California Nurses Association Endorse Prop 21: Housing Insecurity Profoundly Impacts Public Health

Karen Ocamb News

“Breonna Taylor wanted to become a nurse,” the California Nurses Association tweeted Sept. 24 after the Kentucky Attorney General announced no indictments of Louisville police accused of murdering the “dedicated Emergency Medical Technician who worked in a local hospital,” intent on becoming a nurse. “She deserved so much more. All Black people deserve so much more. We cannot be silent in the face of suffering and injustice.”

California Nurses Association (CAN) has a strong record and reputation for loudly advocating for social, racial, and economic justice — so their endorsement for Proposition 21 during their own fierce frontline battle against the coronavirus pandemic is particularly meaningful.

Proposition 21 is the November ballot measure that puts limits on unfair, sky-high rent increases, reins in corporate landlord greed, and prevents homelessness. Top experts at USC, UCLA, and UC Berkeley agree that sensible rent limits are key for stabilizing California’s housing affordability crisis. It’s why the California Democratic Party, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, labor and civil rights icon Dolores Huerta, Congresswomen Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee and Karen Bass, and the Los Angeles Times,  among many others, have thrown their full support behind Prop 21, the Rental Affordability Act.

Prop 21 is “a much-needed state initiative on rent control that restores the decision-making process on whether [or not] to allow or enact rent control measures to local jurisdictions, communities, and local elected officials,” CNA says in a press release.

Prop 21 would empower residents to make their own connections between housing and health and apply pressure to public and elected officials to come up with a locally unique decision on rent control. Prop 21 thus provides a tool with which local communities can combat eviction, foreclosure, and homelessness — all of which contribute to preventing the potential deadly spread of COVID-19.

This is no joke. There is no vaccine for COVID-19, and California leads the nation in coronavirus infections with 800,000 cases, according to The Los Angeles Times’ tracker on Friday, Sept. 25. The Golden State also topped 15,000 COVID-19 deaths earlier this week, apparently surpassing the death toll in Texas.

Meanwhile, CNA points out, half of California renters are struggling with the financial, emotional, and mental health burdens of having to spend at least one-third of their income on housing expenses — with whatever money remains for other necessities like medication, nutritious food, and the ability to access the internet for their kids to go to virtual school and whatever work they may have from home. All this while setting aside pressing health care needs, facing fears of eviction, trying to manage rising housing costs, and dealing with the possibility of having to move, always a high stressor.

“One of the most profound impacts on the public health is housing insecurity,” says Zenei Cortez, RN, president of California Nurses Association. “Millions of Californians who are rent-burdened are forced to make painful choices between paying the rent or paying for prescription drugs and medical services. They are one paycheck away from living on the streets where the public health challenges are even more severe. Adverse physical and mental health problems including lung diseases, bronchitis, pneumonia, malnutrition, skin infections, and the threat of COVID-19 infection, given the increased difficulty of social distancing, become greater threats. The unhoused, especially women and children, also face increased trauma from physical assault and rape.”

Communities of color, especially Black and brown women, are particularly at risk for the twin epidemics of COVID-19 and racism, as well as the preventable societal causality of becoming unhoused.

“As nurses, as patient advocates dedicated to protecting health and safety and alleviating all human suffering, we know that until we dismantle structural racism and reimagine a society premised on social justice, no one in our communities, especially Black people who are disproportionately harmed by police violence and societal racism, will be able to achieve the optimal health we wish for them, and sometimes, simply to hold onto life,” says Deborah Burger, RN, President of National Nurses United, with which CAN is affiliated.

“CNA is proud to endorse Proposition 21,” says Cortez. “Evictions and homelessness disproportionally affect Black and brown people, and COVID-19 has only exacerbated this problem by creating more layoffs, which leads to financial and housing instability. Communities of color simply cannot make the rent. BIPOC communities are more likely because of various structural racist policies to have a low wage job that cannot be performed at home. Prop 21 is critical to ensuring that these communities are provided the rent affordability that they and their families so desperately deserve.”

To find out more about Prop 21, go to Yes on 21. To volunteer to fight against injustice and for the Yes on 21 campaign, click here.