Tenants Sing: “We Wish We Could All Be in California”

Ideas and Issues

June 22, 2021

New Orleans    

Ah, the Beach Boys, now that was a band that was all about the summer.  The line in one of their tunes, “we wish we could all be in California,” was probably talking about beaches and girls, but it popped into my head as I read about a proposal before the California legislature currently.

Regardless of what you may have read or heard about Governor Newsom’s recall problems, the state is flush with cash, normally a sign for an attaboy, but California is California.  Nonetheless, rather than stowing all the surplus into a rainy-day fund, the legislators are debating providing relief to all of the state’s tenants.  They aren’t talking about simply relief, but full back rent payment.  According to the New York Times:


A $5.2 billion program in final negotiations at the California State Legislature would pay 100 percent of unpaid rent that lower-income Californians incurred during the pandemic and would be financed entirely by federal money. The state is also proposing to set aside $2 billion to pay for unpaid water and electricity bills.

Tenants everywhere will be singing that song as the days click down to the end of the national rent and foreclosure moratoria coming at the end of June.  As organizers, we have a “crying wolf” problem with the ACORN Tenants Union.  We’ve geared up so many times for the eviction tsunami only to be saved by the bell at the last minute by the CDC or the White House or both, that we, and the tenants, don’t really know what will happen anymore.  The special funds allocated in the last stimulus for tenants and landlords have been painfully slow to be distributed.  People have been pushed out, regardless of the moratorium, and many have moved ahead of the eviction orders in order not to have that on their record, blocking them from a new place, but many simply can’t find places to go.

Another article highlighted the twelve million living in trailers where financing is difficult and foreclosures are coming.  A giant private equity player announced a $6 billion buy of a rental company believing the housing shortage and the rising number of tenants is a safe bet.  The majority of mortgages now are issued by nonbank entities that are not under the protections of the Community Reinvestment Act, so may be unrestrained around evictions, especially in lower income neighborhoods.  We’re finding landlords pushing harder even in complexes where there are many Section 8 tenants with government support and therefore more rights that are often accorded in many communities and states for tenants.  It’s not looking good for tenants.

Reports from landlord associations have indicated surprise that the level of rent payment was tracking normal times even during the pandemic, but economists and others are clear that has to do with stimulus payments, and the fact that many have depleted savings to keep up with their leases.  This could mean that the eviction tsunami is more like a slow rising tide that eventually hits flood stage.

Not all tenants can suddenly be Californians.  When the wave hits, it’s going to be very bad, regardless of the date it finally arrives.