LOS ANGELES – After COVID-19 came in like a wrecking ball, smashing the lives and livelihoods of Californians, anguished renters and housing justice advocates momentarily breathed a sigh of relief when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 3088, a compromise bill intended to forestall a predicted tsunami of evictions. But soon the panicked gasping began again as renters realized AB 3088 was generating more of a confusing fog of war than clarity – a crisis Proposition 21 is designed to clear up and ease, as protesters made clear on Sept. 1.
Supporters for the Yes on 21 campaign joined a coalition action to stop evictions, planned before the AB 3088 was signed. While Proposition 21 is an important piece in solving the housing crisis, the Yes of 21 campaign has not taken an official position on the new law while also supporting grassroots activism that calls attention to how millions of renters face eviction or the loss of their homes.
Proposition 21 is the November ballot measure that puts limits on unfair, sky-high rent increases. It protects people against predatory landlords and keeps people in their homes. It’s supported by trusted civil leaders and organizations, such as U.S. Bernie Sanders, labor and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the California Democratic Party, and numerous others.
The passage of AB 3088 caused local lawmakers to be concerned that unintended consequences will undermine local control – a provision specifically provided for in Prop. 21.
“The new law, dubbed the Tenant, Homeowner, and Small Landlord Relief and Stabilization Act of 2020, preempts tenant-protection ordinances passed by cities throughout California. Though the bill grandfathers in municipal ordinances already enacted, it does not allow cities to extend them after they expire,” Courthouse News reports.
“We are likely to see confusion both on the part of landlords and tenants about what protections apply to them — and likely to see some group of landlords trying to circumvent” the new law, Sasha Harnden, a public policy advocate with Inner City Law Center, told the Los Angeles Times.
On Sept. 1, as the L.A. City Council debated spending nearly $10 million on new program for “emergency eviction defense” in court, out City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell said he was still studying the state law but expressed concerns that AB 3088 could override some local protections. Listing renters protections in the city ordinance, O’Farrell said, “All of these protections are now in question.”
“The legislative cycle has ended and the window to help 17 million renters closed with AB 3088, the atrocious compromise bill that Gov. Newsom and the State Legislature reached with the blessing of the California Apartment Association (CAA) and other landlord lobbyist groups,” the coalition said in a press release before the demonstration. “AB 3088 is about landlords collecting rent rather than protecting tenants. AB 3088 will saddle renters with nearly a year of back rent with no forgiveness and no protections against eviction. Rent debt will claim the economic future of millions of renters in California, many of whom lost their jobs and wages by no fault of their own.”
Renters and housing justice advocates did not take the anxious confusion lightly. In what Trinidad Ruiz, Campaign Organizer for Housing Is A Human Right, described as a “brilliant show of solidarity,” more than 10 organizations and nearly 200 tenants carrying signs with slogans saying “#cancelrent” and “#noevictions” shut down the Stanley Mosk Courthouse. They noted it’s “the epicenter of eviction orders issued against tenants in Los Angeles.”
“Until the governor and the state legislature gets it right, tenants won’t stop fighting for our housing, for canceled rent, and an end to evictions during a pandemic,” says Rev. Rae Chen Huang, Lead Organizer for LA Voice, member of Faith in Action.
“The weak protections that Newsom passed through AB 3088 and the recent unenforceable and unresourced statement by the Trump administration offers no long term solutions for renters,” Huang says. “Simply, all the protections that are being offered only delays and temporarily anesthetizes the cancer that has leached the working class of their dignity and livelihood. If our elected leaders are genuinely committed to repairing the racist and classist structures that continue to displace our working families and individuals, they would create a legislative path towards debt forgiveness and community-based and community-rooted ownership of land and property.”
Karen Ocamb is an award-winning journalist and staff writer for the Yes on 21 movement.