Long Beach Renters Begin Struggle for Housing Justice

21 May
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Upstairs at the Scottish Rite Event Center, on May 18, before the program begins; Photo by Barry Saks

About 150 people met on Thursday, May 18, at the Scottish Rite Event Center, 855 Elm Ave. to begin to fight for the city of Long Beach to implement anti-displacement measures, like just-cause eviction and rent control.

According to the press release for the event, this was the first Renter’s Assembly and Housing Long Beach hosted it.

Sharon MacNett, from the Long Beach GRRRL Collective, which defines itself on its Facebook About page as a feminist collective, spoke first on the program.  MacNett said, “We demand affordable housing now.  Access to housing is being stripped from our communities of color, from our immigrant communities, from our seniors, from our neighbors with disabilities, from the working-class and all historically marginalized communities who call Long Beach home….Widespread displacement is occurring while mayor  and our city council sit idly by….Housing is a human right.”

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Josh Butler speaking, May 18; Photo by Barry Saks

Josh Butler, the Executive Director of Housing Long Beach, said, “The situation has become dire and time is not on our side.  Further inaction and delay from our mayor and city council will mean more people being put out of house and home.”  He then thanked the organizations who sponsored the event and thanked the Liz Waite, the student organizer, and the two community organizers, Maria Lopez and Brenda Caloca.  Butler introduced Ernesto Rocha, who is an organizer for the Clean and Safe Ports campaign for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy.

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Ernesto Rocha emceeing on May 18; Photo by Barry Saks

Rocha emceed.  Rocha put the dramatization, which was to follow, into context by talking about his own and family’s experience as newly arrived immigrants, who needed to rent.  Rocha pointed out that many times when repairs in the rental needed to be fixed, his family did the repairs because they didn’t want to inform the landlord out of fear of being deported.  Rocha introduced Lopez, who played the daughter, and Melissa Arechiga, who played the mother in the first scene of the dramatization.

The dramatization was in Spanish and English.  The daughter spoke of hearing the mice under her bed and the roaches crawling on her and one which crawled into her ear.  Her mother spoke of working two jobs.  When the daughter asks the mother when a repair will be fixed, the mother says, “Call the landlord for what?  So he can be mad at us.  So he can raise the rent another $50.  So he can get another tenant…or worse call La Migra (the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)?”

After the first scene of the dramatization, Rocha introduced Elena Popp of the Eviction Defense Network, which according to its website under Tenants Together is a network of trial lawyers, advocates and tenants dedicated to defending the right to affordable housing and ensuring access to justice in housing matters to tenants in Los Angeles County.

Popp described how the legal clinic Housing Long Beach has grown and the use of rent strikes.  She said in August 2016 when she first came to Long Beach without any notice of a lawyer being available, 12 people were there with legal problems.  A month later, 36 people were there.  She said usually there were two reasons for the need of a lawyer.  First, the tenants were given a 30-day or 60-day notice to vacate depending on the circumstance, or second, “a huge rent increase” usually with a new landlord.  Popp spoke of using rent strikes when tenants are living in “bad conditions” and fighting the evictions when conditions are not bad.  She pointed out that these tactics without just-cause evictions, only get renters more time and saves them rent sometimes, but it is something.

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Brenda Caloca, on May 18, explaining just cause eviction; Photo by Barry Saks

Caloca spoke next on renter protections or more specifically just cause, also known as a responsible renter ordinance.  She pointed out the city of San Diego also has just cause.  Caloca listed some of the most common just causes for eviction: not paying rent, causing substantial damage to the unit, refusing to provide access, the need to substantially rehab the unit, the unit is being withdrawn from the rental market and illegal use of the unit which includes drug dealing.  She also pointed out just cause would only apply to people on the lease.

After Caloca, the dramatization returned with its second scene.  The mother tells the daughter they will be going to the house daughter’s grandmother to shower, instead of at home.  The daughter objects and tells the mother she wants to shower at home where they pay the rent.  The daughter informs her mother of what she learned in a history class about the uprooting of population around what would become Dodger Stadium and identifies it as gentrification.  The mother acknowledges she doesn’t know her rights as a renter.  Finally the daughter tells the mother a Renter’s Assembly is coming up where she can learn some of her rights.   The mother says she’ll go.

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Aimee Inglis, May 18, explaining rent control; Photo by Barry Saks

After the second scene of the dramatization, Aimee Inglis spoke about rent control.  Inglis, who is an Associate Director of Tenants Together, a statewide organization for renters’ rights, said, “Rent control is really just fair rent” and added 14 cities in California have some form of it.  Inglis said, “The California State Legislators, all those folk are bought off by the real estate industry….There is very little public housing.  There is very little nonprofit housing.”  She pointed out rent control is legal with each city decides how rent increases occur, as long as the landlords are allowed “a fair rate of return.”  Before Inglis spoke from the podium, while eating dinner before the program, she said her salary yearly about $60,000, including benefits.  She lives in San Francisco with her partner.

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Melissa Arechiga (mother) and Maria Lopez (the daughter), on May 18, at the end of the dramatization; Photo by Barry Saks

The program ended with the third scene of the dramatization.  The daughter apologizes to her mother.  They reconcile.  The mother says, “I’ve raised you to be a strong woman…. Sometimes I feel so powerless.”  The daughter tells her mother they want us to feel powerless.  The mother and daughter realize they must struggle together to win housing justice.  The scene and the program ends with the chant, “No justice, no rent.”

One of those in the audience was Jorge Rivera, the Program Director of Long Beach Residents Empowered.  Rivera said, “We’re here because we are a housing advocacy group and so naturally we have to support anything that has to do with renters or furthering renter protections or affordable housing and we’re here to help mobilize and support, to bring renters out so that we can inform them and educate them….I think what they want to hear is what is can be done ….about the rent increases, what can be done about the unjust evictions.”  He added he was hoping the renters at the event would be motivated enough to get involved in housing justice.

One person in the audience was Bill Sive, 56.  Sive said he lives in Long Beach’s Council District 3 and rents.  Sive said, “We need to get someone…from any these organizations get themselves elected to office to create change from within.”  After getting elected, the representative then needs to make “alliances, partnerships (and) collaborations with groups that are represented here….It’s all about lobbying your fellow councilmembers to make the change.”

Another attending was Erin Foley, who is a renter and who volunteered to be an usher to help people find their seats.  Foley said once she rented a place, in which bedbugs came into her rental unit.  She gave the landlord notice she was moving.  It then took 13 days before the landlord did anything about removing the bedbugs.

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Thyra Jackson eating downstairs, May 18, before the program begins; Photo by Barry Saks

A third person attending was Thyra Jackson, 55.  Jackson said she rents and lives near 8th St. and Lime Ave. and said she heard about the event from her son, who gave her a flyer.  She was there with her son and another neighbor.  Jackson said, “The rent is getting higher and higher….They (apartment owners) can raise the rent whenever they want to and you can’t do anything about it, which is why people are moving out Long Beach.”  She said she has had friends who were forced to move to Las Vegas and further inland.  She added she was willing to go to meetings, talk to her neighbors and was willing to protest for rent control.

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