By Andrea Valadez
Salinas residents being forced out of their homes due to increasing rent prices brought their stories before the City Council on Tuesday in an effort to push for support of the Homelessness Prevention Act.
Community members came together to ask for the council’s support of Senate Bill 567, which would place some restrictions on landlords who want to evict their tenants because of remodeling. Many residents shared their own testimonies of facing evictions and homelessness all over the city.
“I’ve lived in Salinas all my life, and I’ve seen it continue to grow. I feel so bad and sorry for all of the people that live here, including myself. It started last year when I got evicted from my house … they told us that they couldn’t give us a reason and it wasn’t because we couldn’t pay our rent, but we had to leave. We had 60 days to (leave) our homes,” said a resident who asked to remain anonymous.
“Now I’m homeless, I sleep in my car and motels sometimes. I’ve gone to a lot of programs like Dorothy’s and Section 8. You name it, I’ve gone there. I’ve gone to every single program in Salinas, but it’s all just waiting lists, they don’t care,” she said.
A common situation where tenants are forced out of their homes occurs when a landlord decides to abruptly remodel the home, and subsequently doubles or triples the cost of rent to match the work that has been completed.
“This new law is going to require (landlords) to actually give a letter with copies of the permits they’re required to get in order to sufficiently remodel, a time frame for when the remodel is going to be done, and if it’s not, tenants cannot be evicted. If the remodel is not done in time, the landlord will be required to offer the place back to the tenant at the same rent,” said Natalie Herendeen, the executive director of the Center for Community Advocacy (CCA).
“These statutes are going to give teeth to the people like (Building Healthy Communities) and CCA that represent the tenants. Now we’ll actually be able to bring civil suits … it will allow us to demand triple the damages, attorney fees, court fees, and even punitive damages in instances where landlords are knowingly doing things to get around the law,” Herendeen said.
Members of the CCA and La Escuelita de Involucramiento Civico (The Little School of Civic Engagement) were present at the meeting to stress the importance of the council supporting this bill, and therefore, supporting its constituency.
“I’m here before you to ask for help; councilmembers and the community have to work together. It’s sad to see so many injustices regarding people losing their homes,” said Marina Gomez, a member of La Escuelita.
“The purpose (of La Escuelita) is for the residents of Salinas, a lot of whom are monolingual Spanish speakers and who have never been to a city council meeting. They have never considered approaching a representative, or even thought they had the right or space to do so,” said Luis “xago” Juarez, a lead coordinator for La Escuelita.
“That’s what Escuelita is all about. To begin learning what that process is and to understand just how powerful their voices are as residents,” he said.
Following the public comments, the council voted 6-1 on the resolution in support of the Homelessness Prevention Act, with councilmember Steve McShane voting against it.
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