“Dolores does not play,” President Barack Obama joked as he presented civil rights and labor icon Dolores Huerta the Medal of Freedom in 2012, noting how gracious she was after he stole her famous slogan, “Si, se puede” – “Yes, we can.” And at age 90, Huerta is still not playing, fighting for Proposition 21 throughout California, including in rural areas such as Tulare County where a quarter of the residents live below the poverty line.
Proposition 21 is a November ballot measure that allows communities to put limits on unfair rent increases, prevents homelessness, and keeps families in their homes. The initiative also exempts new housing and single-family homeowners with only two homes. In addition to Huerta, Prop 21 is endorsed by numerous other notable Latinos, including President pro Tempore Emeritus of the California State Senate Kevin de León, State Senator María Elena Durazo, and Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara.
“Every Californian deserves fair, stable, and affordable housing,” said Dolores Huerta during an Aug. 13 virtual news conference. “It’s really interesting because we know we have this pandemic and everybody has been told to shelter in place. But, you know, if you don’t have a home, how can you shelter in place to begin with?”
More than five million Californians are at risk of losing their homes as a result of the “COVID-19 pandemic and the pre-existing housing crisis,” said Yes on 21 campaign director René Christian Moya. “Nearly 30 percent of renters pay half of their income on rent. Prop 21 will keep them from losing their homes.”
The Fresno-based weekly Vida en el Valle noted the endorsements of nine local elected officials and community activists who also commented during the virtual news conference.
“Unemployment and evictions are the main cause of homelessness in the county,” said Porterville City Councilmember Daniel Peñalosa, a renter. “It is urgent that we prioritize rent relief and provide a safety net for vulnerable residents in California.”
The housing affordability crisis “directly impacts our Central Valley communities, specifically our rural communities,” said Mari Pérez, executive director for the Central Valley Empowerment Alliance. “We’re talking about here in Tulare, where we have a minimum wage income of $11 an hour and a one-bedroom apartment is close to $1,025.”
Pérez added: “It’s tragic to see how that impacts the health, the well-being of communities, specifically targeting our marginalized communities of color.”
“I am by no means a millionaire and working-class individuals like myself have been struggling for far too long,” said Kingsburg City Councilmember Jewel Hurtado, a 22-year-old student at Fresno City College and mother of a 2-year-old son. “The rent for far too long has been too damn high!”
In some ways, Hurtado mirrors Dolores Huerta, who left her teaching job at 25 to become a full-time community activist in Stockton, working to improve human rights and economic conditions for Latinos.
Prop 21, Hurtado said during the press conference, “needs to lead the way to not only make rents affordable but give the opportunity for us to live in stability, and, of course with dignity.”
Karen Ocamb is an award-winning journalist and staff writer for the Yes on 21 movement.