The Faulkner Gallery at the Santa Barbara Central Library was filled Wednesday with city residents sharing stories of renting nightmares. The evening event, hosted by the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) and the Santa Barbara Rental Housing Roundtable focused on tenants’ rights and state rent control legislation, and it offered a space for residents to express their needs and concerns.
A group of seven volunteers donning bright-blue CAUSE shirts shared their stories. A number of them were from Beachwalk Townhomes, formerly Voluntario Apartments, where rents have increased from $1,650 to $2,495 in less than a year and living conditions are not humane, the women said. “There are rats, cockroaches, bedbugs, and there are many maintenance problems,” they said.
Jenny Juarez, a single mother of three ― ages 1, 3, and 5 ― told of her youngest being covered in bug bites. “We threw away the beds, mattresses, her crib; we got new furniture, but nothing changed,” she said, her voice cracking. “I know it’s the carpet, but they still have not changed it,” she said of the management. “They won’t fix the problems.”
Several women attending the forum shared eviction stories. Mili, who introduced herself only by first name, had a son enrolled in elementary school at the time of her eviction. “We didn’t know where to go,” she said. “Sometimes we slept in the car; sometimes we rented hotels, but it’s so expensive,” she said. “We should have rights as renters and as working families so our rents don’t go up.”
Another single mother of three, Blanca Gonzales, had to live through construction at her apartment complex while the roof was replaced. “Black stuff would leak down,” she said. “My young son had breathing problems and it bothered my skin, but I wasn’t in the position to move,” she said. “We don’t live comfortably, and it shouldn't be like this.”
Landlords take advantage of renters, and especially undocumented renters, said a number of people giving testimonies. “[Landlords] will cross their arms and tell you, ‘If you don’t like it, leave,’” said Martha Lopez. “But everything is very expensive.”
In the last five years, 6,000 of Santa Barbara’s Latinos ― 15 percent of the Latino population ― have moved away, said CAUSE Policy Associate Frank Rodriguez. That’s most likely due to high rents, he said, and the first step to help alleviate housing pressures is to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which limits cities and counties from enacting their own rent control ordinances. “Santa Barbara would be in a lot of danger if we leave,” said one women. “We’re your workers. We do what no one else will.”
Councilmembers Oscar Gutierrez and Kristen Sneddon attended the forum and were moved by the testimonies. “I grew up in a city with rent stabilization, and it’s a good thing,” said Sneddon to the crowd. “Rents are rising too high, too fast. When I hear what rents are, I don’t know how people do it,” she said. “Please keep coming and writing letters [to the City Council]. We need to hear your voice.”
Sixty-five percent of Santa Barbara residents are renters, reported CAUSE, and many of those renters live on the east and west sides of the city. “Please support us,” said one woman. “It’s not just for us Latinos, but for everyone. We’re paying. We’re not living there for free. We deserve respect.”
Editor's Note: This story was corrected September 10, 2018. The Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County was not a host of the event. They were invited to table at the forum by the organizers.