Pasadena Needs to Do More to Fight COVID-19 Eviction Crisis

OPINION

A dome is seen from an arch

Pasadena City Hall (Photo – W.K.)

2020, now mercifully almost two-thirds over, will go down in history books as the year which defied our most dire predictions. And the figures are grim; over 150,000 dead from COVID-19, nearly 600 killed by police violence in 2020 alone, and an impending economic recession to outdo the 2008 catastrophe. We can add to this ignominious list of late-capitalist calamities; an estimated 30-40 million forced from their homes in the looming national eviction crisis.

By Matthew Sorrenti

On July 16, Rosana Sastrami, a single mother of six-month-old twins in Vallejo, California, was evicted from her mobile park home amid the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing her and her family to live out of their car. Because Sastrami was classified as an employee of the property owner, she was not entitled to same emergency protections as other tenants, but we can anticipate hundreds of thousands of more stories like hers, as California families and children face evictions in what UCLA Law professor Gary Blasi calls “UD Day.” 

UD Day

“UD Day,” or “Unlawful Detainer Day,” will not just be just one day, but a recurring series of eviction waves as state, county, and local emergency protections (often misleadingly referred to as “moratoria”) are set to expire. According to Professor Blasi’s extensive research, nearly 600,000 workers in Los Angeles County alone have lost their jobs as of May, the vast majority are low-wage workers, and we can anticipate approximately 365,000 evictions as a result. What is currently standing in the way of these evictions? California Judicial Council’s Rule 1 order, which prohibited courts from issuing summons of UD, or eviction, cases. While Rule 1 was intended to stay in place for the duration of the pandemic and 90 days after the state of emergency ended, the Judicial Council on August 13 voted to end Rule 1 and Rule 2 protections against foreclosure, effective September 1. The question now is not “Is UD Day is coming?” but “What can be done to fight it?”

As Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye stated, “The judicial branch cannot usurp the responsibility of the other two branches on a long-term basis to deal with the myriad impacts of the pandemic.” This is a not-so-subtle hint to Governor Newsom and the Legislature to step up and show real leadership on this issue. AB 1436 (Chiu) could stop UD Day in its tracks by converting rental debt into consumer debt, allowing the landlord to still collect unpaid rent in civil court, but protecting the tenants’ credit score and, most crucially, protecting them from eviction for unpaid rent due to a loss of income caused by COVID-19. Yet, neither Governor Newsom, nor our Pasadena representatives in Sacramento, Assemblymember Chris Holden and State Senator Anthony Portantino, have taken a position on AB 1436 (Chiu) or the principle that no tenant should be forced out into the streets amid a pandemic. In November, voters will have the chance to finally toss out the antiquated anti-rent control Costa Hawkins law by passing Proposition 21 and giving local government the agency to pass rent control. How can California hope to flatten the curve if we allow mass displacement?

Can Pasadena lead?

So far, amid one of the most historic summers in recent memory, Pasadena City Hall has missed multiple opportunities to demonstrate real leadership on behalf of the people. In July our city representatives failed tenants by passing weak emergency protections. Just recently, against a backdrop of massive uprisings and calls to defund the police, the city council once again failed to pass even the modest demand for police oversight. Indeed, the city council seems dead set on allowing any real progressive change, despite the fact that the gentrification of northern Pasadena will only be made much worse by COVID-19. What the council can do, which would help to fill a much needed gap in our justice system, would be to guarantee the right to counsel for every Pasadena tenant.

  • We can call and email our representatives in Sacramento to pass AB 1436 and create laws to make the intended protections of Rule 1, no evictions during a pandemic, permanent.
  • We can support Prop 21 and join our local tenants union (of which I am a volunteer organizer).
  • But we must also hold our city representatives accountable. Pasadena can either be a city that leads, or a city that falls short.

Matthew Sorrenti is a volunteer organizer with the Pasadena Tenants Union. Opinions stated are his own and do not represent any organization.

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