June 4, 2020 Moonshine Minutes
While demands for social justice tread across the nation, the novel coronavirus still lurks in the wings of 2020’s performance. Just in the last few days, Nevada County has confirmed seven new cases of COVID-19 — the county’s first increase since the end of April. Alongside the pandemic comes the continued economic troubles in a tourist-driven economy. One of our latest stories, written by reporter and editor Becca Loux, looks at the crisis that follows a crisis: rent.
I’m Alex Hoeft, news reporter for Moonshine Ink with today’s Moonshine Minutes.
June 1 marked the third due date for rent payment since the pandemic began, and tensions between landlords and tenants rose. Since April 6, per an eviction moratorium, landlords across the state of California have no right to evict tenants based on failure to pay rent until 90 days after the stay-at-home order ends.
Regardless, many landlords in the region are asking those unable to pay to move out or start paying back rent.
There has been a huge upswing in need for rental assistance. To put some numbers to it, Sierra Community House’s crisis hotline has received 150 calls in the past few months, when a typical month would see about 20 to 30 calls. Half of these pertained to rental assistance or questions about the layered eviction moratoriums and renters’ rights during the outbreak.
Mediation and Legal Assistance Program Director Elizabeth Balmin said: “This was exactly the timing right now where people shouldn’t be moving, exactly the time when the winter leases are up and the owners are wanting to come back and have their place back for the summer. It hit our community at a particularly tricky time.”
A renter in the Tahoe area told Moonshine that after the stay-at-home order was issued, her next seasonal job, which would have required her to move to another region, was called off because it was deemed nonessential. The renter, who we’ll call Anna per her request to remain anonymous, was faced with her lease being up as of June 1 and nowhere to go.
Over a two-month period before the end of her lease, Anna reached out to her landlord to try and figure out ways she could stay in the house. She says she attempted to contact him repeatedly, leaving nine voicemails, sending 24 unanswered texts, and on one given day called nine times in a row until he answered.
Anna contacted Sierra Community House and learned that the statewide judicial moratorium gives her the right to stay.
Anna told Moonshine, “The next morning [my landlord] actually showed up at my house. He was really frustrated, [saying] ‘I thought we were okay,’ and I said, ‘What do you mean? I’ve been trying to contact you for a couple months for help with housing, and keep getting ignored. But it turns out I actually have rights in this situation.’”
Patty Baird is a Truckee market-rate landlady who worked proactively and inclusively with her tenants once the crisis arose. Baird, who owns and manages Cedar House Sport Hotel, also rents out 27 of the 32 units of The Aspen apartments in Truckee.
She said, “I will admit, when the [Truckee] moratorium first came out there was a thought like, ‘oh, are people going to take advantage of this?’ As a landlord you would think that.”
But Baird’s proactive efforts, which included offering support and assistance to her tenants and informing them of each new step as well as their rights, paid off. With many restaurant industry renters and others experiencing financial hardship, she expected numerous requests but only ended up providing partial deferment to two tenants.
The Town of Truckee has also jumped into the rental game mix with direct rent relief and a long-term plan, joining forces with Sierra Community House. In an April 28 council meeting, the town voted to provide a rental assistance program to give away $50,000, launched at noon the next day. About 28 hours later, the program was out of funds.
Seana Doherty, housing program manager for the town, said, “We had 80 [people] apply and we were able to within a week send out 38 checks to households.”
For both residential and commercial renters currently struggling to make payments, as well as seeing higher monthly rent in their future when they must begin to pay back deferments, the light at the end of the tunnel may not yet be visible.
“The need has just grown and it’s going to be here for a long time,” Truckee’s Doherty said.
Read the full story: Rent. The Crisis That Follows a Crisis at moonshineink.com alongside our other latest coverage.