Tag Archives: housing

Desi Landlord & Tenants In An Eviction Headlock

Suresh Wadhwani, a Bay Area landlord was surprised by the ruling that allowed his tenants to break their contract with him. They could pay no rent and he was not able to evict them due the pandemic.

California’s Covid-19 rent relief program, Housing Is Key provides protections for renters who are given an eviction notice because they are unable to pay their rent or other charges between March 1, 2020 through September 2021 due to COVID-19-related financial distress. 

“I invested in California in good faith as there was a housing shortage. I took loans and bought properties for low-income residents to live in. Now I am in the position that my conduit loan has come due but my bank refuses to extend loans to me,” he said. 

Wadhwani does not qualify for a loan. He does not meet the risk guidelines of the bank. Forty percent of his tenants are defaulting on rent payments. 

“We have banked with Chase for years but the underwriter is hamstrung by the bank’s guidelines for loan disbursement. My company is now considered a high-risk investment, ” said Wadhwani. He will have to do a fire sale of his property or go into receivership.

At first, only ten percent of his tenants were defaulting on their rent payments but news soon spread and the tenant defaulting percentage climbed up from 10 -20 to 40 percent. Wadhwani is stumped. His contract with the bank stands but he feels his contract with the tenant is not worth the paper it is written on.

As of August 26, landlords are no longer barred from evicting tenants for nonpayment of rent because of the pandemic. The Supreme Court blocked the extension of the federal eviction moratorium. However, California is governed by state laws. California’s rent relief program, Housing Is Key stays

In California, this moratorium on evictions is in place till September according to the governor’s office. Tenants who have notified their landlord that they have been financially affected by COVID-19 and are paying at least 25% of their rent per month are safe from eviction till September.

To be eligible for aid, tenants must make less than 80% of the local median income. Median income varies from county to county. The aid takes into account the number of people living in the tenant’s household. In order to prove their eligibility, the tenants can provide documentation, like a recent pay stub or a termination letter, however, it is not required.  As long as they attest in writing that they have been impacted, that is sufficient. They can demonstrate housing instability or risk of homelessness by showing they owe back rent or have an overdue utility bill.

The assistance is available to all renters who meet the eligible income levels, regardless of whether they are legal residents or not. Citizenship status is not a requirement to access rent relief. 

Housing Is Key  provides Emergency Rental Assistance funds to low-income renters and their landlords. The bill expands eligibility even in cases where the tenant may have moved out of their home during the pandemic. The landlord can now apply for back rent. Read more at evictionlab.org 

Wadhwani admits he is getting money from the government for which he has had to file extensive paperwork. Additionally up until June, in order to file the paperwork he had needed to handhold the tenant without whose co-operation and signature the documents could not be filed. Some tenants played hardball and a previously cordial relationship between landlord and tenant has now turned adversarial.

Landlords could look for excuses to remove tenants for cause. They can make a case that the tenant has damaged the property or is making a nuisance in order to evict the tenant. This situation could be encouraging landlords to file complaints with the city for building code violations alleging that the infractions were made by the tenant. 

For instance, the Sunnyvale city office has received letters reporting garbage behind the building owned by Mamie Dairiki on El Camino Real in Sunnyvale.  After an inspection, the city found building code violations in the units. Struggling small businesses (Mamie Dairiki’s tenants), have to pay for the rectifications to meet city requirements. One tenant, Vidya Gurikar of Silver Spoon, a gourmet food caterer who has been hard hit by the pandemic, may have to fork out over $30,000 towards fixing these violations. 

Vidya Gurikar of Silver Spoon

“These changes, made without a permit, were made before we leased this place!” said Gurikar. “It is Pandora’s box. I pay to fix one thing only to find that the city has found another thing built without a permit. The new directives from the city office are crippling,” said a panic-stricken Gurikar who is desperately looking for a way out of this nightmare.

