Struggling tenants and landlords impacted by COVID-19 may be eligible for a financial lifeline, as the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, on Tuesday, unanimously approved an additional $5 million to help residents stay in their homes and landlords pay their bills.
"We are surgically targeting this $5 million to help the most vulnerable families pay enough rent to avoid the 'eviction time bomb' when the eviction moratoriums expire," said Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez.
The state's eviction moratorium requires residential tenants to pay at least 25% of their back rent by Jan. 31, 2021 to avoid eviction.
To help tenants make that 25% payment, the county will use the $5 million to directly pay the landlords.
More than 43,000 households are at risk of eviction in the county when the eviction moratoriums expire, according to a study done by nonprofit Working Partnerships USA and the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley.
Another part of the effort is an expansion of services by the county's Office of Mediation and Ombuds Services, which helps resolve disputes between tenants and landlords.
"It's important that our office be involved in this process right here," said Joshua Berkowitz, program manager for the office. "Courts tend to focus on law, not on concepts of equity, because they are required to stay within the four corners of a contract."
He said the office helps "put that final decision into the participants' hands by arming them with the type of info and supported convo to be able to make informed decisions."
At the directive of Supervisor Dave Cortese, the office came back to the board during the Tuesday meeting, with some recommendations for additional services to meet resident needs.
The main recommendation was to embed the office's resolution services into the courts.
There are about 50,000 cases of nonpayment in the county that may be filed in the courts, according to Cortese.
"If you are looking for all 50,000 to get handled outside the court, you would almost need to impose a mandatory mediation kind of process," Berkowitz said. "It is almost essential that there is some sort of partnership with the courts."
Cortese agreed with the recommendation but directed the Office of Mediation and Ombuds Services to collaborate with community nonprofit organizations to explore the idea further, especially in terms of outreach.
The office will come back with a report for the Board of Supervisors in the coming weeks.