A bill that would establish a statewide eviction defense program for renters with financial trouble passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Monday.
Assembly Bill 1487, authored by Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills), would create a “Homeless Prevention Fund” that would be administered by the Legal Services Trust Fund Commission, a state bar run grant administration that funds nonprofit civil legal aid services. Through the bar, grants from the fund would be given to nonprofit organizations, local governments, and local governmental agencies that have demonstrated that they can provide education, outreach, and legal services for eviction protection. Under AB 1487, all services would be required to be of no cost to those that use them, with no more than 10% of grant funds from the Homeless Prevention Fund going to administrative costs.
The bill gives no final cost on how much the fund would be funded for, although the bill said it would be funded directly from legislature appropriation.
Assemblyman Gabriel wrote the bill due to the large number of impending evictions due to expiring eviction moratoriums later this year, as well as an approximate ratio of $4 gained by city and local governments for every $1 spent for similar programs through avoidance of public costs through shelters, health care, and other funds that would go elsewhere. Gabriel also cites other studies in the bill, such as a City of San Francisco Right to Counsel program evaluation that found that 2 out of every 3 tenants who received representation in eviction matters were allowed to stay, with an overall lowered number of eviction filings in the court system.
“Preventing evictions is key to addressing our homelessness crisis, particularly given the devastating impacts of COVID-19 on our most vulnerable renters,” noted Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel on Monday. “This effort will leverage existing programs to address one of the root causes of the current crisis and help prevent homelessness before it begins. It builds upon an approach that has been proven to protect vulnerable communities, reduce homelessness, save taxpayer resources, and improve the fairness and efficiency of our judicial system.”
Support for, opposition against AB 1487
Other lawmakers also threw their support behind AB 1487 for similar reasons.
“Tenants are consistently underrepresented in legal proceedings,” said Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) in a statement on Tuesday. “The lack of legal representation leads to increased displacement and housing insecurity. I’m proud to partner with Assemblymember Gabriel to ensure at-risk tenants can access the legal representation they deserve.”
While other lawmakers and groups support the bill, such as the Western Center on Law & Poverty and the Housing Now Coalition, many also quickly came out in opposition, including many landlords and property development groups.
“Some of us have been waiting a year to open up these apartments because of issues with tenants that we couldn’t do anything about because of COVID,” explained Oakland-area landlord Stacy Treacher to the Globe. “Basically they are using our own tax dollars against us by giving tenants, who have not paid or have been otherwise poor tenants, free lawyers in court. This is the state bullying us into keeping everyone in our apartments no matter what.
“It’s been incredibly frustrating since March of last year. And if this bill passes, it’s only going to continue screwing us over. And, look, we get there is a homeless crisis too and that they don’t want to add to that. But I don’t think they know the realities of the housing and rental markets.”
AB 1487 is expected to be heard on the Assembly floor in the coming months.