As COVID renter protections expire in San Diego, some renters are concerned about where to live

Rahmo Abdi is a mother of six and rents a house in City Heights. She has lived in the San Diego neighborhood for decades, having left a life in Somalia.

“So I grew up in City Heights too, and when my family was renting, it looked like a community. It looked like all families would stay together,” Abdi told KPBS.

She loves City Heights but worries her community is becoming fragmented by immigrants and refugees.

That’s because emergency COVID-19 renter protections are due to expire on September 30, and she said more of her friends and neighbors will be forced to move away. City Heights has been an affordable place to live for immigrants for decades thanks to cheap rents.

“Now that City Heights is getting expensive because of the lack of protection that we have, everyone is spreading out and moving out and being evicted,” she said.

Abdi works at Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans or PANA.

Her colleague Asma Abdi is PANA’s political assistant. The two are not related. Asma Abdi said San Diego needs more tenant protection and urged the city council to take action.

“This means that even if many families do absolutely everything right – they pay their rent on time, they don’t breach their lease – they are still at risk of eviction,” Asma Abdi said. “It creates a lot of insecurity in our community and people don’t know whether to stay in their homes or not.”

Once the no-fault protection expires, the city stays with her Tenant Protection Ordinance.

Landlords must provide at least one of the nine reasons listed before terminating a lease with a tenant who has lived in a property for more than two years.

Rahmo Abdi is concerned the previous regulation will allow landlord abuse in an expensive housing market.

“I’m very nervous. Every day we see parishioners coming into our office with eviction letters and being evicted,” she said. “Sometimes their rent has gone up that they can’t afford.”

Rahmo Abdi said the problem is bigger than rent increases and unethical landlords alone.

“We really need more affordable housing that families can afford in City Heights,” she said.

San Diego City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera said he has submitted potential updates to the Tenant Protection Ordinance to prosecutors.

“There is an additional legal review that prosecutors have suggested before the council considers the point,” he said.

Posters and signs supporting tenant rights lay on the floor at PANA’s office on September 27, 2022.

Asma Abdi said PANA’s goal is to update the City of San Diego’s 2004 Right to Know to include a stricter Tenant Protection Ordinance (TPO).

“We hope the Tenant Protection Ordinance provides stronger protections for our low-income, elderly, disabled and terminally ill tenants – some of our most vulnerable community members. And gives them the right to relocation payments in the event of an eviction,” she said.

Current state law limits rent increases – with a few exceptions – to 10%.

While that sounds like a lot, Lucinda Lilley of the Southern California Rental Housing Association said landlords have also faced difficult circumstances in recent years.

“We couldn’t terminate a lease even if there was an extremely bad actor on a property. So rental providers have really evolved into that,” she said.

Lilley wants solutions for tenants who are struggling, but opposes any form of extending protections.

“This will not result in an avalanche of people being fired for no reason,” Lilley said. “A just cause is a just cause, and if an owner needs to move into a property, then he needs to move into a property. If he has to sell because he can no longer afford to support the property, then he has to be able to do it.”

The affordable housing crisis has deepened in San Diego and other cities across the state, particularly for low-income earners.

Elo-Rivera said he wants to help San Diego’s people living in fear of rent increases and evictions, while preventing homelessness in a “cutthroat” housing market.

“Any protections that are removed, making it easier for people to be evicted and placed on the rental market, create additional vulnerabilities. And that worries me,” said the San Diego City Council President.

While time is of the essence for many renters, it can be a while before any form of TPO can be enacted.

It must go through a full legal review with the prosecutor’s office and then be referred back before the full City Council.

With the rising cost of living, many renters are being pushed over the edge.

“Fortunately, I have four bedrooms, but some other families cannot afford to rent four bedrooms,” Rahmo Abdi said. “So there’s a lot of hidden homelessness in our community where families are doubling up in one bedroom, two bedroom because they can’t afford the rent.”

PANA said the updated regulation would close loopholes landlords could use to unfairly evict families.

It would also require landlords to provide relocation assistance to tenants who are at risk of being evicted through no fault of their own.

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