Legislation Would Create New “Homelessness Prevention Fund,” Provide Legal Representation to Renters Most at Risk of Displacement and Homelessness; Approval Follows Growing National Momentum for Right-to-Counsel Programs
SACRAMENTO, CA — COVID-19 has exacerbated already concerning rates of eviction and homelessness, with an estimated 13.2 million adults—nearly 1 in 5 renters—behind on rent payments due to the pandemic. Data has shown that evictions are not only caused by economic hardships but are themselves a root cause of poverty and homelessness, as nearly 50% of homeless adults list evictions or rent-related issues as a contributor to their homelessness.
Last week, the California Legislature passed legislation to establish a statewide eviction defense program in California. The bill, AB 187, authored by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, would create a new “Homelessness Prevention Fund” to support education, outreach, and direct legal services aimed at preventing displacement and homelessness for particularly vulnerable California renters.
“Preventing evictions is key to addressing California’s homelessness crisis, particularly given the devastating impacts of COVID-19 on our most vulnerable renters,” said Assemblymember Gabriel. “As pandemic-related protections begin to expire, our eviction defense program will address one of the root causes of the current crisis and help prevent homelessness before it begins. It builds upon an approach that has been proven to protect vulnerable communities, save taxpayer resources, and improve the fairness and efficiency of our judicial system.”
The Legislature’s approval of AB 1487 follows growing national momentum for eviction defense programs. Notably, after the Supreme Court rejected the Biden Administration’s most recent eviction moratorium last month, senior administration officials sent a letter to state and local government leaders encouraging the use of federal dollars to support right-to-counsel and eviction diversion strategies.
“COVID-19 has devastated countless Angelenos, and our most vulnerable residents need our support now more than ever. For people facing the threat of eviction, Assemblymember Gabriel’s bill represents a legal lifeline that can mean all the difference to keep them safe and in stable housing,” said LA Mayor Eric Garcetti in a statement last week.
San Francisco Assemblymember David Chiu added, “Tenants are consistently underrepresented in legal proceedings. The lack of legal representation leads to increased displacement and housing insecurity. I’m grateful for the support of our colleagues to ensure at-risk tenants can access the legal representation they deserve.”
AB 1487 is also supported by a number of legal services, tenants’ rights, faith-based, and anti-poverty groups.
Sasha Harnden of the Inner City Law Center noted, “This fund will ensure that we deploy eviction prevention resources in the most effective manner possible, allowing us to respond to issues as they arise to keep vulnerable renters housed. This is a key component to preventing displacement and homelessness, protecting the public health, and securing an equitable recovery shared by all Californians.”
“This bill is a critical step toward ensuring that legal aid is funded for all vulnerable tenants, the majority of whom are currently unrepresented and without help. Expanding and strengthening California’s legal aid network is a major step in the right direction to keep families safe and in their homes,” said Lorin Kline of Legal Aid Association of California.
Francisco Dueñas, Housing Now! added, “The prolonged global pandemic has exacerbated the housing insecurity many renters throughout California feel. If we are to stem the crisis of homelessness, we must provide vulnerable renters the protections they need to stay in their homes.”
The measure now heads to Governor Newsom’s desk, where it must be signed or vetoed by October 10, 2021.