Historic Infusion of Funds Will Strengthen Homelessness Prevention Efforts and Provide Free Legal Services to Renters Most at Risk of Homelessness
- Dana Alpert
- Legislative/Communications Assistant
SACRAMENTO, CA — This week, the California Legislature approved budget legislation that will provide $120 million over three years to support legal services for renters and homeowners most at risk of eviction or foreclosure. The measure, Senate Bill (SB) 128, now moves to the Governor’s desk for signature.
Championed by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D - Woodland Hills) and supported by a broad coalition that includes more than 50 leading nonprofit and community organizations (as well as many of the most prominent California law firms), the budget allocation will fund education, outreach, and legal services aimed at preventing displacement and homelessness. The allocation doubles the amount proposed in the Governor’s May Revise and underscores the Legislature’s commitment to providing robust legal services to help protect California’s most vulnerable tenants.
“Preventing evictions is crucial to addressing our homelessness crisis, particularly given the devastating impacts of COVID-19 on our most vulnerable renters,” said Assemblymember Gabriel. “This smart investment is aimed squarely at one of the root causes of the current homelessness crisis and will help prevent homelessness before it begins. Among other benefits, legal aid programs have been proven to protect vulnerable communities, reduce homelessness, save taxpayer resources, and improve the fairness and efficiency of our judicial system.”
This week’s notable budget action follows growing momentum for eviction defense programs across the nation. This year, Assemblymember Gabriel and colleagues in the Legislature are advancing Assembly Bill 1487 to create a framework for a statewide eviction defense program in California. In April, the State of Washington enacted a bill to require the state to provide eviction defense attorneys for low-income individuals and families. Maryland lawmakers also recently passed an eviction defense bill, as did Connecticut. The cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco have also enacted their own versions of eviction defense legal aid programs.
Providing legal representation to particularly vulnerable low-income tenants has proven to be an effective and cost-effective strategy for addressing homelessness. A 2019 report on the LA Eviction Defense Program estimated that for every dollar spent on an eviction defense program, Los Angeles would receive approximately $4.50 in value in avoided costs for emergency shelters, local rehousing programs, and mental health and healthcare services. Similarly, reports found that investment in legal aid in Baltimore could result in $17.5 million in costs avoided annually; for New York City, $320 million annually.
COVID-19 has exacerbated already concerning rates of eviction and homelessness, with an estimated 13.2 million adults—nearly 1 in 5 renters—behind on rent payments due to the pandemic. Data has shown that evictions are not only caused by economic hardships but are themselves a root cause of poverty and homelessness, as nearly 50% of homeless adults list evictions or rent-related issues as a contributor to their homelessness.
Data has shown that evictions have a disproportionate impact on communities of color. A 2020 study found that Black and Latino renters were overrepresented among eviction defendants and were more likely to experience costly serial eviction filings in comparison to their white counterparts.
“We’re grateful to Assemblymember Gabriel, Assembly Speaker Rendon, Senate President pro Tempore Atkins, Assembly Budget Chair Ting, and Senate Budget Chair Skinner, in allocating federal funds for this critical effort,” said Lorin Kline, Directing Attorney at the Legal Aid Association of California. “We’re confident that budget negotiations with the Governor’s office will demonstrate just how vital it is that we fund legal aid for vulnerable tenants, the majority of whom are currently unrepresented and without help. This is an investment that will not only save thousands of tenants from devastating, unlawful displacement, but it will also save the state money in the long run.”