Rent Control Can Help Close the Racial Wealth Gap

After 15 years in her home, Margarita Alvarez and her family received the letter that every Bay Area renter dreads: a 60-day eviction notice. “We knew we wouldn’t be able to pay rents now,” said Alvarez. “My mother was very worried, she’s 87 years old, she asked ‘Where will we go? How will we survive?’”

After eight months, two illegal eviction notices, legal support from community organizations and significant stress, her landlord stopped the harassment and Alvarez’s family was able to stay in their home: a hard-won victory.

Although low-income and immigrant families face significant barriers in enforcing strong tenant protection laws — including language access and finding legal support — the reality is that the wave of displacement afflicting Black and Brown families in the Bay Area would definitely sweep Alvarez and others like her from their neighborhoods if these laws didn’t exist.

Despite economic recovery, poverty rates have soared to near record levels and the racial wealth gap continues to widen. In San Francisco, the 2014 household median income for white and black families respectively was $104,000 and $29,000. We know that the playing field was never even, but it’s overwhelming to recognize just how rocky it’s become.

The Bay Area’s Black, Brown, poor and immigrant communities are overworked, severely underpaid and can’t afford to live in the neighborhoods we’ve built and raised our families in. We all know the Bay Area is one of the most expensive places to live in the nation, with average monthly rents nearing $3000. Over the past 15 years, increases in housing costs regionally have vastly outstripped increases in other basic expenses such as food, transportation and clothing. Combined with trends in the job market towards low wage, part time jobs with no benefits, family budgets are squeezed to the last penny.

The challenges are systemic and the solutions broad: we need secure jobs, good education, affordable public transportation, quality healthcare and restorative justice systems. But first, we need to stop the bleeding and keep people in their homes.

Building affordable housing is a piece of the puzzle, but many low-income families will be long gone by the time the construction dust settles. For those left, the need will always be greater than what housing projects can provide.

Instead, we need strong rent control and just cause eviction laws to keep families in their communities and prevent the Bay Area’s racial wealth gap from becoming an irreparable chasm. Vote Yes to support the seven rent control measures on Bay Area ballots this November: Alameda (Measure M1), Oakland (Measure JJ), Richmond (Measure L), Mountain View (Measure V), Burlingame (Measure R) and San Mateo (Measure Q). Don’t be fooled by outside corporate realty interests spending over a million dollars trying to confuse voters with so-called alternative measures! Vote No on Alameda’s Measure L1 and Mountain View’s Measure W.

This election, we can neglect the wounds of systemic racism and inequality or start healing by supporting housing as a human right. Will you join us?

- María Poblet is the Executive Director of Causa Justa :: Just Cause (CJJC), an organization that improves conditions in San Francisco Bay Area neighborhoods by fighting displacement caused by real estate speculation and forced migration. CJJC is a member organization of Bay Rising, a new regional alliance of community-led organizations working to address the crisis of inequality in poor and working communities of color.