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California Legislature Approves Statewide Eviction Defense Program for Vulnerable Tenants

 

 September 16, 2021

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 — This week, the California Legislature passed legislation to establish a statewide eviction defense program in California. AB 1487 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. The measure now heads to Governor Newsom’s desk, where it must be signed or vetoed by October 10, 2021.

“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.”

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. While tenants are almost always unrepresented in eviction-related legal proceedings, those that do secure legal counsel are able to avoid disruptive displacement 95% of the time.

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.

AB 1487 is a top priority for a broad coalition of more than 50 leading legal services, tenants’ rights, faith-based, and anti-poverty groups.

Elected Officials and Community Leaders Support for AB 1487:

  • ​​“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.”-Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti
  • “California desperately needs a fund dedicated to eviction prevention services for tenants with low incomes. In the midst of an economic, housing, and health crisis, our state must devote its considerable budget surplus to support struggling families, and to ensure that local jurisdictions have the tools they need to advance our recovery and protect residents. As it stands, the legal system is set up primarily to protect property owners and people with wealth, which means California’s low-income tenants, most of whom are Black and brown, are especially vulnerable now – they need and deserve more protection. We appreciate Assemblymember Gabriel’s leadership on this important issue.” – Tina Rosales, Western Center on Law & Poverty
  • “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.” – California State Assemblymember David Chiu (D – San Francisco)
  • “We are proud to stand in strong support of AB 1487, which creates a fund for critical eviction prevention services that are needed now more than ever. 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.” – Sasha Harnden, Inner City Law Center
  • “Eradicating homelessness starts with fighting its root causes. By protecting at-risk tenants, we can reduce evictions, displacements, and ultimately, prevent homelessness. This is why I am proud to co-lead AB 1487 to establish a statewide eviction defense program.” – California State Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D – Los Angeles)
  • “We applaud Assemblymember Gabriel’s leadership and long commitment to increasing legal services for low-income 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.” – Lorin Kline, Legal Aid Association of California
  • “Housing Now! is proud to sponsor AB 1487. As a statewide coalition representing tenants across California, we believe this is a critical measure to ensure California’s speedy recovery, the long-term stability of our state’s 17 million renters, and to advance racial justice. Estimates are that more than 2 million Californians were behind on rent in July with over 73% of them being people of color—the very communities most impacted by COVID and targeted most for evictions.” – Francisco Dueñas, Housing Now!
  • “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. Thanks to Assemblymember Gabriel, California once again leads the way by providing fair and equitable access to local legal representation for low-income tenants that are the most at risk of eviction.” – Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin de Léon
  • “The ability of an individual to adequately address fundamental questions such as their ability to remain housed should not depend on whether they can afford an attorney. But sadly, in California, we face a serious justice gap, with there being just one attorney for every 10,000 eligible low-income clients. Assemblymember Gabriel’s bill helps address the most pressing access to justice issue we currently face by building upon existing programs to increase the number of legal aid lawyers available to help individuals and families faced with housing insecurity and homelessness. Providing this support is the only way we can protect people’s lives and stave off a worsening of California’s homelessness crisis.” – Diego Cartagena, Bet Tzedek Legal Services

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