Advocates are encouraged by City’s policy changes regarding tents, but questions remain regarding implementation.
San Francisco, CA – The City of San Francisco has purportedly issued new guidance to staff at Public Works, the San Francisco Police Department, and SF Recreation and Park amending its property confiscation and storage policies. According to guidance from the CDC, cities should “not clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19. Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”
“During this pandemic, unhoused individuals have nowhere to go. Shelters are full and the City is not adding individuals to the housing waiting lists. Therefore these changes bring much needed relief to our unhoused population. Unfortunately, based on 311 data, and what we have been hearing from the community, it appears that the City’s guidance has not reached all staff implementing the policies. For example, on April 9, Rec and Park threatened persons in Martin Luther King Jr. Park with citations if they did not move their tents. The City must do more to ensure that every staff member understands the policies.”
– Jennifer Friedenbach, Director of the Coalition on Homelessness
The changes are intended to ensure that unhoused persons can shelter in place safely without fear of having their tents and other belongings taken by the City. The City’s plan for addressing property issues related to encampments during the shelter in place order is:
- Not taking or removing tents
- Addressing criminal activity in encampments and on the streets – bagging and tagging property may be required if an encampment resident is arrested
- Keeping encampments clean, including regular street cleaning and power washing
- Collecting garbage from people living in encampments
- Ensuring sidewalks are kept clear
- Not allowing large encampments to form (over five tents)
- Asking people to stay one per tent, if possible, and to keep tents six feet apart
- Educating people on COVID-19
This information is posted on the City’s FAQ concerning COVID-19 and homelessness: https://sf.gov/information/covid-19-and-people-experiencing-homelessness.
In the meantime, the Coalition is urging City officials to identify empty hotel rooms and other shelter options and move unhoused persons off the street. The importance of the City’s recent changes cannot be overstated.
“We hope that the City’s revised policies will ensure that unhoused persons can shelter in place outdoors safely, at least until the City provides additional shelter options. We appreciate that the City posted this critical information on its website and urge it to publicize the changes more broadly so that the community understands the new procedures.”
– Jessica Berger, Staff Attorney at Bay Area Legal Aid
PILP joins advocates across the state to urge California local governments to suspend rent at a time when so many workers are ordered to stay home. On April 7, 2020, PILP joined our colleagues at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley and Public Counsel in sending a letter to the San José City Council to support a motion by Councilmembers Carrasco and Peralez to suspend rents during the COVID-19 health crisis. Our letter includes authorities explaining why suspending rents is authorized by the California Constitution, the Governor’s Executive Order, the California Government Code, case law and other authorities. Relief from rents is vital to ensure that lower income Californians can continue to stay home and remain healthy during this pandemic.
Court Rules that California Charter Cities Must Prioritize Surplus Public Land for Affordable Housing Development
Oakland, CA – On November 26, 2019, California’s Sixth Appellate District Court of Appeal issued a decision in Anderson v. City of San José—a case that has profound implications for the affordable housing crisis throughout California. The Appellate Court ruled that San José is not exempt from complying with the Surplus Land Act—a state law that requires local governments to prioritize affordable housing when disposing of surplus government land. This ruling will affect all 121 charter cities in California, which include the largest metropolitan areas in the state.
“Our low-income clients celebrate the court’s ruling at a moment when displacement and the lack of affordable housing in our state have reached crisis proportions.”
– Rebekah Evenson, Director of Litigation and Advocacy at Bay Area Legal Aid
Low-income San José residents Sarah Anderson and Joana Cruz, and nonprofit organizations Urban Habitat Program and Housing California brought this case in 2016 to challenge San José’s adoption of a policy that conflicts with the Surplus Land Act, and to enforce legal protections for the development of affordable housing. San José’s refusal to abide by state affordable housing law would have caused disproportionate harm to low-income residents, many of whom are people of color, and many of whom have already been priced out of the city.
“The justices recognized that ‘public land for public good’ isn’t just a slogan, it’s the law of the land in California. Every city can and must prioritize its surplus land for homes affordable to lower-income families.”
– Sam Tepperman-Gelfant, Deputy Managing Attorney at Public Advocates Inc.
The superior court had ruled in December 2016 that the Surplus Land Act does not apply to charter cities. This Appellate Court ruling reverses this decision, holding that the shortage of sites available for affordable housing is a matter of statewide concern, and that San Jose must follow state affordable housing law.
“This should nip in the bud the view of some charter cities that, unlike the rest of the cities in California, they can ignore their obligation to make surplus public land available for affordable housing.”
– Michael Rawson, Director of the Public Interest Law Project
Changes to county policy means thousands in Riverside County, particularly adults experiencing homelessness, can now access vital cash benefits
Riverside, CA — A settlement has been reached with Riverside County in Isabel Bojorquez, et al. v. County of Riverside, et al., a lawsuit filed on behalf of three General Assistance (GA) recipients to change policies under the county’s GA program. GA is the program of last resort for the poorest Californians – indigent residents who cannot qualify for other benefit programs.
The settlement includes an agreement by the county to end its prior illegal policy limiting homeless recipients to six months of housing assistance payments. The county will now only end housing assistance payments if the recipient declines an offer of available shelter without a good reason.
“People experiencing the kind of poverty that qualifies them for General Assistance usually have little to no resources. General Assistance can be vital for a person’s ability to rent a room or find a motel where they can sleep,”
– Alex Prieto, Attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty
Riverside County has agreed to issue guidance to workers and train them on the county’s obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities. The county will also review previous applications for a limited period and issue retroactive payments to anyone denied under the former policy.