“People have been evicted in retaliation for reporting their landlord or for their children testing positive for lead poisoning,” said Dr. Shawnita Sealy-Jefferson, Principal Investigator and Leader, Social Epidemiology to Eliminate Disparities (SEED) Lab, Ohio State University at a recent Ethnic Media Services panel on the housing crisis that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. “Having someone occupy the rental unit who is not on the rent agreement is cause for eviction. People have been evicted for bogus accusations of damage to the property, damage that would be considered normal wear and tear,” she said. 

“When I have 40 percent of my tenants defaulting,” said Wadhwani, “I can’t possibly make a case for eviction against each tenant on these grounds.” 

After September 30, landlords may be able to proceed with evictions as long as they can prove that they or their tenants have attempted to apply for rent relief.  They must show that they didn’t receive a response on their application from either the state or their tenant, or their tenant doesn’t qualify or meet the income requirements.

Wadhwani thinks that California will extend the eviction moratorium.

“We call on state and local jurisdictions to take every action they can to safeguard their most vulnerable residents. These actions should include permitting evictions for non-payment of rent only after landlords and tenants have sought Emergency Rental Assistance funds,” said Secretary Marcia L. Fudge on the Eviction Moratorium.

California has a rental assistance program in place to pay landlords the rent due. Only 10% of the total aid that people have applied for has been disbursed. The state has distributed only $37.4 million in relief to a little more than 31,641 households so far, an average of $11,844 per household (see Dashboard). The disbursement of $5.2 billion in federal funds earmarked for it, has gone slowly in order to ensure that no duplicate payments are made.  

“Some jurisdictions are not getting the amount of rental assistance that they need to cover the needs of their community,” Francisco Duenas, Executive Director, Housing Now! California said at the Ethnic Media Services briefing. In Los Angeles, the program opened only for one month. More requests were received than the funds allocated. Tenants who missed that window could not apply anywhere. 

“Right now the problem is not that there is no money to help the tenant and the landlords. The problem is administration and bureaucracy, just the processes to get that money out to the people,” said Duenas.

Tenants can apply for emergency rental assistance. If they qualify, the tenant or landlord will receive 100% of the rental debt and the eviction will be stopped, according to the latest California moratorium bill. This will continue to be an option until March 2022. Read more at evictionlab.org

Over 2 million renter households in California reported “little to no confidence” in their ability to pay next month’s rent, according to the latest Household Pulse Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“These tenants don’t need to show any proof of their inability to pay. On the other hand, no bank is going to give me a loan if I have on my record that I defaulted on my loan payment,” said a harried Wadhwani.

“Many tenants will move out because they don’t want an eviction on their record as it will limit their chance of getting housing in the future,” said Francisco Duenas.

Both the landlord and tenant are bound in a headlock of survival. California’s shortage of affordable housing is the real loser in the process. 

“I am wary of taking a risk in the California housing market. I may look at investing in Reno, Nevada,” said Wadhwani.


Ritu Marwah is a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.


 

Bay Area Affordable Housing Isn’t a Panacea. I Know, I Went Through the System.

“If you sought to advantage one group of Americans and disadvantage another, you could scarcely choose a more graceful method than housing discrimination…Housing discrimination is as quiet as it is deadly,” wrote Ta-Nehisi Coates for The Atlantic in 2014. 

Knock. Knock. Knock.

“Hello, Srishti. You have time to help me?” I know who it is. Like clockwork, she came to my office every day. 

Judy, a resident at Tyrella Gardens
Judy, a resident at Tyrella Gardens.

Judy (56) was a Korean American resident in the Mountain View low-income/affordable housing building, Tyrella Gardens, where I was working as a MidPen Family Services Coordinator. 

A divorced, immigrant, single mother, and a Section 8 recipient, Judy had to navigate the bureaucratic Santa Clara County Social Services system alone. She often reached out to me for rental assistance, legal advice, tax education, resume building, or job search help, and to decipher the English legalese on official documents. 

