Housing is Healthcare: San Diego Emergency Demands

Emailed 4/16 to Governor Gavin Newsom, Mayor Kevin Faulconer, City Attorney Mara Elliott, Councilmember Barbara Bry, Councilmember Jennifer Campbell, Councilmember Christopher Ward, Councilmember Monica Montgomery, Councilmember Mark Kersey, Councilmember Chris Cate, Councilmember Scott Sherman, Councilmember Vivian Moreno, Council President Georgette Gomez, Supervisor Greg Cox, Supervisor Dianne Jacob, Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, Supervisor Jim Desmond

Endorsing organizations:

  • Democratic Socialists of America – San Diego
  • Otay Mesa Detention Resistance
  • San Diego 350
  • San Diego Tenants United
  • Standing Up for Racial Justice – San Diego
  • Student Housing Association at UC San Diego
  • Sunrise Movement – San Diego
  • The Travelers Club
  • Think Dignity
  • UCSD Green New Deal
  • Unión del Barrio

We are calling on San Diego leadership to immediately enact emergency housing measures to protect the health, safety and dignity of all residents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, a record 10 million Americans filed for unemployment. According to the SD Workforce Partnership, in just 3 days from March 16-18, 190,000 Californians submitted unemployment insurance claims, four times the typical weekly average and more than have been  submitted in any single week this century. More layoffs and business closures will follow.

The full effects of this crisis have yet to be seen, but one thing is certain – immediate action is required to protect vulnerable residents from additional harm. In this moment each City, County and State leader can either embrace the opportunity to champion justice and to protect residents, or allow San Diego families to spiral into inescapable debt and potential homelessness. Following are the measures we believe necessary for San Diego’s long-term, balanced prosperity. 

01. Rent Suspension: No Rent Now, No Debt Later

Economic relief and displacement protections must not be limited to property owners. The City must act to prioritize the well-being and safety of tenants who are at grave risk of losing their homes. Mortgage holders and property owners have already been granted statewide and nationwide relief in the form of mortgage deferral options, but no such provision has been offered to renters, who are even more financially vulnerable.

The catastrophic economic effects of this global emergency will last for years. To address the crisis with a temporary evictions ban is not only short sighted but dangerous, and puts thousands of households at risk of homelessness and severe poverty.

Nearly 60% of all renting households in San Diego are rent-burdened, meaning they spend more than one-third – and in some cases close to 100% – of their income on housing. What will happen to tenants at the end of a no-evictions grace period as they are hit with thousands of dollars of accumulated rent debt? For many families, the crisis won’t end, it will simply continue into inescapable debt and potential homelessness or bankruptcy. We urge our leaders to recognize the severity of the situation, and act accordingly to ensure the safety and security of all residents. 

The City and County must enact a rent suspension or rent forgiveness policy to protect renters and to prevent future debt and homelessness. The rent payment suspension period should be enacted retroactively from April 1, 2020 and remain in effect through the duration of the statewide shelter-in-place mandate, or a minimum of 90 days. 

The City and County leadership must do everything within their power to advocate for a state level legislative package providing the same.

02. Support for Unhoused Residents

Housing justice is not merely an issue of tenants’ rights, but of human rights broadly.  At least 8,000 people are currently without housing in San Diego County. Not guaranteeing housing as a human right inevitably leads to the unnecessary suffering of thousands: people experiencing homelessness have higher rates of illness than their housed peers, are more likely to die prematurely, and are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19. Official guidance compels the public to “stay at home” to contain the spread of the virus, but  “staying home” only works if you have somewhere to stay. To contain the spread of COVID-19, we must immediately provide emergency shelter, expanded services, and reliable information to all unhoused individuals in San Diego.

The City of San Diego has already committed to converting parts of the Convention Center to a shelter and securing 1,300 hotel rooms for high-risk individuals, showing that we have the resources to act decisively on this issue. However, warehousing people in open spaces with little privacy, and only offering hotel rooms to people deemed “high risk” is not an adequate solution. In addition to the actions already being taken, we demand:

– Hotel vouchers to allow all unhoused people access to safe, clean and comfortable lodging. Vouchers should be made available to anyone needing shelter, not just individuals who are presenting symptoms.

– Permanent commitment to provide housing for everyone who needs it, not just a temporary  measure that will put people right back on the streets when this crisis is over.

– Expanded housing services through an infusion of resources and funding to community health clinics, shelters, and other frontline service providers, to cover staff overtime pay and necessary supplies, like sanitizers, medicine, masks, etc.

– Emergency sanitation sites for people who cannot move indoors. Sanitation sites should include 24-hour restrooms and showers, laundry, hygiene supplies, COVID-19 screening, case worker availability, and disease prevention information.

– End to encampment sweeps, ticketing, and vehicle tows (all practices that criminalize  houselessness).

Enforcement / Outreach 

– Penalties for landlords who do not inform tenants of their rights under these provisions

– Penalties for landlords who do not comply with these emergency restrictions

– No funding for service providers that discriminate against individuals on the basis of their age, race, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexual orientation, or religion

– Fund outreach by community-based organizations to tenants: disseminate reliable information covering tenants’ rights and provide a monitored complaint hotline to tenants

While San Diego leaders may find it worthwhile to explore access to massive relief funds such as those approved by the U.S. Congress for corporations of all sizes to offset landlord losses, our commitment lies with those who are without assets, and who are therefore most vulnerable to long-term financial ruin. We ask you to intervene now on behalf of your most populous constituency, the working-class tenants so integral to San Diego’s vibrant, hospitable identity.

Downloadable PDF for circulation: https://bit.ly/HousingJusticeSD