(Image courtesy of apt mags.com)

California Assemblymember David Chiu, D-San Francisco, announced Monday he’s introducing two bills to extend eviction protections and create a plan for a rental assistance program as the COVID-19 pandemic reaches unprecedented levels.

Chiu’s bills come as the California Legislature reconvened for the 2021-2022 session in Sacramento on Monday.

According to Chiu, protections for renters are desperately needed as the state grapples with a new COVID-19 surge and unemployment remains at an all-time high. Despite layers of federal, state and local policies to protect renters from eviction through the pandemic, federal and state protections are set to expire within the coming months.

Federal protections for renters facing eviction are set to expire in just weeks, on Dec. 31. Furthermore, California Assembly Bill 3088, signed into law in August, pauses evictions for non-payment of rent but it’s set to expire on Feb. 1, 2021.

“We are again staring down an eviction cliff that could leave millions homeless in the middle of a deadly pandemic,” Chiu said in a statement. “We must keep Californians housed and look towards providing relief to struggling renters and landlords.”

One of the bills being introduced by Chiu would extend the protections afforded under AB 3088 through Dec. 31, 2021. Additionally, the new bill further protects tenants who can pay at least 25 percent of their rent between Sept. 1, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2021 by converting any remaining amount owed to their landlord into civil debt and can’t be used to justify an

Landlords, however, would be able to file a lawsuit in small claims court to recover rent owed from tenants starting in 2022 and if a tenant can’t pay the minimum 25 percent on their back rent, they could then face eviction.

Chiu said despite the immediate protections, the overwhelming debt ultimately faced by renters and the continued loss of income for landlords could result in “serious long-term economic consequences.”

A second bill being introduced by Chiu, however, would provide a solution, he said.

That bill proposes framework for a statewide rental assistance program. The bill is still in the early stages and details are being worked out surrounding funding, Chiu said.

Last month, Chiu, along with state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, and other legislators sent a letter to Congress asking for funding for rental assistance programs.