Coronavirus in California: Mortgage Relief For 90 days

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On Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Gavin Newsom took his now-usual spot behind a podium in Sacramento for a live-streamed news conference and rattled off a dizzying list of statistics.

Some 66,800 tests had been conducted, he said, once again emphasizing that the state is working with commercial labs, hospitals and universities to ramp up testing even more. California had distributed more than 24 million N95 masks and more are on the way, he said.

[Here are more of the latest updates about the coronavirus in California.]

But one number in particular stood out.

“We just passed the one million mark in claims since March 13,” Mr. Newsom said. He was talking about people filing for unemployment.

It was a jarring encapsulation of how many Californians are and will continue to be out of work, and how many will desperately need help paying their bills to stave off homelessness.

[Read about how to apply for unemployment insurance.]

Mr. Newsom announced that four of the five big banks — Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo — along with almost 200 state-chartered banks and credit unions, had agreed to put off collecting mortgage payments for up to 90 days from borrowers who can document they’ve been affected by the crisis.

He said the financial institutions also agreed not to report the late payments to credit agencies and wouldn’t start foreclosure sales or evictions.

(Absent from the 90-day agreement was Bank of America, Mr. Newsom noted more than once. The bank committed to a 30-day pause.)

Still, California’s pre-existing housing crisis has disproportionately hurt renters, who make up a large share of the state’s population. April 1 is not far away.

And although Mr. Newsom signed an executive order giving cities and counties explicit permission to halt evictions, many activists and lawmakers have said that’s not enough.

In a letter on Wednesday, more than 30 lawmakers called on Mr. Newsom to make the decision for the hundreds of cities and counties across California that haven’t taken up the suggestion.

Fewer than 50 local governments had put in place any kind of eviction limits, it said.

“During this emergency, our state needs one clear order that covers all tenants,” the letter said.

Mr. Newsom responded that the state was exploring legal ways to do that.

For landlords, halting evictions for tenants who have been affected by Covid-19 is “good business,” said Tom Bannon, who is chief executive of the California Apartment Association, one of the nation’s biggest landlord groups.

Mr. Bannon told me that while the association doesn’t formally support or oppose legally mandated eviction moratoriums, the group still advised landlords of any size to halt evictions on their own through May 31.

“Here’s the reality,” Mr. Bannon said, “If you evict somebody, the chances of getting a new resident are not good.”

That was one of several guidelines the association sent to members. The group also called on association members to commit to freezing rents during that period, waiving late fees and offering payment plans. (Stopping evictions doesn’t mean that tenants are not expected to pay the rent back eventually.)

Mr. Bannon said he knew that for many landlords, particularly ones with fewer units, even a month of lost rent can be tough to survive.

That’s why he said he was hopeful there would be enough relief money for both small businesses, like landlords, and for tenants.

[Read about what’s in the $2 trillion federal rescue package.]

“The faster you get people back to normal, the better you’re going to be,” Mr. Bannon said.

Julianna Mazziliano, an 18-year-old student at Fresno State University, told me that, in the meantime, she’s overwhelmed.

Ms. Mazziliano was working two jobs, but her hours have been slashed thanks to the coronavirus.

The catering company where Ms. Mazziliano worked is shut down for now, and she’s gotten just about five hours a week at a fast-casual pizza chain, where she’s also worried about contracting the virus while handling cash or interacting with customers. She’s taking home about $30 per week.

She said she’s gotten food from the university’s food pantry for students and she’s applied for unemployment benefits.

Still, she knows that even if evictions have been paused in Fresno, the $865 in rent she owes for a one-bedroom apartment she shares with her boyfriend, whose work has also been cut, will become just another bill due down the line.

“I think a lot of people that have money and their jobs are still operating,” Ms. Mazziliano said, “I don’t think they clearly understand what people are going through.”

At least one landlord reportedly did, though: According to The Bakersfield Californian, a local lawyer and property owner waived April rent completely and encouraged others to do the same.

[Read more about the race to head off evictions.]

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Credit…Anne Dazey

My colleague Tejal Rao reported that as Americans retreat to their homes in the midst of this war against an invisible enemy, they’ve begun to look back at World War I- and II-era victory gardens as a way of soothing anxieties about food shortages.

In 2020, though, gardens are also just little slivers of the outside, where you can rest and breathe.

Anne Dazey, 66, sent this picture of her dog, William, and chickens — named after the Pac-Man ghosts Inky, Blinky and Clyde. She said in an email that William likes to keep watch over the garden while “the girls” take care of snail and bug control.

Ms. Dazey lives in what she said is a family-oriented neighborhood in Palo Alto. Walking with William, she said, is disquieting now that the streets are empty. Being at home alone for days without being able to see people at work feels isolating.

Nevertheless, Ms. Dazey said, “This ‘sheltering at home’ has been a reflective time for me.”

California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.

Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter, @jillcowan.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.

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