“I’m hopeful that this outcome in Riverside will prompt other counties to revisit their policies and approach to General Assistance as well,”
– Anthony Kim, Attorney at Inland Counties Legal Services, Inc.
In response to litigation pressure and across two previous mediation sessions, Riverside has made numerous other improvements to county policy. To date, the county has raised GA grant amounts, raised resource limits, simplified application processes, issued guidance regarding due process, and ended a policy that required employable recipients to re-apply for benefits every month, even though their circumstances were unchanged.
“Increasing General Assistance across the board in California counties, and simplifying the process for people to access it, could provide a significant stop-gap in our state’s battle against homelessness and increasing poverty. This is a good example of the kinds of things counties can do, ideally without the need for litigation, to curb deep poverty in their jurisdictions.”
– Laren Hansen, Staff Attorney at Public Interest Law Project
Oakland renters who need to live in accessible units are either shut out of the City’s rent control protections entirely, or forced to live in inaccessible units. Please contact DRA if you are in either situation, we want to hear from you! Contact DRA at 510-665-8644 or email@example.com.
On August 28, 2019 – Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) and PILP filed a class action lawsuit alleging that people with disabilities are discriminatorily excluded from Oakland’s rent stabilization program (also known as rent control). Oakland’s rent control program covers approximately 60% of the City’s rental properties, providing meaningful protection from rapidly rising rents, for those who reside in these protected properties. However, people with mobility disabilities are uniquely barred from this protection; Oakland’s program exempts every building constructed after January 1, 1983, from its coverage—yet laws establishing accessibility standards about essential features like stair-free entryways and grab bars went into effect years after that date. As a result, nearly every accessible rental unit in Oakland is excluded from the City’s rent control program.
“I used to live in a more accessible apartment, but I had to leave when the rent started to go up faster than I could afford. I was fortunate to find an inaccessible rent-stabilized unit that I could work with—more or less—but it’s not always easy, and I worry that I’m only one injury away from not being able to do it at all.”
– Plaintiff Mitch Jeserich
To comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Oakland must modify its rent stabilization program so that people who need accessible housing can access the same benefits that the city affords to its nondisabled renters, on the same terms. Because the requirements of the federal ADA supersede state law, Oakland must modify its program even if California’s Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which imposes limitations on local rent control policies, would not otherwise allow it.
“Renters with disabilities across Oakland are harmed by the lack of accessible units covered by the city’s rent stabilization program. I worry that many have already been forced out of the City because they need to live in accessible units and, as a result, have no opportunity to access rent stabilization.”
– Sean Betouliere, Staff Attorney at Disability Rights Advocates
This lawsuit comes at a dire time for Oakland renters. Average market-rate rents in Oakland have almost doubled over the past decade; in the past year alone, the median price for a one-bedroom apartment has increased by nearly 13 percent. Because they are denied the protections of Oakland’s rent stabilization program, people with disabilities who need accessible housing are especially susceptible to these skyrocketing rents.
“For many tenants, rent stabilization is the difference between having or not having a place to live in Oakland and in other communities with rent control. The blanket exclusion from Oakland’s rent stabilization program of all units built less than 36 years ago effectively denies a person needing to live in an accessible unit from protections of the program. We hope that this litigation will make Oakland’s rent control program more accessible to tenants with disabilities.”
– Michael Rawson, Director of the Public Interest Law Project
On July 12, 2019, the Northern District of California entered a stipulated preliminary injunction in Vannucci v. County of Sonoma, Case No. 3:18-cv-01955-VC, a civil rights lawsuit brought in spring of 2018 by homeless individuals and the advocacy organization Homeless Action! against the City of Santa Rosa, the County of Sonoma, and the Sonoma County Community Development Commission regarding Defendants’ enforcement of anti-camping laws against homeless persons without first offering adequate shelter that met their disability-related needs.
“This stipulated preliminary injunction will help to protect the rights of homeless individuals with disabilities, and to promote meaningful access to homeless services in Sonoma County.”
– Melissa Morris, staff attorney at the Public Interest Law Project.
The injunction, which applies to enforcement actions against homeless persons living on public property within the city of Santa Rosa (including County owned property within Santa Rosa, will be in effect August 12, 2019, through June 30, 2020. It requires that, before the City or County takes an enforcement action against a homeless individual who has established a dwelling outdoors, they must first provide that individual reasonable notice and make an offer of adequate shelter. The injunction defines adequate shelter based on a variety of factors, including an individual’s specific, disability-related needs, their having a service animal or pet, their gender, and their religious or ethical beliefs.
“Criminally punishing homeless individuals for sleeping on the street when they have nowhere else to go is inhumane. This agreement will help to ensure that the City and County will offer adequate placements instead of simply arresting and citing people for camping or conducting other life sustaining activities which they must do in order to survive.”
– Adrienne Lauby, a founding member of Homeless Action!
Adequacy will also depend on the conditions of the facility, including a requirement that the shelter be immediately available for 30 consecutive days or more, and that the shelter must be open both days and nights. The injunction also establishes requirements for the preservation and storage of homeless individuals’ personal property, including a prohibition against destroying homeless individuals’ unattended (as opposed to abandoned) property and a requirement to store personal property for 90 days.
PILP, along with California Rural Legal Assistance, represents Plaintiffs Nicholle Vannucci, Ellen Brown, Shannon Hall, and Homeless Action!
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