The stakes are extraordinarily high. California is treading water as the twin crises of housing affordability and homelessness, along with massive unemployment and the coronavirus pandemic, threaten a tsunami of economic devastation.
“More people are right now without jobs and struggling to pay the rent than at any point in the last 90 years,” René Christian Moya, Yes on 21 campaign director, told a gathering of about 200 organizers and housing advocates at a Yes on 21 “Celebration of Renters Rally” outside Los Angeles City Hall on Tuesday, September 8.
He added, “Housing is a human right.”
Proposition 21 is the November ballot measure that puts limits on unfair, sky-high rent increases. It protects people against corporate landlord greed and keeps them in their homes. It’s supported by trusted civil leaders and organizations, such as U.S. Bernie Sanders, labor and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, Congressmembers Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee and Karen Bass and the California Democratic Party, among numerous others.
Moya hammered home the critical importance of Prop. 21, noting that 30% of California renters were already spending half of their income or more on rent prior to COVID-19. Additionally, he said, a recent study by the Aspen Institute showed that 5.4 million California renters are “very, very, very likely to face an eviction in the next few months,” after the eviction moratoriums are lifted and landlords want all late rent, with interest, as well as the right to raise rents. That’s bad, Moya said. “But the really important part about that is that these are folks who were already struggling before COVID-19.”
Another recent UCLA study showed that 120,000 renter households in Los Angeles alone are likely to end up homeless in the next few months, though studies by top experts at USC, UCLA, and UC Berkeley found that putting sensible limits on unfair, sky-high rent increases is a key tool to help stabilize California’s devastating housing affordability crisis.
“This is a scandal of our own making. We’ve known that this is an issue that was coming and it just happened to take COVID-19 to push us off the cliff. Proposition 21 was needed six months ago. It was needed six years ago. Right now, we absolutely need Prop 21 if we’re going to do anything — not only to keep people in their homes right now, but to lay the conditions for people to stay in their homes in the future,” said Moya, inviting Gov. Gavin Newsom to “do the right thing” and join the movement.
The rally on the lawn, emceed by Trinidad Ruiz representing Los Angeles Tenants Union, opened with a ceremonial dance prayer performed by Danza Azteca Chichimeca. A number of Prop 21 supporters followed, including Grace Yoo, Co-Founder of the Environmental Justice Collaborative and candidate for L. A. City Council, District 10, and Nithya Raman, also a candidate for L. A. City Council, District 4. Andreina Kniss of KTown4All, Chris Chan of Chinatown Community for Equitable Development and RJ Dawson of Black Unity (see separate story) also spoke. Singer-songwriter Gussie Miller performed during a break.
“Prop 21 allows local power to make our own rent control measures,” said Yoo. “And this is what is so needed in L.A. — local control that allows us to implement and expand rent control policies that better protect renters from unfair evictions and unreasonable rent gauging. We need to protect renters and small mom and pop landlords.”
Raman, who had previously been the board president of a neighborhood homeless coalition, recalled hearing the painful stories from people “who had just fallen behind, who couldn’t catch up. People who could see the apartment they used to live in from their tent, especially in my neighborhood in Silver Lake. That’s the consequence of our housing and tenants’ rights policies here in California. We allowed rents to skyrocket here. We prohibited measures to stop that from happening at the city level and at the state level. The flow of people into the streets is so much greater than all of the combined work we’ve been doing to get people back into housing. And as long as we don’t address unchecked rent increases, mass evictions and stop this tidal wave of people falling into homelessness — you will never be able to address this crisis. We’re using a bucket to bail out the Titanic here in California.”
Big Real Estate’s campaign opposing Prop 21 appears to have no endorsements from elected officials or candidates. But big money is pouring in from such corporate landlords as Blackstone Group and Essex Property Trust. That campaign cash will fill the TV airwaves with lies, Moya said, saying “that Prop 21 is going to hurt people and ‘make the housing prices worse.’ I asked myself: how is California not being the capital of homelessness in this country already not failure on a grand scale?”
Last Thursday, September 4, CoStar.com reported: “Large out-of-state real estate investment trusts and apartment landlords including giants such as Equity Residential and Essex Property Trust have contributed most of the more than $32 million to defeat Prop. 21, according to campaign data. That’s nearly twice the $16.8 million raised by affordable housing and tenant rights groups trying to pass the initiative to strengthen rent control for the second time in two years, based on financial filings with the California Secretary of State through Thursday.”
Elena Popp, the Executive Director of the Eviction Defense Network who’s been fighting for social justice for decades, spoke in both English and Spanish.
“I am frightened. They’re 191,000 of our families are at risk of eviction for nonpayment of rent — and that doesn’t include all of the other people who are going to get evicted because their owners want to raise the rent and so they’re looking for an opportunity to get them out,” Popp said.
“I spoke with a single mom today with six children who has a notice to quit, even though she has struggled to pay her rent and there’s no rent control and there’s no tenant protection act and she’s in real risk,” Popp continued. “The only reason that eviction is going to happen is that the owner can get three times the rent if he gets her out. If she was the only one on my list, then we can deal with it, right? We could find her another place. But there are thousands of families like this one. And that’s why we need Prop 21. We worked hard for Prop 10. We didn’t get it because they outspent us and because they lied to the public. We’re not going to let them do that this time. Si, se puede! When we fight, we win.”
Photo: René Christian Moya, campaign director, Yes on 21 campaign, speaks at a “Celebrate Renters Rally!” hosted by California’s Yes on 21 campaign on the grounds of Los Angeles City Hall on Tuesday, September 8, 2020 in Downtown Los Angeles. The socially distanced rally sought to educate and motivate voters—including many of California’s 17 million renters—about Proposition 21, a November ballot measure that would allow for the roll out of rent control in more cities and towns throughout the state. (Photo by AP for AHF)