Dear Menlo Park City Council:
The expiration of the statewide eviction moratorium on June 30 has the potential to set off an unnecessary housing crisis.
As the economy recovers and people get back to work, household incomes need time to recover from months of joblessness and economic hardship. This is especially true for lower-income renter families who have been most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to PolicyLink, approximately 700,000 California renters are still behind on rent, with an average of $4,600 in arrears. In San Mateo County, 11,000 households were in arrears by an average of $2,363 in May. The numbers are likely higher today, and we know that Menlo Park households are struggling because Samaritan House reported recently that the Menlo Park Covid Tenant Assistance Fund they administered was able to assist 30 households before it was depleted.
Much of the federal and state $47 million allocated to San Mateo County for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) remains unused due to a variety of reported factors, including lack of landlord and tenant information, a lengthy application, and eligibility criteria that exclude some households. The Governor has announced that more relief is on the way, but we have learned that such programs take time to roll out and reach those who need it most.
It is clear that the state must extend SB 91 (COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act) protections beyond June 30, but so far, it has not taken action. This is despite many local elected officials, advocacy groups, and concerned residents urging it to do so. With the statewide reopening, the County of San Mateo is limited in its authority to enact a countywide moratorium; any action it takes to extend a moratorium would apply to unincorporated county land, not to cities like Menlo Park. As the clock runs out, it may be up to individual cities to create this temporary stopgap.
We therefore ask that the City Council consider adopting an emergency eviction moratorium for Menlo Park that will take effect in the event that SB 91 is allowed to expire.
We know that COVID-19 has not affected all communities equally: for example, in California, state data show that communities of color have faced much higher COVID-19 infection and mortality rates than their share of the population, and nationwide, the economic fallout of the pandemic has hit lower-income households the hardest. According to the San Mateo County Health Dashboard, Menlo Park’s historical COVID-19 cases are 1,680 citywide, of which 828 (or 49.3%) were in the Belle Haven neighborhood where only 20% of Menlo Park resides.
Pre-pandemic, many of these same communities faced a disproportionately higher risk of eviction. Public health advocates point out that the threat of eviction, the health effects of which are well-documented, could cause a second public health crisis on the heels of the pandemic.
We appreciate that you, our City Council, are committed to striving towards an equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic in Menlo Park. We thank you for your consideration of this important and timely action.
Menlo Together Team