Based on tweets Tuesday night, the City Council voted 4 – 1 (Matarrese against) to go ahead with the kinda sorta rent stabilization ordinance. But because some renters felt as though those efforts did not go far enough, they went ahead and filed a ballot initiative for a true tenant lead renters protections.
Yesterday a few news outlets picked up on the details of a new book about what happens to families when their evicted. While a lot of attention, at least in Alameda, has been on the impacts of a rental protection ordinance on landlords, a lot less attention has been fixed on what happens to the families and people who are evicted. Highlights from the Atlantic Q & A:
I think that we value fairness in this country. We value equal opportunity. Without a stable home, those ideals really fall apart. Without the ability to plant roots and invest in your community or your school—because you’re paying 60, 70, 80 percent of your income to rent—and eviction becomes something of an inevitability to you, it denies you certain freedoms. A finding of the book is that eviction causes job loss. So for folks that are working for low wages, the lack of affordable housing can cause them to make mistakes at work and eventually lose their jobs. That seems out of step with what we as a nation feel is right, and fair.
The face of the eviction epidemic is moms and kids, especially poor moms from predominantly Latino and African American neighborhoods. We found that about one in five African American women renters report being evicted at some point in their lives. The equivalent is about one in 15 for white women renters. So there’s an enormous discrepancy.
If you’re a single mom who is devoting 80 percent of your income to rent, you’re going to be behind. That allows this relationship between landlords and desperate tenants where tenants get a home, and landlords get the ability to skimp on maintenance requests, without threat of coming under scrutiny from the city. Tenants can report a situation, but it greatly increases their risk of eviction. We have to be mindful of the weakness of certain legal protections under these conditions.
I tried very hard to capture perspectives of tenants and landlords too. Their jobs can often be hard and tricky, and writing them off as greedy or demonizing them really gets us away from the harder conversation that we need to have. One of the questions that I thought was really important to ask was, just how much money are they making? The profit margins are not small. That raises a question: To what extent can we address poverty without addressing the fact that some people make a lot of money off the poor?
Now, there’s this problem of affordability. So what do we do about that? We can do things like provide free legal assistance to families in housing court. But our answer depends on how we think about housing—if we consider it a right, if we consider it central to all these other freedoms and opportunities that this nation provides.