Chelsea Palacio (left) discusses the resources offered by Eviction Help Center during National Night Out at St. James Park in San Jose, Calif., on Aug. 3, 2021. (Harika Maddala/ Bay City News)

Following a tsunami of evictions, San Jose is looking at ways to help residents from losing their homes, and heading off the problem before it reaches the courts.

The eviction issue has skyrocketed in San Jose, especially after the expiration of COVID-19 pandemic-era tenant protections. Toward the end of 2022, hundreds of San Jose residents faced the threat of eviction. San Jose received 295 fillings in November 2022 and 116 in December 2022, compared with 22 notices in April. Pre-pandemic, Santa Clara County saw about 202 eviction cases per month. To help, San Jose extended its eviction ban during the pandemic, and the housing department created eviction help centers to protect renters. 

Today, to prevent evictions and displacement, San Jose is considering a tenant right to legal counsel program and alternative housing collaborative court program proposal. These programs are designed to give renters additional tools to avoid displacement. The first program provides free legal advice or a lawyer to assist tenants facing evictions. The second is part of the eviction diversion program and would provide a set time and place for lawyers to consult with the renter to decide next steps at an eviction hearing.

The city’s rent stabilization program oversees city rental housing ordinances and provides services to tenants and landlords. It assists with rent issues including eviction concerns, rent increases and tenant-landlord disputes. The program also helps residents file petitions against wrongful evictions and apply for affordable housing. It upholds the rights of individuals who receive Section 8 subsidized housing vouchers.

Jeff Scott, spokesperson for the San Jose housing department, said an eviction only occurs after a court ruling.

“The city currently runs an eviction diversion program inside the Superior Court building,” he told San José Spotlight. “This is an optional program. Our objective is to bring landlords and tenants together to resolve issues rather than have the court render a judgment.”

Emily Ann Ramos, preservation and protection associate at SV@Home, said the goal is to ensure people stay in their homes, while providing landlords the rent they need to run their businesses.

During the pandemic, San Jose created an eviction collaborative and eviction diversion program to help people from losing their homes, she said. Funding from Santa Clara County played a huge role in preventing evictions, she said, along with eviction help clinics. Ramos said some funding still remains to ensure tenants aren’t illegally evicted and to provide assistance to keep them in their homes.

“There is such a little margin or buffer,” she told San Jose Spotlight. “If you just suffer one misstep, like you lose your job and get another job immediately, but don’t get the paycheck for another two weeks, that can set you back so much because rent is so high here. Having that emergency assistance is great, but by the time that expert gets to you, you might already be in court.”

The San Jose Eviction Help Center connects tenants with legal assistance. The center walks them through the process for fighting wrongful evictions and connects them with emergency rent assistance resources, she said. To avoid eviction court, residents should contact the center the minute there’s a problem, Ramos said. The earlier renters act, the more options for help are available, she added.

“Sometimes it doesn’t take much to prevent an eviction,” Ramos said.

SV@Home will present an information session on tenant right to counsel on Zoom from 12-1 p.m. on June 30. Emily Hislop, San Jose division manager for Rent Stabilization and Tenant Protection, will be the guest speaker. Click here to register for the event.

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