Dear friends and allies,
Life has thrown us an unimaginably difficult curveball, testing our discipline and forbearance in ways we could never have conceived. We sit at home, anxiously trying to assess what the impacts of the pandemic will be on us, our families, and the society at large. In the midst of these challenging times, though, I am pleased to say that there is uplifting news. I am writing today to tell you of extraordinary efforts that have been made to field the curveball that has been thrown our way and to protect the people in our community whose lives have suddenly been pushed to the edge.
Over the past week, social justice groups up and down the Peninsula organized very swiftly to press for a countywide ban on evictions. Recognizing that many families live paycheck to paycheck as they struggle to manage the high and burdensome rents in this area, community advocates understood that the order to shelter in place could easily result in a widespread wave of evictions.
The effort that materialized in response to this threat was breathtaking in both its intensity and speed. Faith in Action Bay Area initiated a petition to be submitted to the County Board of Supervisors, distributing it widely among its participating congregations. One San Mateo circulated the petition among its members and allies, as did other social justice groups. Reverend Penny Nixon of the Congregational Church of San Mateo led the effort to involve the Peninsula clergy. The result is that a petition calling for a countywide ban on evictions was submitted to the Board of Supervisors with nearly 800 signatures! Furthermore, at least 200 letters and emails were written to the Supervisors, some of us participated in conference calls with County staff, and others held research meetings with individual Supervisors by phone.
Under normal circumstances, the Board of Supervisors can only pass legislation covering the unincorporated areas of San Mateo County. When a state of emergency is declared, however, its powers are expanded, and it has the ability to pass laws to cover the cities as well.
Thus, the result of the advocacy effort is a sweeping piece of legislation that was passed yesterday by the Board of Supervisors in a unanimous vote. The new law accomplishes the following:
- Evictions are forbidden for nonpayment of rent resulting from COVID-19 anywhere in the county for as long as the state of emergency is in force.
- It creates a grace period of 90 to 180 days after the state of emergency ends for renters to get caught up on rent.
- A fund of $3 million is established to support individuals, nonprofits and small businesses whose survival and well-being are threatened in the coming months.
Do these events convey as many positive messages to you as they do to me? Among other things, I believe they speak volumes about the large number of deeply compassionate people in our community, about the capacity of caring folks for fierce action, about the power of coordinated advocacy to influence public policy, and about the ability of elected officials to embrace their role as custodians of the least advantaged among us. The story of the past week serves as a source of uplift in anxious times. Please keep in mind, though, that we are in the early stages of confronting this pandemic, and the months ahead are sure to bring other moments when we are called upon to raise our voices in defense of those whose lives are most fragile and who feel the pain of this crisis most keenly. When these situations arise, I hope you will be prepared to join in advocating with us. While none of us can control the curves that are thrown our way, what we can control is how we respond.
Take the best of care.