Board (EDB), a mere 60-day eviction moratorium following the end of the local state of emergency is a pittance for Sonoma County tenants.
Moreover, many of the roughly 37,000 undocumented residents in Sonoma County have not received unemployment benefits or traditional forms of financial assistance. Many organizations including the Sonoma County Tenants Union are in strong support of a direct-to-tenant rental assistance and debt relief program including a partnership between the county and local service providers to administer funds appropriately.
Recently, the North Bay Organizing Project proposed allocating a portion of the $245 million dollar PG&E settlement to allow families who won’t receive rental assistance and lack protection from eviction like the Camacho-Barbosa family — to remain in their homes. This proposal for funding must be coupled with the following legislative framework that exists elsewhere in the Bay Area:
“The Community Opportunity to Purchase Act (COPA) gives qualified nonprofit organizations the right of first offer, and/or the right of first refusal to purchase certain properties offered for sale in the City (San Francisco). COPA was created to prevent tenant displacement and promote the creation and preservation of affordable rental housing.”
With COPA enacted locally and funding provided to community based organizations with the capacity to spearhead this transformative effort, we can keep the Camacho-Barbosa family housed in a manner that ensures their well being for the remainder of the pandemic and well beyond into the future. Let us follow the examples of jurisdictions such as San Francisco and Oakland that have enacted this type of legislation.
Protected forever...from real estate speculation, that’s what this spells. With the near constant ploy by developers to reduce construction of affordable housing as evident with the Montage resort in Healdsburg, Sonoma County tenants cannot allow the status quo to continue. It’s time to bridge this historic gap for tenants, who have received the short end of the stick of housing discrimination for decades.
The Community Opportunity to Purchase Act would offer stability to the Camacho-Barbosa family that couldn’t, and can’t exist under the present framework that systematically excludes tenants from the right to safe and dignified shelter.