Image via Shutterstock Cities halt evictions because of coronavirus outbreak
Image via Shutterstock

This week, San Jose, California, and Miami-Dade County approved legislation to temporarily halt evictions. Advocates in San Francisco, Seattle, and New York are hoping their jurisdictions will be next. 

Garrison, a 22-year-old photographer and photo editor from Los Angeles, lost his job recently due to his company’s “lack of orders.”

“The coronavirus outbreak has been making it a lot harder to find new work because so many jobs are being put on hold due to the outbreak,” Garrison, who asked to withhold his last name for privacy concerns, told COURIER. “On top of that, a lot of work places are laying off people due to the virus, which is adding to the amount of people looking for work. I’m fresh out of college, so I don’t have much of a savings to live off of.” 

Layoffs related to the outbreak have only just begun. To help assuage some of the impacts, advocates are pushing for cities to place a temporary moratorium on evictions, which they say will provide workers with a welcome reprieve from looming financial strain. 

This week, San Jose, California, and Miami-Dade County approved legislation to halt evictions. Advocates in San Francisco, Seattle, and New York are hoping their jurisdictions will be next. 

“Low-wage workers, workers in retail or hospitality industries, gig workers, and people who are uninsured are some of the demographics who stand to be most affected by evictions during the coronavirus pandemic,” said Adriana Lasso-Harrier, a representative from Statewide Poverty Action Network. “These are people who work in industries that often don’t offer paid sick leave, and where job stability can be shaky— particularly during times of crisis. Low-wage workers are disproportionately people of color, and communities of color will be disproportionately hit hardest by the economic impacts of the virus.” 

Poverty Action was one of dozens of organizations in Seattle to sign an open letter to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Mayor Jenny Durkan calling for a moratorium on evictions.

Layoffs have already hit industries where public facing jobs have become a threat to public health due to the outbreak. Airlines, hotels, transportation services, travel agencies, and restaurants have laid off hundreds. Meanwhile, Congress’s first effort to pass legislation requiring employers provide paid sick leave was blocked by the Republican Senate this week. Workers won’t just face unemployment—they’re up against a market with fewer and fewer job prospects as businesses continue hiring freezes.

“If workplaces close and people lose their jobs, they cannot pay their rent. It is inhumane to evict people from their homes during a pandemic. We must ensure that people can stay safely housed during this crisis.”

In San Jose, a 30-day eviction moratorium awaits final approval from the city council and is expected to pass. The policy will help residents who can provide documentation that they are unable to pay rent due to financial losses related to the global pandemic. While tenants will have to pay eventually, the moratorium will prevent homelessness and allow residents to self-isolate.

“A halt on evictions would help sustain the housing and financial security of families and individuals in our region by ensuring that they will continue to have their housing regardless of the situation,” Lasso-Harrier told COURIER. “Already we’ve begun to see the disastrous economic impacts of the virus in our communities, as restaurants, event centers, and schools throughout the Seattle region have closed. If workplaces close and people lose their jobs, they cannot pay their rent. It is inhumane to evict people from their homes during a pandemic. We must ensure that people can stay safely housed during this crisis.”

Seattle service workers and small businesses are expected to be affected enormously, as Gov. Inslee announced a ban on gatherings and events of 250 people or more. Hotels in the area have already seen a 30% to 40% drop in occupancy

In San Francisco, where housing costs are some of the most expensive in the country, District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston introduced an eviction ban to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that he hopes will prevent a new housing crisis. 

“We know that as a result of the state of emergency and the government-recommended precautions that many folks have already been experiencing income loss in the city, and that further income loss is anticipated, if not certain, in the weeks to come, leaving tenants in particular vulnerable to eviction,” Preston, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, said at a press conference.

Yesterday, New York State Senators Brad Hoylman and Brian Kavanagh also introduced a similar bill that would go into effect statewide, if passed. The law would prohibit landlords from evicting tenants during a state disaster emergency without a court order. 

Police in Miami-Dade County announced Thursday they have suspended all eviction activities until further notice. 

Some workers, like Baiden King who was laid off from her job at an Omaha bakery due to a decline in sales, are planning to move back home with their parents. 

“If my job’s laying off people, I can only imagine other employers are as well,” King, who earned $11 an hour, told the Washington Post. “I’m not sure anyone will be hiring.”

As work begins to dry up, states and localities must come up with solutions to reduce the economic effects and contain the virus. But for some, the system already appears to be overburdened. 

“I am hopeful, but contacting unemployment has been increasingly more difficult, especially in California when they have such a small time window of business hours to help us,” said Garrison, the L.A. photographer. “And with this new wave of layoffs because of the virus, I’m not sure how they’re going to adapt.”