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California Rep. Barbara Lee Co-Sponsors Bill to Protect Renters From Evictions During Coronavirus Crisis

A California lawmaker is working to protect Americans struggling to make their monthly rent payments amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) and Democratic colleague Jesus Garcia of Chicago have introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that would block landlords from evicting tenants for the duration of the public health crisis.

Rep. Barbara Lee
Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland is sponsoring a bill that would block landlords from evicting tenants during the coronavirus crisis.(Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

The newly proposed Rental Eviction Moratorium Act would be part of the House of Representatives’ $2.5 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill, the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act.

“As more workers are losing their jobs or are having their hours limited, families are put at risk of missing rent or forgoing food on the table,” Lee said in a statement from the House floor Monday after Garcia introduced the bill. Lee added, “This important legislation ensures that renters in the Bay Area and the nation cannot be evicted from their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“We must ensure that everyone has access to quality housing no matter their financial situation,” she continued.

As Garcia described the bill in his introductory remarks, “This bill prohibits landlords from initiating eviction proceedings due to a tenants’ failure to pay rent or other causes.” The measure would not shield tenants that pose a threat or commit a serious crime that endangers the health, life and/or safety of other tenants.

The lawmakers say the bill will self-terminate six months after the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or (FEMA) ends the national emergency declared by President Donald Trump earlier this month.

The proposal comes nearly a week after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced it would provide immediate support to the nation’s 30 million homeowners with federally insured mortgages by “suspending all foreclosures and evictions until the end of April.” The 60-day moratorium offers little help to renters, however.

The fast-spreading virus, which by late Wednesday evening had over 68,000 cases of confirmed infections across the U.S., has resulted in the closings of bars, restaurants and other nonessential businesses as public health officials scramble to get a handle on the disease. Many hourly and low-wage workers are now out of their jobs, leaving them without stable income and at risk of losing the roofs over their heads.

Such was the case of metro Atlanta woman Jazmine White. The 29-year-old barely escaped eviction from her Cobb County apartment after Georgia’s chief justice declared a “statewide judicial emergency” and ordered lower courts to cease all nonessential operations, including evictions.

White, a mom of two who recently lost her bartending job due to the virus, was given seven days to vacate her unit before she learned the state was halting eviction proceedings. Because the court had already ruled against her, White told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution she was afraid to reach out for clarification.

“I don’t even know if I have the strength to figure out what to do next,” she told the newspaper. “Maybe if they felt more empathy they would know how important it is for us to know exactly what’s going on.”

Just last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom of Lee’s own state of California issued a similar order authorizing local governments to freeze evictions for renters and homeowners.

Garcia and Lee’s new bill, which boasts dozens of other co-sponsors, would offer federal protection for renters across the U.S.

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