Costa Mesa City Council members have gotten to know Latino health workers quite well this year.
Juana Trejo, a member of Promotores de Salud Orange County, took the speaker podium at Tuesday’s regular meeting and skipped the usual introductions.
“I believe you know me,” she said in Spanish through a city translator.
For a third time in the last two months, Trejo and other Latino community health workers – professionally trained to connect their neighbors to healthcare – brought signs and signed up to speak in public on Tuesday with a single ask.
They called for a citywide cap on the amount that landlords can raise rent on tenants, which they say would help the health of the community they serve – a community that, as Councilmember Manuel Chavez put it that night, lives in “some of the most inhumane housing in Costa Mesa.”
[Read: Rent Control Murmurs Get Louder in One Coastal Orange County City]
It’s already a law several miles north, in Santa Ana, which was the first in Orange County to put such a citywide rule on the books and now faces a landlord lawsuit for it.
In her comments on Tuesday, Trejo extended an invite to the elected leaders staring back at her.
“Come walk your districts and make connections with the people you represent,” she said. “It’s very important that you come, so you can listen to the lives that residents are living in your district. And it’s really sad … to think that the way they live today is normal.”
Even under the statewide, 10% rent increase cap approved in 2019, “the landlords and homeowners – they are raising rents more than 10%. More than the rent law allows,” said another health outreach worker on Tuesday named Ana Lidia Tutila.
Council members took no such action as rent control wasn’t scheduled that night for discussion – nor did they direct staff to come back with one in the future.
Few of them directly responded to speakers that night, and largely echoed what they’ve said in past meetings.
Councilmember Arlis Reynolds again pointed to city-approved rental assistance programs, and cast the problem that “keeps me up at night” as an issue of non-awareness about the city helplines that already exist.
“In our last meeting, I think we talked about continuing to get information out about the rental resources we have now … that direct communication would be great. It would be great to have information about those resources in front of City Hall – bulletin boards to create awareness about those existing resources,” Reynolds said after the promotores’ remarks.
Since 2020, Costa Mesa City Council members have put more than $1 million toward city rental assistance programs to help people struggling financially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The money has come from two routes: Federal bailouts and block grants.
On Wednesday, city officials didn’t have immediate information on how much of that money remains – only that two nonprofits tasked with distributing the aid, Families Forward and Mercy House, still have some of that money to give out.
Families Forward reviews applications from households that have kids. Under that group’s eligibility criteria, one-person homes can receive up to nearly $57,000 while eight-person homes can get more than $107,000.
Mercy House reviews applications from households that have no kids. Under Mercy House’s criteria, one-person homes can receive more than $47,000 and eight-person homes can receive nearly $90,000.
In response to questions, Arzo Azad of the City Manager’s office didn’t have immediate numbers on how much money the city’s distributed to date, the number of applications approved versus denied, or how many applications were currently pending.
Chip Ahlswede, a spokesperson for the landlord group suing Santa Ana’s rent control law, lauded the city’s past monetary assistance effort, calling it a more amenable approach to tenant struggles over rent control.
“We support that and we’re happy to help expand that if we could,” he said about his organization, the Apartment Association of Orange County. “Those are the right ways to get there.”
Latino health workers on Tuesday said such solutions don’t last.
“Millions of dollars (were) given during the pandemic, to help the people who have been evicted and unhoused – but that is not permanent,” Tutila said from the speaker podium on Tuesday.
“Rent control will be.”
The last time the promotores came around, Councilmember Manuel Chavez called for rent control to be an option on the table.
He doubled down on Tuesday.
“It may have been lost in translation – they did offer to take each of you to your district to tour the parts of town they’re referring to,” Chavez told his colleagues after the speakers wrapped up. “We have district (elections) in Costa Mesa in large part because … there’s not only Hispanics in District 4, but all over the city.”
And it’s often the case that these residents are “living in some of the most inhumane housing in Costa Mesa,” he added.
“I would challenge my council peers to take up an offer to tour these sites to see how we can better assist them.”
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