By Samuel Paramore
For many years, Santa Ana city council members and developers have coveted the gentrification of downtown. But it isn’t just Mexican storefronts disappearing because of hipster bars and high-priced eateries. Draconian landlords are an integral part of the displacement of low-income Latino tenants just trying to put a roof over their head. With any eviction protections or rent control, undocumented residents are particularly vulnerable to being giving the boot or threatened with having la migra called on them for speaking out about slum conditions.
This, of course, isn’t special to Santa Ana. “Albany Park has seen costs skyrocket in recent years…the developer has repeatedly given entire buildings thirty-day eviction notices, often in the middle of winter, pushing undocumented immigrant families out while doubling rents for new tenants,” a recent Jacobin article on gentrification and rent spikes in Chicago noted. Chicago residents want to lift a decades-old statewide ban on rent control this year. Organizers with Tenants United Santa Ana (Tú Santa Ana) are collecting petition signatures from registered voters to put a rent control measure on the ballot this November, one that stands to benefit undocumented residents.
“Many people live in housing that is crowded and unstable because, in most cases, they feel like this is the only rooming they can afford, and can only work low-wage jobs because of their immigration status,” says Isuri Ramos, an organizer with Tú Santa Ana. Even when undocumented residents can afford apartment rents, they still harbor fears about complaining to landlords about poor housing conditions because of their status, lest they be threatened with deportation. “For an undocumented person, it can be hard to be find legal assistance as many pro bono lawyers only take the cases of legal residents on,” Ramos adds. “Knowing this, we are working on forming a space where these cases be reported and where legal help can be accessed.”
The activist also points to California’s Immigrant Tenant Protection Act of 2017 that prohibits landlords from reporting immigration information. But that doesn’t stop landlords from threatening undocumented tenants in Santa Ana in such a way or evicting them without just case. “Landlords have definitely been doing this for a while,” Ramos adds. “It just that a new light has been shined on this injustice, with much activist work being done on housing in Santa Ana, and undocumented people stepping out of the shadows and making their issues very visible.”
With the Immigrant Tenant Protection Act already on the books, Santa Ana’s rent control effort would serve to strengthen it. With just cause evictions built into the language of the draft ordinance, landlords stand to lose the ability to wield fear against their tenants. “Once this is implemented, we are hoping renters will be more bold in reporting unfair landlord practices and unlawful threats,” says Ramos.
While no city council members supported rent control, residents may beg to differ. Tú Santa Ana has to collect between 12,000-13,000 signatures in support of the proposed ordinance to get it placed on the November ballot. The coalition has been doing extensive grassroots organizing to collect the necessary signatures, but still need all the help they can get.
If you want to help fight against gentrification, keep many families safe and stable in their homes, and put another dent in the deportation system, Tú Santa Ana is looking for volunteers to canvass neighborhoods. People can also keep up with upcoming actions by following Tú Santa Ana on Facebook and support their work by making a donation!
Together, we can truly make Santa Ana a “Sanctuary City” for all.