Five years ago, an immigrant mom named Mili brought an eviction notice left on her door to a meeting for CAUSE, the community organization she is involved in, working for the rights of renters and immigrants in Santa Barbara. Mili worked hard to pay rent and keep a roof over her children’s heads, but out of nowhere she was told to leave their home. It took her months of searching to find a new apartment, feeling like many landlords were rejecting her for being a single mother — all while having no home. Eventually, she found a place that was an hour’s bus ride from her son’s school.
Mili and others in the committee wanted to see something change, for renters to be protected from suddenly being kicked out of their homes for no fault of their own. They had seen their neighborhoods in the Eastside and Westside, once affordable communities for Santa Barbara’s Latino working class, become more and more expensive, with families like theirs pushed out by corporate real estate investors to make room for higher-paying residents.
Mili and her friends in the CAUSE committee began to speak before the City Council, sharing their stories of eviction and displacement and calling city leaders to action. They faced a long road ahead: A city-commissioned taskforce stacked with three landlord lobbyists to one tenant advocate drafted recommendations that would have excluded the majority of local renters. An endless series of council and committee meetings deliberating during the middle of the day when most renters were working. They took on seemingly impossible odds against the wealth and power of Santa Barbara’s real estate industry.
But as more and more unjust evictions continued, and as census data showed the declining Latino population in the city, the need for action became undeniable. In city elections, voters repeatedly rejected candidates funded by landlord associations and showed their support for stronger protections from the global housing crisis for local renters. Tenant advocates fought at every turn attempts to water down the rules and worked to secure the strongest protections for as many people as possible.
It took five years. Years in which the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Santa Barbara soared to nearly $2,000 a month and countless families packed their bags and left the city. But in the end, Santa Barbara’s City Council passed in a narrow 4-3 vote an ordinance permanently protecting tenants from unjust evictions and requiring relocation assistance for evictions where the tenant is not at fault.
Local landlords will now be required to have a fair reason to evict a tenant, such as damaging the property or disturbing other tenants. For certain “no-fault” evictions such as a renovation or owner move-in, a family is entitled to three months’ market rent to help them transition into a new home and avoid ending up on the streets or priced out of the community. Most local landlords who would never think of evicting a tenant without a fair reason will be unaffected, but wholesale mass evictions like we saw from Ivy Apartments in Santa Barbara’s Westside will never be able to happen again.
Thank you to Mayor Cathy Murillo and city councilmembers Meagan Harmon, Oscar Gutierrez, and Kristen Sneddon for your many years of work as champions for renters’ rights in our city. It takes deep moral courage for an elected official to face down threats and campaign spending from powerful interests and vote on the side of struggling working people in our community who don’t have money to donate or sometimes even the right to vote themselves. We were disappointed to see the “no” votes from councilmembers Alejandra Gutierrez, Eric Friedman, and Mike Jordan.
This wouldn’t have been possible without an incredible community of support. Thank you to allies like the Independent Living Resource Center, Santa Barbara Tenants Union, SBCAN, Fund for Santa Barbara, SURJ SB, Santa Barbara County Democratic Party, League of Women Voters, and so many others for fighting alongside us. Most of all, thank you to all of the tenants who bravely spoke out about their experiences and persisted for years against so many obstacles to make this possible.
As the housing crisis continues, we turn next to the Community Stability Ordinance proposed by councilmembers Harmon and Sneddon earlier this year, to place a stronger cap on annual rent increases, creating housing security for our families and stability for our neighborhoods. There will be many voices needed in this conversation, but with the growing unaffordability of rents in Santa Barbara, we have no time to lose.
Maricela Morales is the executive director of CAUSE (Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy).