Across the street from the California State Capitol, during her lunch break, Erica Jaramillo, a government worker and Sacramento Tenants Union member, contemplates the frontline battles of the housing affordability crisis. The sudden evictions, the excessive rent hikes, the prospect of homelessness that middle- and working-class tenants face everyday, receiving little support from the political establishment.
“There’s no political will to help us,” says Jaramillo, an amiable, 31-year-old Sacramento native. “There’s no one here for us. The politicians are making sweet deals for themselves [with the real estate industry], and not helping us.”
Just like millions of other Californians, Sacramento residents are getting slammed. Rents are spiraling out of control; gentrification is forcing residents out of their longtime communities; middle- and working-class tenants are spending too much of their paychecks on rent; politicians are looking to solve a housing affordability crisis by building more luxury housing — a flawed, harmful concept known as “trickle-down housing” that benefits developers more than anyone.
Jaramillo and other members of the Sacramento Tenants Union see the damage every week, working with residents who struggle mightily to make ends meet. The housing affordability crisis and gentrification have especially hit communities of color.
“We see gentrification as a continuation of structural racism,” says Jaramillo. “Gentrification supposedly improves the neighborhood, right? But who is getting the improvements?”
It’s not working-class people who are forced out of the community, says Jaramillo. Instead, it’s the new, more affluent residents who move in that reap the benefits.
Jaramillo was so concerned about what she was witnessing that she joined the Sacramento Tenants Union, which fights gentrification and displacement and stands up to predatory landlords. It’s part of a vibrant tenants union movement that’s blooming in California and across the nation.
“I’m afraid of facing what people are dealing with right now,” she says. “They live in buildings where landlords don’t care about people. They’re jacking up rent 20 or 30 percent.”
Median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Sacramento currently stands at $1,363. A 20 percent increase on that means a hike of $272 per month. Over the course of a year, that’s $3,264. It’s a huge, unsustainable spike for middle- and working-class residents.
It’s why California housing justice activists are aiming to place a statewide rent control initiative, the Rental Affordability Act, on the November 2020 ballot. Change needs to happen.
Up until now, state and local legislators haven’t acted quickly enough to implement substantive renter protections, and the deep-pocketed, politically influential real estate industry has routinely stopped sensible renter protections. Californians can no longer wait for politicians who refuse to stand up to the real estate industry, which shells out millions in campaign cash during election season.
“We’re at a point,” says Jaramillo, “where all we have is people power.”