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

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY LETY VA­LEN­CIA AND ASH­LEY WERNER 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.

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 cost­bur­dened” 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.

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.

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