How to Help 12,000 Low-Income Residents in Sacramento

by Isidore Mika Székely Manes-Dragan

The Community Summit on Homelessness, held in September 2023, provided many ways to elevate the voices of the homeless community. The event was coordinated by the Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee (SHOC) and its many supporters and allies. Representatives from the Sacramento and Oakland homeless communities came together to attend. One of the functions of the event was listening booths, where filmed interviews with the homeless community were conducted by members of Black Zebra Productions and Praxis Organization of Leftist Queers and Allies.

Laurie Funaroff was one of the people who was interviewed at a listening booth. When Black Zebra interviewers asked her what she believed to be  the root of homelessness, she identified what she described as the racist and economically classist caste system of the United States. Here is her story.

When the City and County of Sacramento ran out of funding to help with her eviction, Laurie Funaroff and her multigenerational family of three found themselves at the mercy of a complex tapestry of failing systems.

Funaroff, a former teacher, is now retired. When the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted her ability to make rent payments, she applied for relief through the Sacramento Emergency Rental Assistance (SERA2), a program run by Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, whose purpose was to prevent evictions resulting from the pandemic. 

According to Funaroff, she could not afford her rent at the time, but her landlord waited to evict her until she was chosen off the waiting list. “In September 2022, they decided it’s time to evict,” she said, adding that someone from the property management company came to her door in December 2022 to talk about preventing her eviction. Funaroff said she was told that the landlord would retain a lawyer to ready its case, so she prepared to fight the eviction.

What came of the discussion was she had five days to get her response to the eviction into the courthouse to the Superior Court of Sacramento County. By that time, the statewide eviction moratorium had already ended on June 30, 2022. Funaroff said, “I went to the third floor help desk and asked to talk to the supervisor, and I said, ‘Look here, there’s this paragraph in bold.’” The mandatory cover sheet of the paperwork regarding the eviction of a plaintiff declares that if the tenant has any compensation pending, such as that from SERA2, that the landlord must not evict the tenant. But Funaroff said, “The supervisor on the third floor in the superior court says ‘That’s irrelevant, the eviction moratorium is over.’”  

Funaroff was unable to get a lawyer in time. She chose to litigate in a jury trial. By January 2023, she discovered the shocking information that she was disqualified from SERA2 due to the program running out of city funding and no longer accepting new cases. In December 2023, SERA2 began to only use its funding to focus on people actively facing eviction, and then if it had any remaining resources it planned to help with eviction protection.

On the first day of the case, Funaroff asked to reschedule the case. “It was me, my daughter and my little granddaughter,” she said. “They gave us a mediator—we didn’t really want one, but they gave us one. And guess what? The mediator was the same person up on the third floor.”  

Funaroff brought up the mandatory cover sheet again. “The mediator says to me again, and he uses this big strong body language, and he says again, ‘That’s irrelevant.’”

“He says to my daughter, “You’ve been quiet, do you have something to say?’” Funaroff recalled that when Funaroff’s daughter spoke up, the mediator tried to belittle her. Funaroff said that her family was told that if they signed a stipulation that she would pay a few months of rent and then be evicted on August 21, 2023, her outstanding rent—a total of $18,902—would be waived. If she did not sign it, the sheriff would put their things on the street within ten days. 

The family was left without any option but to become homeless.

“The courthouse itself is a barrier to justice, to put it mildly,” she said. 

According to a press release Attorney General Rob Bonta issued on March 31, 2022, warning letters were sent to 91 law firms representing landlords that they were potentially in violation of various state policies as well as perjury. Eviction lawyers were alleged to have deceived landlords into thinking their tenants have no rental assistance pending. Funaroff said, “This was an illegal eviction,” one which left her and her family struggling to finish their education. According to Funaroff, 12,000 applicants have been denied health benefits or did not receive SERA2 funding, citing a statistic from the Poor People’s Campaign. Funaroff added that low-income tenants shouldn’t be burdened with increased rents.

“When 40% of the population is [over the] poverty level, and if there was a law that says that percentage of the population makes low enough income, that there shall be no rents in this city above 25% of the income of the lowest income earners,” she said.

Funaroff calls for publications of this information, public service announcements, and getting the word out however possible.

“We should not trust the courts all of the time,” she said. “There are some great rulings, like civil rights rulings, but when you know the courts are against you, we need other methods.”