Two young children holding a sign that says “People over profit” at the action which took place at Santa Ana’s City hall on August 30th, 2021. Credit: Juan Daniel Gomez

The Rent Stabilization, Tenant Protection, and Community Preservation Act as proposed by the residents of Santa Ana will serve not only to ensure that unjust and unaffordable rent increases are a thing of the past but will also provide an effective means of enforcement by which residents and the city can maintain a fair local housing market for all – not just tenants, but prospective future home buyers and businesses alike.

Yet, one Council Member in particular, in a meeting with Tenants United Santa Ana, reasoned that “because housing affordability is not just a Santa Ana issue, I can’t support a local ordinance for Rent Stabilization, Tenant Protections, and Community preservation”.

Tenants United Santa Ana served a 30-day notice to Santa Ana’s City Council on August 30th, 2021 and held a candlelight vigil at Santa Ana’s City Hall in memory of those who have been displaced from Santa Ana by ever increasing rents. Photo by Juan Daniel Gomez

This individual who was elected to serve on Santa Ana’s City Council in November 2019 then continued, “if you all were to push for strong protections at a larger level – say the state assembly, then I would be in your support.” They offered that they were one of the Council Members to champion an eviction moratorium during the pandemic recanting that one Council Member at the time was against it – and that individual no longer represents Ward 3.

When one of the community members attending this meeting asked if there was anything we might be able to offer to change their mind, the response was, as expected, “no”. Another two community members from this individual’s ward present at the meeting offered that they have knocked on many doors and spoken to residents – tenants and homeowners alike – who are in support of a strong local ordinance. One of these community members was born and raised in the Council Member’s ward. The response to this information from the Council Member was “I haven’t heard from anyone in my ward about this.”

A disappointing lobbying session aside, the point made by this Council Member is one that has been used many a time in Santa Ana: Santa Ana already does more than enough for Affordable Housing and shouldn’t be the only one in the region to tackle such issues. It is notable that despite statewide protections via 2019’s AB1482, what is relevant in one city may not be applicable to others. Even then, it may be insufficient for all renters statewide and as such, statewide initiatives ought to afford local governments the power to enact stronger protections if necessary – which is exactly what AB1482 allows. For renters in Santa Ana, these statewide protections are insufficient. AB1482’s just-cause protections don’t kick in until at least 12 months of tenancy, the rent increase cap is only applicable to multi-units built before February 1994, and it sunsets after 2030 as if somehow California’s rental affordability crisis will be solved by then.

Conflating strong local tenant protections with construction of Affordable Housing (or funds for such) in the City of Santa Ana is easy to do. I myself missed this leap to such in our meeting until reflecting upon it after the meeting ended. The caveat, however, is that Affordable Housing initiatives do nothing for affordability of the current stock of rental units in the city.

With pandemic protections for tenants ending on September 30th in California, in addition to the pandemic unemployment benefits terminating this same month, renters and homeowners will absolutely be at a loss because of this type of devastating reasoning. The argument which this individual Council Member makes (who noted that they are in favor of effective enforcement of laws; that simply enacting something without enforcement is dead in the water) is like arguing that because crime occurs in places besides Santa Ana, we should not have a local police force.

The individual argued that we can’t legislate air quality in Santa Ana alone because the air above us is not solely the jurisdiction of Santa Ana. However, while air quality may be of a regional (and international) concern, residents who currently live, have lived, and want to continue to live in Santa Ana, I would conjecture, are of little to no concern for surrounding cities.

A woman holding a sign in one hand that says “Rent Control Now!” and a candle in the other hand. Photo by Juan Daniel Gome

Nonetheless, with incessant bullying and harassment by landlords in the city, many residents opt to move elsewhere at higher rates of rents. “Can you really believe for one second that our city has lost residents according to the new census numbers?!” the Council Member asked us in the meeting. I resoundingly responded “Yes. They’ve all been priced out.” To which the response was “I don’t know about that, but I’d say it’s more likely due to people being afraid to answer the Census last year with the pandemic.” Meanwhile, incomes have remained stagnant in the Golden City where most residents are of low-income, mixed-status, non-native English speaking, multi-generational households, all while rents have increased.

While it may be true that Santa Ana has not only met the RHNA numbers, those newly created Affordable units have nothing to do with the currently existing stock of rental units owned by landlords who hold a monopoly on rents. Despite the ever increasing rents in the city, neither tenants nor the local market has seen similar increases in quality or supply of housing.

Santa Ana residents marching on August 30th, to serve City Council a 30-day notice to enact the Rent Stabilization, Tenant Protections, and Community Preservation ordinance. Photo by Juan Daniel Gomez

“If either Tom Daly or Tom Umberg were to propose something at the state level, I’d be more than happy to support it. But I just don’t think that we should be taking action on something that is larger issue and not restricted to Santa Ana alone” concluded this Council Member. So, it seems that this Council Member has no solution or interest in preventing the mass displacement that will occur due to the impending wave of evictions to be filed by landlords and mortgage companies on October 1st for the reason of failure to pay rent or mortgages.

Rent relief is still slow to be distributed for those who have applied. For many residents who attempt to apply, they are met with many hurdles such as lacking access to technology, lack of traditional income verification, outright non-cooperation by landlords – all requirements for Santa Ana SAVES and CARES programs – which the City of Santa Ana (under the direction of Judson Brown and his team) has sought to make easier.

If the residents who elected a Council Member can’t afford to continue to live in that individual’s ward anymore, it shouldn’t be a surprise when someone new comes along and takes their seat on the council. I should hope that this Council Member chooses to do the right thing before they vacate their seat.

A young child holding an unlit candle in the air while marching to Santa Ana City Hall on August 30th, 2021. Photo by Juan Daniel Gomez

Nathaniel Greensides: Being a volunteer with Tenants United Santa Ana since 2017 came as a result of seeing unjust conditions tenants are regularly subjected to in the Willard Neighborhood of Santa Ana. As a volunteer tenant rights counselor, he has worked with many individual tenants in Santa Ana who have been subject to harassment and bullying by Landlords in the city and has continually advocated for a stabilized rental market in the City he now calls home.

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