Everyone’s talking about California’s “housing crisis,” but what they don’t often say is just how many Californians are struggling to afford housing even as we hold full-time jobs. Many SEIU members are among the one in three Californians who strain to stretch our paychecks between rent, groceries, and utilities. We live with constant worry that an unexpected car repair or illness could mean eviction.
Experts say housing shouldn’t cost more than 30 percent of a family’s income, but we all know that “should” doesn’t pay the bills. As housing prices have shot up across the state, more and more of us are facing tough situations like long commutes, living in our cars, or crashing in a friend’s garage.
I spend more than half my check on rent, but in some ways, I feel lucky that my job with Sacramento City Unified School District allows me to afford a safe place for my son and I to call home. Unfortunately, that home comes with a roof that leaks, cracks in the ceiling and several power outlets that don’t work. I’m afraid that if I complain to my landlord about these problems, she will raise my rent even more or threaten to put me and my son out on the street. Last winter, I asked her to fix a heater that was blowing cold air into my apartment. She did, but it came with a 6% increase in my rent.
When we as Californians must work more than one job to afford a home for our families, when we are just one emergency or missed paycheck away from losing our homes, SEIU members have to take action.
Last week, standing with many others from SEIU, I joined California legislators and housing advocates to push for protections for renters who are facing rising rents and evictions. We were clear: workers can’t pursue the California Dream so long as landlords have free reign to raise rents by as much as 50 percent or even 100 percent do so without notice and on a whim.
Fighting for these important tenant protections made me feel proud that my union is leading the way to ensure that working people in this state have the chance to reach the California Dream and create a good life for our kids. We’re looking at everything from how to build more affordable housing for low and middle-income families to preventing rent gouging and standing up for tenants who face discrimination by landlords.
By standing together in our union, shoulder to shoulder with other community members, we will make real change when it comes to housing justice and affordability.
Update: Since speaking at the Capitol, Robyn received a letter from her landlord stating her rent will increase again in June.