Protesters Demand Renters’ Rights

Motion for immediate action halted by City Council majority

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Marchers convened in the street as they walked down Soquel Avenue toward Pacific Avenue. Banners spanned the lane of traffic. Passers-by cheered and honked car horns. Chants of “Fight, fight, fight, housing is a right,” echoed off storefronts.

About 35 marchers from the Santa Cruz Organizing Circle gathered outside the Resource Center for Nonviolence on Oct. 24 for a march to city hall. Marchers demanded a just cause for eviction ordinance and an immediate rent freeze until rent control is placed on the 2018 ballot. Students United with Renters (SUR) joined the marchers and community members at city hall to participate in public comment. By the end of the evening, there were over 100 community members in attendance demanding renter protections.

Photo by Alonso Hernandez

“The overall issue we see is just fear among tenants,” said Alex Finch, a lifetime Santa Cruz resident and one of the main organizers from the Santa Cruz Organizing Circle, who helped plan Tuesday’s demonstration. “Because we have no just cause eviction ordinance, people are scared […] they could just be thrown out.”

The Santa Cruz Organizing Circle developed from the Santa Cruz for Bernie campaign about eight months ago because organizers wanted to broaden their work beyond supporting any single candidate. Finch and other organizers spent about two months planning Tuesday’s action.

Many of the marchers were longtime Santa Cruz residents who are affected by the local housing crisis. One marcher, who preferred to remain anonymous, received an eviction notice on Monday because her home needed to be renovated.

“I was there for 38 and a half years,” she said.

Experiences like this are not uncommon. A number of other residents — both students and nonstudents — shared their stories of eviction, intimidation and sacrifice during the public comment section of the City Council meeting.

About one-third of the protesters were students. UC Santa Cruz houses about half of its undergraduates, meaning about 8,000 students live off campus. Many students shared their experiences with housing instability as a result of the crisis.

UCSC has not increased its on-campus housing at a rate proportional to its enrollment growth. SUR organizer Jeff Stoll said the university is not accommodating for a student housing demand they helped create.

“We all know that housing is a crisis, that this is an emergency that students are facing, that students are being kicked out of their apartment units, that students are being kicked out of the places that they’re living, that the university doesn’t have enough capacity for students on campus, and students are being forced into triples and quadruples,” Stoll said.

During the meeting, so many students and community members wanted to present during public comment that council member Chris Krohn successfully proposed a motion to extend the oral communications period. Krohn believed the sheer number of people there represented the urgency of the housing crisis.

“We are in the throes of a four-headed monster,” said Krohn in an email, describing primary causes of the housing crisis. “[Students are] out competing working families for housing because they can place 4-5 people in a two bedroom, each paying $700-$900 per person.”

When public comment concluded, Krohn proposed an urgent ordinance for City Council to adopt a rent freeze immediately. The freeze would keep landlords from increasing rent beyond a predetermined rate. City attorney Anthony Condotti decided it would not be within the City Council’s ability to establish a rent freeze at that meeting. It was tabled for the Dec. 5 City Council meeting.

Five of seven council members are needed to pass a motion. Council members Krohn and Sandy Brown, who is also supportive of affordable housing campaigns, were the only two votes in favor of the immediate rent freeze.

The ultimate success of the proposed rent freeze relies on a council majority in favor. Stoll said it will take collaboration between the community and the council to achieve their demands, and SUR will continue gathering base support for the issue.

“The vote showed this is a crisis. It showed the clear interest of council,” Stoll said.