In August of 2019, armed with Coates’ wisdom and a naive passion for justice, I ventured into a career in affordable housing. Little did I know, my clients and I were ill-equipped and set up for failure. I was just another added number to a high rate of attrition of Resource Coordinators at affordable housing facilities, and Judy’s loss of housing was collateral damage.  

When Judy tried to access resources in Santa Clara County, it often resulted in confusion, frustration, and even aggression from county employees. Judy, lost in the labyrinth of an unfamiliar language, would repeat herself and struggle to answer the litany of personal questions asked. The county employees, overwhelmed with the number of calls received, tried to get through each client quickly. 

English language fluency, dedicated time, and deference dictate the probability of a positive result.

Case Study 1: Judy frantically calls various organizations for a government-issued cell phone plan. They tell her she is ineligible. I call a few hours later and she has a phone in her hand within the week.

Case Study 2: Judy reaches out to the local church for rental assistance. They tell her she isn’t the right fit for their donation program. I reach out to the same church on her behalf and a few weeks later, after some paperwork and interviews, Judy receives rent relief. 

Affordable housing corporations build a niche market of jobs for Resource Coordinators, capitalizing on their empathy and desire for equity, to meet the demands of their municipalities. Housing instability positions 40% of Californian renters with the invariable choice of having to allocate half of their income for rent. These renters become financially vulnerable and are increasingly reliant on government-funded resources. Lip service and self-congratulatory behavior about housing policy by notable leaders calls for media attention. Instead, left in the wake are the underpaid, understaffed Resource Coordinators with the onus of uplifting the disenfranchised.

“I can’t imagine you not here, Srishti. You help me so much,” Judy said to me one afternoon after searching for jobs.

Those words echoed heavy and hollow. 

It was a laborious job. I serviced the residents at two different housing locations, independently taught and developed the after-school program for kids (many of whom had learning disabilities), created the high school program for teens, ran the farmer’s market, conducted countless engagement events, and more. To top it all off, a lot of my time was spent tediously cataloging my work on Salesforce for upper management, who seemed more concerned with the data-tracking tool than with their employees on the ground. 

For many months, I was at an impasse. I couldn’t decide if I should leave Tyrella Gardens. I didn’t feel valued, I didn’t feel supported, I wasn’t paid well, and I was perpetually ill. 

Internally struggling, I went back and forth between these questions: If I left, how would my absence make Judy feel? How would my coworkers fare without my help? Was the pay worth the hours I put in? Did I feel valued by MidPen Housing? Did I feel supported by MidPen Housing? Was the job sustainable?

The pandemic was a chaotic trigger in my life and Judy’s. I quit my job at Midpen Housing in February of 2020 and the lockdown began soon after. My immediate worry was — how would Judy fare?

Perhaps, I should have been apprehensive of my own housing situation. I was living with three roommates and three out of the four of us were without consistent sources of income. We concluded that the responsible thing would be to break the lease. 

Our property management company made it an arduous and expensive ordeal — it would cost me more to break the lease than it would be to stay. Either way, I didn’t have the funds. I never thought that I, an educated and resourceful Indian American from the Bay Area, would be caught up in what felt like housing injustice.

Ping! 

I received a Facebook message from Judy, who continues to reach out to me for help.

April 12, 2020: “Hello. I will stay home April & May. Coronavirus. Do I need time off? Could you call me?”

Judy was concerned about her job as an Amazon shopper at Whole Foods, which I had helped her attain.

Unclear of what to do about my housing, I searched “tenant rights for San Jose residents” on my phone as I logged on to Judy’s work portal on my computer to figure out how she could take time off and pay her bills. 

Judy, a proactive woman, is a byproduct of circumstance. I know this because I know Judy — why she needs help, her backstory, how to communicate with her to get an informative response. But most importantly, our shared history as Asian immigrants help us have productive, respectful conversations.

“You are so nice, Srishti. You always help,” she said once as she handed me fruits. She was grateful to be shown kindness, but I was only doing my job.

