COVID-19 further proves that we need housing justice for working families

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By Sonya Gray Hunn, housing organizer for the Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement (COPE)

The battle to save families from eviction began long before the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The novel Coronavirus has only compounded the struggle San Bernardino tenants have endured for decades. Eviction moratoriums will provide people temporary relief in the several months to come. However, if we want lasting assistance when it comes to protections for vulnerable renters, we can’t be afraid to push for more. 

The struggle for just and equitable housing is very personal to me. I was a young mother living in Pomona in the late 1980’s—struggling to find a safety net for my son and I. I know what it’s like to not know where you’re going to lay your head, how you’re going to take care of your child, how you’re going to feed your child, and meet basic hygienic needs. That is why I am deeply committed as a housing organizer to help my neighbors during this pandemic and in its aftermath. 

It’s crucial to look at the challenges that are ahead of us. To put it simple, California’s housing crisis has had a profound effect on our city’s impoverished. The average annual income for San Bernardino residents is only $16,000, leaving most people to pay 50% or more of their income in rent. An unstable economy and expected job losses is almost certain to place families across the city in dire situations. Sadly, the residents of Del Rosa neighborhood are conditioned to deal with evictions due to the cruelty and greed of slumlords.

The mass eviction of tenants at the Brentwood apartments is an example of city leaders placing real estate business interests over the health and safety of working class residents. For years residents complained of unsafe living conditions and of mismanagement, only for those concerns to be ignored. Instead of working with families to configure solutions, city officials opted instead to condemn the building and displace these longtime residents from their neighborhood. 

If we don’t take collective action, the COVID-19 crisis is going to further extend the divide between tenants and landlords. Even with the prolonged repayment period of current rent, we might continue to see mass-evictions. Nevertheless, if we all work together, we can help these families find security during these hard times.

Fortunately, the collective work done to urge cities to pass temporary rent protection measures has been successful. Together with faith-based partners and community organizations we formed the Inland Regional Housing Justice Coalition, successfully pushing some local cities to pass stronger policies that go beyond Governor Gavin Newsom’s executive order. All of us are confident that this is the moment to explore permanent solutions that balances housing opportunities with social and economic justice.

We could begin by creating a culture that encourages smart development from real estate companies and quality leadership from landlords. With this in mind, we must also move towards becoming landowners ourselves and be the drivers of our own economy. After all, it will be your voices, input, and guidance that will make the difference.