Other Opinions

Valley lawmakers should back new housing bills to protect low-income renters

Antonio and Consuelo Rodríguez are residents of the Sierra Village apartments, which is the second affordable rental community built by Self-Help Enterprises in Dinuba.
Antonio and Consuelo Rodríguez are residents of the Sierra Village apartments, which is the second affordable rental community built by Self-Help Enterprises in Dinuba. mortizbriones@vidaenelvalle.com Budget ID:

Thousands of Central Valley residents live under a constant threat and wonder, “How much longer can I afford to stay in my home?”

Right now, vulnerable tenants need protection from unsustainable rent increases and displacement from their own homes and communities. We know this matter is urgent because every day we see and hear the pain and fear from residents who can’t afford rent, are facing eviction, and are trapped in substandard housing conditions by landlords who know they have little to no alternatives.

We also know this from the hard numbers. Over the past year, the California Housing Partnership released a series of county-based reports that revealed the lowest-income renters in each of our Central Valley counties spend well over half of their incomes on rent: 73% in Fresno, 65% in Kern, 63% in San Joaquin, 58% in Stanislaus, and 57% in Tulare. In Merced County, almost half of all renters spend more than 30% of their income on rent, and 25% of renters are “severely cost-burdened” by half of their income going to rent.

That is why we, along with other Central Valley tenants, faith leaders and community groups are encouraged by the recent introduction in Sacramento of three housing bills aimed at protecting vulnerable renters from untenable rent increases and unjust evictions. Specifically, AB 1482 (Chiu) will protect renters from egregious and abrupt rent hikes. AB 36 (Bloom) will put authority back in the hands of local governments to consider rent control protections most needed and appropriate for their specific communities. AB 1481 (Bonta) will ensure just-cause eviction protection for renters across California.

Currently, state law allows landlords to evict tenants without cause and little notice. As residents are displaced from coastal California to our communities (from 2010-16, an estimated 88,000 Bay Area residents moved to the Modesto-Merced metropolitan area alone, the majority forced out because of unaffordable rents), protecting tenants from eviction without cause is especially needed here in the Valley. With increasing demand and a major shortage of affordable housing units (Stanislaus County needs almost 20,000 more affordable units, more than 40,000 are needed in Fresno County, and more than 30,000 in Kern County), we know that current tenants are at risk of being displaced in favor of new residents who can pay higher rents.

Faith in the Valley and Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, representing and working alongside thousands of residents across the Central Valley, urge their state representatives to support and champion these housing bills as a critical opportunity to protect vulnerable renters before it is too late. We also call on local elected representatives in each of our counties to take action to protect tenants from egregious rent increases and unjust evictions.

Our cities and counties also have the ability to invest in legal defense funding for low-income renters who currently aren’t able to find or afford an attorney but who need and deserve protection against unjust evictions, retaliation, rent gouging, and unsafe and unhealthy housing. At the same time, our local leaders must take advantage of available funding and policy strategies to dramatically expand the supply of quality affordable housing in our region.

While we are encouraged by the announcement of these housing bills, we are disappointed that none of our Central Valley legislators are currently signed on to them. Across our region, our most vulnerable residents need these tenant protection bills more than almost anywhere else. This is an opportunity for the Valley to lead, and we urge our representatives to publicly announce their support for this much needed action.

These bills, if enacted as written, will help offer real solutions to our housing crisis, and elected officials must not be distracted by powerful interests that want to undermine the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which they blame for the state’s unmet housing needs. Eroding CEQA will hurt a critical tool that protects housing stability, public health and the environment in low-income communities of color.

If passed, these bills will protect renters from rapidly rising rents and help them to stay in their homes. This is not only the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do as we confront the housing crisis in the state and the Central Valley.

Lety Valencia is the Stanislaus County director of Faith in the Valley and Ashley Werner is the senior attorney for Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability in Fresno.