I knew the residents disliked the turnover of people in my position. They told me stories of all the other Coordinators who had come before me. Those in my position felt like bad actors in a mythical story. I didn’t want to be another in a series of transient people in their lives that seemed to care momentarily. I lugged this weight around with me.  

I kept promising them I would stay, but I had noticed a trend. Our group of around fifty Family Service Coordinators would meet once a month and one by one, I saw older coworkers exit the organization and new faces replace them. After 8 months, I was a replaced face too. At least 10 out of 50 employees were gone within the year — a 20% loss and a turnover rate that is high for any organization.

In June of 2021, I contacted the cohort of coworkers I worked with at MidPen: Jennifer Villasano (23), Kristi Seymour (24), Diana Lumbreras (25). We had started our time at MidPen together in August of 2019 and they were still there when I left in February of 2020. 

Were they able to debunk my theory that the Coordinator position in affordable housing is an unsustainable job?

Villasano laughed and thought back to when she first joined MidPen, “It was my first job out of college…At first I thought, I get to give back to my community” and then she noted it became “hard to give more” partially because of the organization she was working for. 

She continued to work during the pandemic and was appalled by how MidPen did not value her safety. “Residents and co-workers wouldn’t wear masks during the pandemic and I didn’t want to be exposed [to COVID],” she continued, “One of the residents got COVID and because of some Act, management wouldn’t tell us who.” She felt this was a breach of her well-being since she had to continue to “flyer” at the housing facility and interact with all the residents. 

“No one was checking in on the coordinators. It was exhausting.”

Jennifer Villasano quit in July of 2020.

As to why she left, she decisively stated, “Instead of speaking up for us, [management] would ask us to do more. They wouldn’t support us…They need to do better.”

Kristi Seymour, a Guyanese-American woman, corroborates that, “Management wasn’t the best. Expectations weren’t met. That could also tie into the high turnover rate. If you don’t feel like your managers care about you … you’re not going to tell them anything and leave at the first chance.” Seymour felt slighted by the inconsistent nature of support provided and emphatically asserts, “I think its pay. I think it’s management. As the people actually delivering the services, you’re not getting paid enough for what you do…They expect a lot out of you — running after-school programs and delivering services to 40-50 units.”

Kristi Seymour quit in June of 2020.

Diana Lumbreras, a Mexican-American woman, shared a similar narrative to mine: “MidPen was my first job where I was working with housing, it was interesting to see how it worked. It was about numbers. We didn’t have time to build relationships because we had to get stuff in.”

Lumbreras forged on during the pandemic. The lockdown exacerbated the pre-existing concerns that she had with MidPen. 

“Something that happened during the pandemic that actually bugged me was that, of course, mostly everyone at my [housing site] lost their jobs. I was going door to door ‘flyering’ with resources for food banks, assistance for rent, anything and everything that I could find to help [the residents]. When it came to documentation…[management] said that there was no way of documenting my work because it wasn’t something [they] had asked for.”

Diana Lumbreras quit in August of 2020.

“What am I doing here?” She asked herself before leaving her job. “I was told that even if I did more, that there was no way of getting credit for that work … essentially saying, don’t even do [the work] if you can’t document it. That was the part that got me so upset because I was doing so much. I was printing out flyers in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and going door to door.”

The stories relayed to me by the Ghosts of Coordinators Past held a valuable nugget. The Family Services Coordinator position entrenched within the affordable housing complex is integral to the health of the community it serves. Lumbreras poignantly reminds me of this when she tells me, “As an essential worker during the pandemic, I felt important because people were coming to me when they actually needed help.” That weight I was lugging around was part of Diana’s story too. In reality, this burden wasn’t ours to bear. The responsibility to the community of clients and employees should be accounted for in the system attempting to address the housing crisis in the Bay Area. 

Family Service Coordinators are servicing low-income to median-income residents and, yet, they are well below the low-income threshold of $58,00 for housing in Santa Clara County themselves. Hourly pay at between $19-$20/hour, the average person working in affordable housing is making a yearly salary of a whopping $38,400 before taxes, and are most likely people of color. How can those tasked to elevate the marginalized put their best foot forward when they are being marginalized themselves? 

