San Jose: Renter Advocates on Hunger Strike Until Vote

Saturday, April 15, 2017
Eric Kurhi
San Jose Mercury News

After 24 hours with no food and with about 100 more to go, hunger striker Jocelin Hernandez on Saturday said it’s a small price to pay to bring attention to an issue that’s too often dodged: renters’ rights in a housing market so hot that it’s frying people out of their homes.

“This isn’t a political issue anymore — it’s a health issue,” Hernandez said. “We’ve tried everything else and are hoping this will get them to pay more attention.”

Hernandez and two other renters’ rights advocates decided to go without food until the City Council meeting on Tuesday, when an item will be heard that would implement “just cause” provisions. Currently, landlords can kick a tenant out of their unit without giving any reason.

If passed, the Tenant Protection Ordinance would protect renters in certain situations — for example, if they report code violations, repairs that have not been done or file a discrimination complaint against their landlord.

“It happens all the time,” said Salvador Bustamante, of Latinos United for a New America. “They’ve kicked out thousands of people on the East Side over the years and for no reason. People don’t complain about problems — we’re talking bed bugs, rodents, mold — because they’re afraid they’ll be evicted.”

He said an eviction is often devastating because working-class families don’t have the savings necessary to find a new place to live in Silicon Valley.

“This is about dignity. This is about humanity,” he said. “You at least need to be given a reason why you are losing your home.”

The renters’ rights advocates have support on the dais. Council members Sylvia Arenas, Sergio Jimenez, Raul Peralez and Donald Rocha submitted letters in favor of the ordinance, and Devora Davis and Lan Diep are recommending approval after some tweaking.

But members have not proposed a full “just cause” ordinance as seen in cities such as San Francisco and Oakland, and landlord groups such as the California Apartment Association have been very vocal against such protections. They argue that the rules create new layers of bureaucracy, burden property owners and make it tough to evict problem tenants.

Councilman Johnny Khamis submitted a letter to the city on Friday that agrees with those notions and voices concerns that it will result in the creation of a powerful new position: the “Housing Tsar.”

“A rental provider will be required to get approval from the Housing Tsar to do just about anything,” he wrote. “Want to vacate units to upgrade the water pipes? File with the Tsar! Raise the rent — get the Tsar’s approval! Moving a family member into a unit? It must pass the test of the housing Tsar! Evicting a problem tenant? The Tsar will tell you what you need to do and how long you need to wait to get them out!”

Bustamante said his group is watching the council carefully to see how it votes on Tuesday.

“They need to understand they need to support the renters if they want to get support from the renters,” he said. “If they vote against what’s fair, then we will respond accordingly in the next election.”

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