Martha Escudero in the kitchen of her home in the El Sereno neighborhood of Los Angeles, Calif. on Nov. 20, 2022. Stella Kalinina for NPR
LOS ANGELES — Tenant protections in Los Angeles County that have kept families housed throughout the pandemic are set to end Dec. 31, meaning more than 30,000 households could face eviction by the end of the year, according to researchers’ estimates based on county Superior Court records.
The expiration of pandemic-era tenant protections and emergency housing will likely be devastating for low-income families in the country’s largest county, where at least 69,000 people are already experiencing homelessness, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s latest count.
Evictions mean the end of newfound stability for many.
The eviction moratorium for the City of Los Angeles is set to expire Jan. 31., 2023 — one month after the county’s.
“[LA is] going to see the highest flood of evictions and, potentially, exacerbated homelessness on top of the conditions that they already had,” said Tim Thomas, director of UC Berkeley’s Eviction Research Network. “As these moratoria and rental assistance end, we’re seeing across the country a lot of cities have reached historical averages of eviction by August of this year — and are actually surpassing the historical average.”
Martha Escudero’s daughters, Victoria and Meztli, in the back yard of their home in the El Sereno neighborhood of Los Angeles, Calif. on Nov. 20, 2022. Stella Kalinina for NPR
Court records show that in the last decade, there were about 40,000-50,000 evictions per year in Los Angeles County. But at the height of the pandemic, that number dropped by more than half — to 13,000 annually.
That’s largely due to pandemic tenant protections, like rental assistance and eviction moratoria, said urban sociologist and UCLA postdoctoral fellow Kyle Nelson. Now, those protections are expiring, and Nelson said evictions are skyrocketing.
“As each tenant protection is peeled off, we see a corresponding increase in the number of evictions,” Nelson said. “My hunch is that when we get the quarterly data for the end of 2022, we’re going to start to see numbers returning to 2015, 2016 levels in which there were well over 55,000 evictions being filed.”
Filings are now on par with pre-pandemic numbers: more than 3,000 each month, according to court records compiled by Nelson.
Families fear loss of stability
Among those facing eviction is Martha Escudero, a single mother of two daughters, ages 10 and 13. She works full time, juggling caretaking jobs for older adults and grant-based work for local nonprofits.
On a sunny Sunday morning in November, Meztli, her youngest, plays piano in the family’s garage in East LA’s El Sereno neighborhood, where Escudero runs a free informal group-learning program that had 12 children involved at the height of the pandemic. The piano is surrounded by books and pink scooters and whiteboards. The three of them have been living here since October 2020 through a city-run transitional housing program.
The Escudero family in their garage. Martha Escudero converted the home’s garage into a homeschool for her own and other families’ children during the pandemic. Stella Kalinina for NP
Before they moved in, they spent more than a year rotating through short-term stays at friends’ and families’ homes. Escudero grew up in East LA, but she’s been priced out of the area, with the average cost for a home in the El Sereno neighborhood now more than $800,000. The rising costs of housing and child care meant that in 2019, Escudero could no longer afford to rent a home or apartment for her family.
Ten-year-old Meztli goes to a charter school in their neighborhood, and 13-year-old Victoria is homeschooled in their garage. Neighbors often drop off supplies for the homeschool collective.
“All these places are really our community, and my support system as a single mom,” Escudero said of the El Sereno neighborhood.
But the neighborhood ties Escudero has created could soon be ruptured. Her two-year agreement with the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles expired in October. Then, she got a notice to vacate the property.
The city’s housing authority is trying to find other permanent housing options for those being transitioned out of this temporary program, which has allowed families to live in previously vacant homes owned by the California Department of Transportation. But Escudero said she risks losing the safety net she’s created during the pandemic.
The Escudero family in the backyard of their home in the El Sereno neighborhood of Los Angeles, Calif. Stella Kalinina for NPR
“The housing options they’re giving me are outside my area of support, and outside my daughter’s school, which she just started and is barely getting some stability and balance in her life,” Escudero said.
Escudero’s oldest daughter, Victoria, is in the eighth grade. Victoria and her younger sister host their own podcast – they call it the “Sister Show.” They discuss food and music — and housing insecurity, something they’re all too familiar with.
“We talk about everything going on, especially in the city, how there’s so much unhoused people,” Victoria Escudero said. “Just having a place where you can feel your feelings and no one could really say anything about it – everyone in this whole entire world should have that.”
Victoria Escudero said couch surfing was stressful — she didn’t have the space to just be a kid. She hopes she and her sister will be able to stay put where they are.
The Escudero family’s home in the El Sereno neighborhood of Los Angeles on Nov. 20, 2022. Stella Kalinina for NPR
“I’m more nervous when it comes to that,” Victoria Escudero said in reference to the looming eviction. “We got to stay here for a long time, so I have a little bit of hope.”
The Escudero family plans to challenge their eviction in court. But in the meantime, they’re making the most of the community they’ve built during the pandemic, hoping it will last.