California housing prices have been on the rise. In May of 2021, the median home price in California was $818,260 with the SF Bay Area region clocking in at a 38.9% increase in the median home price since 2020 — the highest increase in the state. The nuclear family home, which was more attainable for the Baby Boomer generation, is a far-fetched dream for 44% of California residents. Despite the eviction moratorium being extended for another three months with the offer of all low-income past-due back rent being paid by the state, renters have been in a precarious situation for the last year, their benefits and interests at the whims of their landlords.

California housing policy is trending toward investment in affordable housing communities. Tina Rosales, a Policy Advocate at Western Center on Law & Poverty (WCLP) based in Sacramento is pushing for equitable and fair housing. In a concerted effort with WCLP, Francisco Dueñas, Executive Director of Housing Now, advocates for the divestment of government resources from private construction and into affordable housing and Land Trusts. 

Since 2016, Santa Clara County has been on track to exponentially increase accessible housing when residents voted for Measure A in an effort to alleviate housing injustice. Measure A approved $950 million to build 4,800 affordable housing units in the county. Since then, the county has dedicated more funds to affordable housing while overlooking their commitment to the communities they serve. 

Affordable housing is the future of Bay Area housing. Thus, forthcoming policy must account for evidence-based case studies. Narratives of employee loss and its subsequent adverse effect on residents are an emerging barrier to housing equity. 

Ultimately, the residents suffer. 

I kept reaching out to Judy but hear from her less and less. Embroiled in my own housing fiasco, the upkeep of our relationship recedes to the backburner.

On May 25, 2021, I finally received a message from Judy: “I stay in Korea. I can call around this time tomorrow.”

When we speak, she informs me that in September of 2020, her Section 8 rent had increased from approximately $120 to approximately $600. Unable to afford rent and scared of resuming work, Judy moved back home with her parents in Korea. She decided to wait out the pandemic in Korea but was hopeful she could come back to the US after the pandemic. With no address on hand and no paperwork filed, Santa Clara Housing Authority (SCCHA) revoked Judy’s Section 8 housing when MidPen marked her as an absentee renter. 

Since May of 2021, Judy and I have been trying to access her SCCHA specialist to figure out how to move forward. Judy wants to resume residence in America but cannot do so without Section 8 housing. The SCCHA offices are closed (in a time when their services are most necessary) and the operators manning the phone lines have not given any clear answers — we are stuck in cyclical redirection.

Affordable housing was effective for Judy when someone could guide her through the government regulations. Diana Lumbreras similarly posited, “I would put the resources out there, but the same people that lived in the housing were limited in the knowledge that they had to get the resources.” Judy’s back-rent can be paid by the state, but that decision came too late in this particular case. The system failed Judy.

Though I was edged out of the apartment I was living in at the beginning of the pandemic, I finagled my way into a Below-Market-Rate apartment that was listed as an affordable housing unit in San Jose. I managed to pay off the previous landlord and save money at my new complex. Affordable housing isn’t perfect, however, it did lend itself perfectly to me. 

Judy and I had inequitable outcomes. 

Creating resources and delivering resources seem to be at odds with one another. What they require is synergy.

Here are the asks:

  1. The base pay for Resource Coordinators needs to increase to a number that reflects their invaluable service to the community.
  2. There should be an increase in employee retention rates at affordable housing sites.
  3. There should be more on-site staff for support.
  4. There should be more focus on relationship-building and less on the number of initiatives implemented.
  5. There should be a symbiotic relationship between resource coordinators and the county services staff.
  6. There should be a creation of a Union for workers in social services in the state.

“Housing discrimination is hard to detect, hard to prove, and hard to prosecute,” proffers Ta-Nehisi Coates

No home. No country to call her own. Judy embodies the silent way in which housing inequity diminishes a person’s agency and identity. 

We need to do better. We have to do better — Not just by creating accessible housing, but by creating sustainable networks of people that can ensure the diverse and equitable growth of our community in the Bay Area. 

