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Relief needed 

Preventing homelessness as the COVID crisis eases should be a top priority

According to the SLO County Workforce Development Board, more than 23,500 people in SLO County filed new unemployment claims between March 14 and April 25. The devastating ripple effect means 23,500 fewer patrons of local small businesses that are struggling to stay afloat; 23,500 of our neighbors and loved ones stripped of their income; 23,500 families wondering how they will put food on the table and how they'll pay the rent or mortgage. These are drastic numbers, and drastic numbers call for a sweeping response. We need comprehensive rent and mortgage relief, and we need it now.

Sixteen leading community organizations recently joined forces to form Rent and Mortgage Relief for ALL SLO County to urge our local, state, and federal governments to take action to ensure everyone receives the protection they deserve. Two weeks ago, the Paso Robles City Council took the lead and voted unanimously to advocate with the state for relief for renters and mortgage holders. They directed staff to explore the use of Community Development Block Grant and other funds to enable direct assistance to people in need. A few days later, the Grover Beach and Arroyo Grande city councils voted unanimously to do the same. The mayors of Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo also wrote letters to Gov. Newsom advocating for rent and mortgage relief.

While these actions are receiving no coverage in the local news, they demonstrate how visionary leaders commit to protecting their constituents, setting aside party, ideology, and petty politics in favor of everyone's shared interests. The Rent and Mortgage Relief Coalition, in concert with our most foresighted elected officials, is building a multi-pronged campaign seeking residential and commercial rent and mortgage relief for one year. The failure of the current federal relief packages to provide long-term direct aid to those who need it most means that front-line workers, retirees, and others who play critical roles in our communities will continue to suffer. Undocumented residents will suffer the worst effects, but they are not alone. Documented residents, both renters and mortgage holders, as well as commercial businesses are also at risk.

There can be no recovery from COVID-19 or the resulting economic collapse if we force these folks back into workspaces and public venues before the experts tell us it's safe. Moreover, in the aftermath of the shelter-at-home order, these communities will face a tsunami of evictions and foreclosures like we've never seen in our lifetimes. Our real estate market, and thus the economy, will go into an even bigger tailspin as the housing market collapses in on itself. This will happen unless the government steps in.

We need to take action to keep renters and borrowers in their homes and keep smaller landlords afloat while we all recover from this crisis. Working with the most foresighted of our local elected leaders, we are engaging state and federal officials in this campaign to provide the relief that will allow all people the privilege of remaining safely at home as long as necessary, and the security to know they will not lose their homes in the aftermath of the pandemic.

We must demand that our state and federal governments create emergency direct cash assistance programs for renters and mortgage holders, require banks and financial institutions to suspend rent and mortgage collections, create emergency grant programs for small businesses and nonprofits, and create emergency services for people experiencing homelessness. This is a time for bold measures that will provide collective safety and security.

Keeping people housed—preventing further homelessness—must be a top priority. We are calling for creative, courageous, innovative solutions to provide emergency rental assistance, mortgage cancellation for small landlords and property owners, and small-business assistance using general funds and leveraging statewide partnerships and federal dollars. This three-pronged approach will ensure San Luis Obispo County's economic recovery for renters, mortgage holders, and small-business owners. Δ

Paden McNiff is the co-president of Cal Poly Democrats and a part of the Rent And Mortgage Relief For ALL SLO County coalition. Contact her at [email protected]. Write a response and email it to [email protected].

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