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Renters Unite in California’s Santa Clara County

Dave Ransom  |  Issue: May | June 2019

Latinos, Whites, Asians bring tenants’ unions from six cities together


protesting the expansion into low-income communities

Veronica Eldredge and Jocelin Hernandez chant while chained to their seats protesting the expansion of Google into their low-income communities in San Jose, California.


Grassroots members and leaders from six Santa Clara County tenants’ unions convened to organize the South Bay Tenants Assembly in mid-March in San Jose.

As a basis for unity, the proceedings were conducted in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

“Santa Clara County is one of the hardest-hit areas in a state suffering the worst rental housing crisis in its history,” said the call to the convention. “While tech and other large corporations get richer and richer, displacement and homelessness continue to grow.”

In “El Norte,” Gregory Nava’s 1984 film about two young Guatemalan refugees who flee north to California, one of them remarks that the wages are as good as people said they were. But the other replies, “Yes, but no one told us how expensive it would be.”

California has the highest percentage of poverty in the United States. The high cost of housing, whether people own or rent, is almost double the national average.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, young professionals in the expanding technology industry – Apple, Facebook, Google – command salaries averaging well over $125,000 a year.

But what the captains of high tech pay out, the moguls of real estate take back. One-bedroom apartments in San Jose rent for almost $2,500 a month, two bedrooms for nearly $3,000.

Techies may be able to afford that, but many others pay half of their income or more, doubled up family with family, living in their cars, sleeping under the bridge – or forced out of the Bay Area entirely.

Yet more and more, renters are organizing to set things right. Over the past few years, tenants’ organizations around the Bay Area have brought demands for rent control and a ban against unjust evictions to their city councils or have put them on the ballot.

Alameda, Berkeley, Burlingame, Daly City, East Palo Alto, Emeryville, Fremont, Hayward, Menlo Park, Milpitas, Mountain View, Oakland, Pacifica, Palo Alto, Richmond, San Francisco, San Jose, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, Sunnyvale, Union City – all have seen political fights launched by organized tenants, some successful and some not.

These skirmishes in the class war are not being widely covered in the media. What happens in Alameda is not reported in Pacifica. What the Mountain View tenants win, goes unknown in Santa Rosa.

The California Apartment Association, a group of landlords and investors, keeps its members educated and mobilized. They go from city to city to quench the flames of discontent. But tenants themselves have been disorganized and too often in disarray.

That’s why what happened in San Jose is such a breakthrough.

When Nara made “El Norte,” the North American oligarchy was holding Latinos, African Americans, and Vietnamese in the lowest tiers of the economy, often with the acquiescence – if not outright support – of white workers.

What has changed is that now the oligarchy is driving the whites down, too, especially since the foreclosure crisis of 2007-2008. And that creates the opportunity – and necessity – for unity.

That unity is on display in the leadership that the new South Bay Tenants Assembly chose in March in San Jose – Latino, Asian, white.

Together they represent six groups – Milpitas Renters Coalition, Sunnyhills Tenants Association, Mountain View Housing Justice Coalition, Sunnyvale Tenants Union, Comite de Vecinos de East Palo Alto, and Silicon Valley Renters Rights Coalition.

“Our cause is just, and when we get out our message to the public, we win,” said the call to the convention. “But in order to do this, we need to organize.”

Coming up next will be an all-Bay Area convention of tenants’ groups in Hayward on June 8.

Los pueblos, Unidos …

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