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Property Rights or Human Rights?

Salvador Sandoval MD  |  Issue: July | August 2012
Photo: Salvador Sandoval MD
MERCED, CALIFORNIA - Supporters in favor ofthe "Just Cause" ordinance.

MERCED, CALIFORNIA–Claiming that potential buyers want it that way, Merced bank owned properties are sitting empty as the banks evict renters. Despite this, there is a glut of empty houses as homelessness and families needing housing increase. This makes no sense, unless one values property rights over sheltering families.

As a case in point, Maria and her family. They had lost the home they were purchasing to foreclosure when the housing bubble burst in 2008. They then rented a home owned by an investor. A few days before Christmas they received an eviction notice to go into effect within a matter of days, despite having paid the rent faithfully. Frantic because of having to look for another apartment around work schedules, they then were told water and electricity would be turned off if the home were not vacated within eight days. Fortunately, they were able to get a stay of eviction for 2 months due to neighbors who referred them to a legal aid office.

Plagued by chronically high unemployment, and still suffering aftershocks of the housing market crash, Merced and the San Joaquin Valley in general continue to suffer among the nation’s highest home foreclosure rates. Over 60 % of Merced residents are renters. Many are unknowingly renting homes and apartment complexes that are in the process of foreclosure. When one takes into account the on-going state budget cuts, the erosion of safety net programs, rising unemployment and homelessness, the actions of the bankers and their hirelings are seen for what they are—cruel and heartless actions calculated to save their bottom line of profits.

Under the banner of preserving the “sanctity of property rights,” a coalition of realtors, investors, appraisers, business people, Tea Party members, newly elected city council persons, and the newly elected mayor Thurston led the charge to overturn the Ordinance Just Cause, only six months in old. This ordinance protects renter’s rights in the event of home foreclosure by the landlord. Curiously absent from this “unholy alliance” against the ordinance were the bankers who end up owning the foreclosed properties. Nonetheless their hirelings who eagerly do their dirty work for them dutifully defended their interests.

Their efforts were successful in the first of two city council readings by a vote of 4 to 3, with the tie broken by the city mayor Thurston. After the second reading of June 4th, which upheld the revocation, the decision to overturn the Just Cause Ordinance goes into effect in 30 days.

Claiming that banks are property owners and have rights too, the opposition chafed at arguments posing human rights and property rights. They particularly took umbrage at closing comments by one council person who stated that it was “all about money [the revocation of the Just Cause Ordinance]…that this represents a political power play of the haves against the have nots.”

Shouting “Banks got bailed out. We got sold out.” Occupy members, Tenants United members, Journey for Justice members, and general public walked out before the final vote was cast. Now they prepare to defend the Just Cause ordinance through launching a referendum to oppose the revocation of the ordinance. That is what government of the people, for the people, and by the people is all about.

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