*We reached out to MidPen Housing for comment. They did not respond to our request.


Srishti Prabha is the Managing Editor at India Currents and has worked in low-income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

*Srishti Prabha wrote this article with support from Ethnic Media Services’ Housing Fellowship program.


 

Governor Newsom: One Year of California for All

There’s no state in America quite like California. In troubled times for the Nation, California is where the American Dream is alive and well. The most diverse state in the world’s most diverse democracy, California is big-hearted, thriving, inclusive and bold.

This year, we’ve been working to build a California for All. Governing by our values of growth and inclusion, we have made principled yet practical investments in our people and our future.

Making sure that those investments are built to last, we have budgeted responsibly for the years ahead. Our balanced, on-time budget created the largest rainy day fund in state history and paid down California’s wall of debt.

That budget addressed the biggest challenges we face. Today, I will share our work to tackle the high cost of living in California, prevent and prepare for emergencies, and combat homelessness.

First, we’re working to confront the state’s affordability crisis. It is our state’s foundational economic challenge, which threatens lives and threatens futures. The things that make it possible to get ahead – housing, health care, saving for your kids’ college or your retirement – are getting farther out of reach for Californians.

When I took office last January, I got to work to make life more affordable for all. Together, we expanded healthcare subsidies to middle-class Californians. We took on rising prescription drug costs by seeking to establish the nation’s largest single purchaser system for drugs. We helped put higher education within reach of more Californians by providing two free years of community college to first-time, full-time students and negotiated tuition freezes at California’s universities.

We also put money back in the pockets of California parents by doubling the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit and adding a $1,000 credit for families with children under the age of six. We eased the financial burden on parents by repealing the sales and use tax on diapers.

Second, we are making sure that California is ready for the next natural disaster, and that communities still recovering from catastrophic wildfires have what they need to rebuild.

We invested $1 billion to build disaster resiliency, response and recovery – including funding the pre-positioning of emergency response teams in times of high-risk wildfire conditions. We launched Listos California, a statewide network of community organizations that build disaster resiliency in vulnerable communities.  We also moved the state toward a safer, affordable and reliable energy future by drafting wildfire safety and accountability measures and working with the Legislature to create a $21 billion wildfire fund.

Finally, we’re working nonstop to confront the statewide crisis of homelessness, which impacts 130,000 Californians in every corner of our state.

We’re pursuing solutions that work. We made a historic $2.75 billion investment — the most California has ever spent — on programs to fight homelessness and build more housing. That amount included $650 million in Emergency Homelessness Aid to cities and counties so that they can implement the best local solutions for their communities. We’re also striking at the root causes of homelessness, including the unacceptable lack of housing construction and unscrupulous landlords who price-gouge their tenants and unfairly evict them. We negotiated and signed the nation’s strongest statewide renter protections and worked with technology companies to secure $4.5 billion towards California’s housing crisis.

We’re “all in” on tackling this crisis because it is a major quality of life issue not just for the person sleeping on a sidewalk, but for everyone in their community. We recognize that every homeless individual is someone’s child, parent, or friend. Many times, they are our service members, who served honorably in our military and fell onto hard times after they got home. These individuals are often struggling with mental illness or substance abuse.

They deserve better than the reckless rhetoric and heartless cuts to the social safety net that Washington is offering. They deserve the thoughtful solutions that we are pursuing in California, in partnership with local governments, the private sector, and philanthropists statewide.

Make no mistake, we have so much more work to do. There are still too many Californians who do not get to share in the prosperity that they help to create. For them, and their children – and California’s continued leadership in the nation and the world – we must boldly confront our remaining challenges. These challenges demand bold solutions, and above all, the courage for a change.

Fortunately, we have no shortage of courage here in California, a state of dreamers and do-ers who are not afraid to take risks for what’s right.

In the year ahead, we’ll continue to work hard and aim high on behalf of all Californians, and everyone who looks to our state as a beacon of hope.