City program protects renters from evictions — with families of color facing the greatest risk 

Photograph by Allan Vega

By Keyshawn Davis

Samuel McCurin and his son were evicted from their South Sacramento apartment in August. With the loss of his apartment, he also lost a maintenance job he had at the complex. 

The single 44-year-old father says he believes he shouldn’t have been evicted, but regardless, the upheaval to his and his son’s life has been significant.

McCurin said that as a result of eviction, his young son was separated from his friends, tutor and immediate community within the apartment complex. 

Now, he and his son live with his sisters that run a board and care, and he also sometimes sleeps in his car, whenever his son goes to see his mother.

“This is our new home,” McCurin said.

Millions of Americans are threatened with evictions each year, with the most at risk being children, studies from Eviction Lab have found. 

From 2007 to 2016, 2.9 million children faced the threat of eviction each year.

Black renters, especially ones with children, face a greater risk of  eviction than their white counterparts, according to studies from Eviction Lab and the U.S. Census Bureau. Black Americans, although only accounting for 18.6% of renters, make up about 51.1%  of those affected by eviction filings with 43.4% evicted. 

In Sacramento, there are programs in place that assist tenants who are on the verge of being evicted. There are also programs and nonprofit organizations that assist families, men, women and children who are experiencing homelessness. 

The City of Sacramento’s Tenant Protection Program (TPP) assists tenants who are facing  eviction. The ordinance, which went into effect in September, 2019, was adopted by City Council to prohibit unlawful evictions and to place limitations on rent increases.

Vickie Riggins Medina, the program’s specialist, said the way the Tenant Protection Program operates is that if a tenant believes that they’re being wrongfully evicted, and they’ve lived in a property for more than 12 months, the tenant can file a petition to the program. 

TPP provides notice of the petition to the landlord, and an independent hearing examiner provides an independent analysis of the petition and supporting documentation and then makes a decision as to whether the eviction will be upheld or denied, according to Medina. 

Additionally, a tenant that is experiencing an increase above the limits set by TPP and the Consumer Price Index — an average measure of the change in price of consumer goods and services over time — can compile a petition.  

Medina said the petition process can be used for those who are facing eviction and for unlawful or increases that are above the maximum allowed.

“If a landlord is found in violation of the code and they are unlawfully evicting a tenant, they also will be issued a notice of alleged violation,” Medina said, adding that each individual case will determine if TPP is able to reach the landlord. 

The Tenant Protection Program does not advocate for either landlords or tenants, according to Medina. 

“We are at the behest of the community,” she said. “And so we provide the mechanism. We provide the ordinance to provide the protection. So the ordinance offers the protection for tenants. Landlords cannot evict unless they meet the conditions for just cause reasons and there are seven under the city of Sacramento ordinance.”

Loaves and Fishes provides essential services to adults and children who are homeless. The nonprofit organization has many programs that help homelessness, including places like the Maryhouse drop-in center for women and children, Friendship Park and Mustard Seed School.Those programs provide guests with access to showers in the morning, clean clothes, tents, sleeping bags and counseling, among other services. 

“We provide counseling here for kids,” said Loaves and Fishes Program Director Lucia Vega. “We have counselors that come out two days a week, as kids that need glasses, we take them to eye appointments and help them get exams and glasses for free.”

Mustard Seed is a school in its 34th year for kids ages 3 to 15, which is preschool to eighth grade, according to Vega. 

Mustard Seed assists many different families and children, including those who are homeless as a result of being evicted. This includes a family of two parents and seven children whose dad is a veteran and they got evicted from their housing, according to Vega. She said they’d been sleeping in their car and now they’re sleeping outside in a tent.

Vega said the impact of being evicted on the children is not having the stability to have a place they call home.

“With this family, there are some special needs with some kids,” Vega said. “And so the struggle of making sure that they take their medicine or if there’s any bedwetting, just a place to shower. … And they talk about it at school, they talk about their situation, what’s going on, but they have to move or now they lost a car, now they’re outside. Those are the struggles that we see with the kids when they are with us.” 

Vega said Mustards Seeds’s core values are providing a safe and nurturing place for kids to be present. Meeting them where they’re at and letting them be themselves.

“We’re just a place for kids to come and be a kid and to not have to worry about their home life or where they’re going to sleep or what they’re going to eat and just giving them the space to just come in these days and away from the chaos that they have to go through every day.”

This story is part of the Solving Sacramento journalism collaborative. Solving Sacramento is supported by funding from the James Irvine Foundation and Solutions Journalism Network. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian America Media, Sacramento Business Journal, Sacramento News & Review, Sacramento Observer and Univision 19.

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