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By Grace Hase

More than 43,000 Santa Clara County renters are at risk of eviction because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study from Working Partnerships USA and the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley.

The estimation is approximately 16 times higher than the average number of evictions filed each year and includes households of people who lost their jobs but didn’t receive unemployment benefits. The report, titled “The Eviction Time-Bomb,” focuses on the disproportionate impact the pandemic is having on people of color.

According to data from a U.S. Census Bureau survey, Black and Latinx renters in California were more than three times as likely to report being unable to pay rent for the month of June compared to white and Asian renters.

Before the pandemic even started, many people of color in Santa Clara County were already living paycheck to paycheck.

Census data included in the report indicates that for 34 percent of Black renters and 29 percent of Latinx renters in the county, rent accounts for more than 50 percent of their income. That’s compared to 22 percent of white and Asian renters.

“If our elected officials don’t act, we face an eviction time bomb in Silicon Valley,” Jeffrey Buchanan, public policy director for Working Partnerships USA, told SJI. “Landlords, mostly wealthy corporations and investors, could evict thousands of low-income families out of their homes for their inability to pay back rent. And all of this is happening amid a global pandemic when safe, affordable housing is so crucial for our public health.”

In March, the county Board of Supervisors adopted an eviction moratorium for nonpayment of rent and have extended it several times. It currently expires on August 31.

When that happens, renters have six months to pay back the first half of their owed rent and another six months after that to pay the second half. If they don’t, their landlord can evict them. The federal unemployment benefit of $600 a week is also set to expire Aug. 1, leaving thousands of local families without an extra safety net.

In order to prevent an impending wave of evictions that could lead to an increase in homelessness by 133 to 225 percent, Working Partnerships and the Law Foundation make a few policy recommendations in the report. One of those suggestions is for the county to create a housing collaborative court.

“Even with strong laws, renters need legal support to fight evictions,” Law Foundation Directing Attorney Nadia Aziz said. “We estimate that only about 4.4 percent of tenants in Santa Clara County are represented by an attorney. We know that access to a lawyer means that tenants are more likely to stay housed than if they didn’t have an attorney.”

Aziz said that housing courts in other parts of the country provide legal services, volunteer attorneys, rent assistance and case management to help prevent evictions.

The tenants rights groups also recommend that local leaders permanently ban evictions due to loss of income from COVID-19. Instead, landlords could get back owed rent through a civil lawsuit, which would ultimately prevent tenants from being displaced.

During a Wednesday presser about the report, a renter named Sharon who lost her job due to COVID-19, shared her story about how the pandemic has financially impacted her.

“I had to find employment somewhere in order to survive so I found a part-time job, which I’m doing now,” she said. “I also got behind on rent. I’ve received I can’t tell you how many letters, how many 30 day notices, 60-day notices, threats of calling the police and having me put out and being accused of so many things.”

Sharon said that when she showed her landlord the letter about her being laid off, they didn’t believe her and thought it was a fake.

“It’s been some pretty trying times,” she added. “I think right now what I’ve seen in our community is so many single African American women and Latino women who are struggling. I don’t understand that. Why are we struggling?”

The economic impacts aren’t the only part of the pandemic that’s disproportionately impacting people of color in Santa Clara County.

Latinos, many of whom are front line workers, are overrepresented in the number of cases and deaths from COVID-19.

As of July 22, Latinos make up 45.5 percent of the county’s 8,321 cases and 31.1 percent of the 180 deaths, yet only account for 25.8 percent of the population.

African Americans are also overrepresented, making up 2.4 percent of cases and 4.4 percent of deaths while accounting for 2.4 percent of the county’s population.

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