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Just cause for Evictions Ordinance passed in Merced

Salvador Sandoval M.D.  |  Issue: February | March 2012
Photo: Brett Jelink
A national movement against evictions and foreclosures is growing as more and more people are evicted or their homes foreclosed.

Renters who had been evicted when investors surrendered homes due to foreclosure to the banks successfully managed to get the “Just Cause for Evictions” Ordinance which protects renters, passed in Merced, California on November of 2012. However, they incurred the wrath of bankers and their entourage. A juggernaut of realtors, developers, appraisers, and other moneyed interests rushed to overturn the city council decision.

The ordinance survived the attempt to overturn the decision on a technicality, while the state Fair Political Practices Commission investigates issues of conflict of interest, since the new mayor and another council member are landlords.

In the meantime, the measure goes into effect, making Merced the first city in the San Joaquin Valley to pass such a law. Merced joined 15 other cities in California with similar measures designed to protect renters, who through no fault of their own, face eviction.

Over 10% of homes in Merced are in foreclosure, and close to half of the foreclosed properties involve renters. 8400 homes are listed as being in foreclosure in the city of Merced. Yet many believe the numbers are far worse, as banks have artificially caused a lack of inventory in order to offset government pressure to delay foreclosures.

Merced is considered ground zero for the foreclosure crisis according to many national commentators. Merced, as well as neighboring Fresno, Visalia, and Porterville are in the top 25 of foreclosure sites in the country.

The opponents of the “Just Cause for Evictions” have a battle plan, and it is neither democratic nor fair. They represent the banks indirectly through the realtors, appraisers, property managers, and moneyed interests.

Phase one of their plan was to control the makeup of the city council by campaigning to eliminate their opponents and get people elected who are beholden to them. This they have accomplished in the main.

They took advantage of unrestricted campaign financing permitted by a 2010 Supreme Court decision. Though certainly not working class, they fronted a groups called “Workers against Carlisle” in order to eliminate a key council opponent. They also contributed heavily to the campaigns of several, two of whom won and are judged to be on the realtors’ side.

They are part of the “good Old Boys” club that has had a stranglehold on local Merced politics for generations.

Phase II of the opponents’ plan is clear. The approval of “Just Cause for Evictions” by the outgoing city council was just a minor set back, as was the delay for the Fair Practices Commission decision. They have clearly announced that they will seek the repeal of the “Just Cause for Evictions” ordinance. And of course, they will count on the support of the new council members they helped to elect.

It is time for Merced residents to wake up. Our money and our homes are being hijacked by the moneyed interests and the profiteers. To them democracy is but a fig leaf behind which they can hide. Inconvenient decisions can be changed with the right amount of money.

The people of Merced must come out in defense of the “Just Cause for Evictions” ordinance. Besides being a defense against injustice for ourselves, our neighbors, and our friends it is a first step, and an important one, for true democracy.

The battle lines are being drawn. As the Occupy Wall Street movements around the country are showing, becoming informed and organized are vital steps in asserting our rights. Housing is a human right. No one should profit from our misery. There are more than enough homes for everyone. The profits of a handful of millionaires should not stand in the way.

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