Moratoriums to Mayhem: Crisis Created by Bad Policy - EBRHA Letter to the East Bay Times

Posted By: Derek Barnes Advocate, Educate, Inform, Legislate,

The following is a letter to reporter Kate Talerico with the East Bay Times in response to her article on November 8th titled: "A ‘tsunami’ of eviction cases is hitting Alameda County. These elected officials are calling for a slowdown."

November 11, 2023

Dear Kate Talerico,

I am responding to your November 8 article regarding the eviction cases titled: "A ‘tsunami’ of eviction cases is hitting Alameda County." A more appropriate title is "Moratoriums to Mayhem: Crisis Created by Bad Policy."

The prevailing backlog of eviction filings in our courts was entirely avoidable. Municipal leaders and legislators had ample time to tactfully modify their local eviction moratorium ordinances in stages and eliminate blanket protections for renters capable of paying rent two years ago. They could have proactively established programs helping renters and rental property owners before ending the moratoriums. Instead, they chose the path of inaction and repeatedly kicked the can down the road. This blatant disregard is not just negligent; it is reprehensible.

In a misguided move, city officials in Berkeley and Oakland allowed external interest groups and self-proclaimed "experts" in housing like tenant activist and attorney Leah Simon-Weisberg to write their eviction moratorium and tenant protection ordinances without the input of rental housing providers. The fallout and chaos from Ms. Simon-Weisberg’s policies have been staggering. It has left hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid rent in Alameda County, distressed rental owners losing their properties, and a burgeoning backlog of eviction cases paralyzing our courts. There is zero accountability when bad legislation results in this level of fallout. Where is the justice for rental property owners who provided homes during a global pandemic and were coerced into subsidizing households for an unprecedented 40 months when emergency rental assistance funds ran out?

The web of self-dealing by tenant attorney groups and complicit city council members prompted a complaint filed by EBRHA with the City of Oakland earlier this year. City leaders knew there would be a surge in eviction filings because they created the conditions with their shortsighted and unvetted policies in the first place. Now, they're manipulating the public to advocate for more funding for tenant attorney organizations. It is time the media held City Councilmembers Nikki Bas, Carroll Fife, Dan Kalb, and Rebecca Kaplan accountable for their egregious and irresponsible decisions. Taxpayers, unwittingly bankrolling these attorney-led nonprofit organizations that caused this chaos, should be nothing short of outraged. 

For over three years, small rental property owners, grappling with non-payment of rent, pleaded for intervention from local legislators and access to resources, only to be met with indifference and neglect by Councilmembers Bas, Fife, Kalb, and Kaplan. These legislators, seemingly under the sway of tenant attorney-led organizations like ACCE and Centro Legal, not only failed to act but, in doing so, created a moral hazard, a mountain of consumer debt, a backlog in our courts, and an eviction filing surge driven by three years of pent-up demand due to enduring moratoriums.

An analogy can be drawn to crimping a hose to halt water flow for an extended period. When the hose is finally uncrimped, there is an initial surge before water flow returns to normal. Having ended their moratoriums much earlier (between September 2021 and June 2022), San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Contra Costa counties experienced a similar surge of eviction filings. It took four to six months before monthly eviction filing numbers returned to pre-pandemic levels. 

Some crucial notes to underscore are that most eviction filings do not lead to actual evictions (roughly 20%), and renters cannot be evicted for back rent owed during eviction moratorium periods. According to Oakland RAP data, more than 90% of current eviction filings are due to non-payment of rent after the city lifted its moratorium on July 15, 2023. With high inflation and many COVID relief social safety-net programs expired, the most effective solution lies in directing financial aid to struggling households rather than channeling more dollars into taxpayer-funded tenant attorney organizations—an inefficient and costly route for remedying rental housing disputes. Additionally, the Oakland RAP data for October shows a significant drop in filings compared to the previous two months -- signaling a short-term surge.

Media outlets like the East Bay Times need to deliver the facts and varying perspectives when reporting on critical and complex housing matters. No one from EBT contacted our organization to seek housing providers’ perspectives in developing this story. EBRHA has 1500 members who own and operate over 47,000 rentals and provide homes for more than 130,000 residents in the East Bay. There are missed reporting opportunities when there's no outreach to a broader stakeholder group.

Stories like this are viewed as less credible and lack journalistic integrity if you lead with sensational headlines without diving in more deeply. It does little to expose the truth for your readers. One of the most essential functions of journalists is to hold our municipal leaders and legislators accountable by probing more and asking the tough questions. Without this check and balance, misguided and harmful housing policies will continue to push small rental housing providers out of business and eradicate our most affordable housing in the East Bay.


Derek Barnes

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