Demonstrators Demand San Jose Cancel Rents after Council Passes Temporary Rent Freeze

PUBLISHED MAY 5, 2020 12:00 A.M.
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The San Jose City Council considered and rejected a bill that would have cancelled rents within the city for three months.

The San Jose City Council considered and rejected a bill that would have cancelled rents within the city for three months.   Photo by Allie Caulfield   CC-by-SA 2.0

Just two days after the city of San Jose placed a freeze on rent hikes for nearly 50,000 apartments and mobile homes in response to the coronavirus emergency, a caravan of demonstrators rolled through downtown, demanding that the city cancel rents altogether, according to a report by KPIX TV.

“The state tells us ‘You can’t go to work, there’s no income,’ which means there’s no rent,” one organizer, identified as Rich G., told the station. “I don’t know if there’s any other way around it.”

In fact, according to researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, San Jose could see a flood of renters kicked out onto the street once the current citywide moratorium on evictions ends on May 31, The San Jose Spotlight reported.

Latinx and African-American renters are disproportionately affected by the economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis, Spotlight reported. In San Jose’s largely Latinx Alum Rock neighborhood, reporter Eduardo Cuevas writes, 32 percent of households are unable to subsist even at poverty level for three months without income, compared to just 3 percent in upscale, predominantly white Los Gatos.

Paying a median sum of $2,280 per month, renters in the San Jose metropolitan area, including much of Santa Clara County, are being hit harder than in any other California region, according to a study by the researchers at Cal-Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation.

According to the study, that median sum would consume a whopping 93 percent of the minimum monthly unemployment insurance benefit for a worker affected by the COVID-19 crisis. That figure is significantly higher than the next-most expensive area, the San Francisco/Oakland/Berkeley region, where a still-daunting 82 percent of the minimum UI benefit would be swallowed up by the median monthly rent.

But undocumented workers do not qualify for UI at all, leaving them with no means to cover rent—which was a key theme of Saturday’s caravan, which also traversed the Alum Rock and Alameda neighborhoods.

“Thousands of undocumented renters have lost their job and cannot apply to unemployment insurance,” Flor De Leon-Jacobo, a SOMOS Mayfair organizer, told San Jose Spotlight reporter Nadia Lopez. “It’s time to help these people because they don’t have any resources.”

But earlier in April, San Jose City Attorney Rick Doyle nixed a proposal to impose a three-month rent suspension for families having difficulty paying rent due to the pandemic, according to the Spotlight report.

The plan, according to Doyle, was likely unconstitutional because it would have constituted government interference in a private contract. Doyle also said that he worried the city would be “on the hook” for tenants’ unpaid rents during the three-month suspension.

San Jose has placed a moratorium on residential and commercial evictions until May 31, in addition to the rent freeze passed April 30. The rent freeze takes effect on May and is not retroactive to April or any previous month, according to a Mercury News report.

The freeze affects the city’s approximately 39,000 rent-stabilized apartments, and 10,000 mobile homes also under rent stabilization. Those include apartment buildings constructed during or after September, 1979, and containing at least three units. Landlords are normally permitted to raise rents by 5 percent annually for those apartments.

The mobile-home freeze applies to parks built during the same time period, which are normally restricted to a 7 percent rental fee hike per year.

The Merc’s Maggie Angst reports that San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo earlier said the rent freeze was designed to address the “asymmetric harm” caused by the coronavirus crisis, which tends to land most heavily on the backs of low-income residents and families.

“For tenants, the choice is quite often their tenancy or living on the street,” Liccardo said.


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