By Sal Sandoval
On Nov. 7, 2011, Merced became the first city in the San Joaquin Valley to pass the Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance to protect renters. It protects renters from eviction if the owner forecloses on the home for failure to pay on the mortgage. Spearheaded by Tenants Together, a statewide advocacy group championing renters, the measure narrowly passed at the Nov. 7 Merced City Council meeting. There are currently 15 other cities in California that have similar ordinances in place stating that foreclosure is not a valid reason for eviction of a renter.
At the City Council meeting, resident after resident told horror stories of their travails when they and their families were foreclosed upon, despite having kept up with the rent. Their testimonies directly contradicted those of realtors who claimed that adequate notification and compensation were offered. The realtors, on the other hand, felt that their private property rights were threatened by the existence of the Just Cause for Evictions Ordinance.
Within days of the recent Nov. 8 city elections, where the composition of the City Council was changed by unrestricted campaign finance advertising negatively targeting a City Council person who opposed them, a coalition of real estate interests and business interests has vowed to squash the measure on the second reading of the City Council slated for Nov. 21. They had initially entered a request to delay the vote that took place on Nov. 7, despite the fact that the initial measure had been under review since Aug. 15.
With one out of every 200 homes in foreclosure, Merced ranks ninth in the country in foreclosures. Sixty percent of these homes involve renters. In the depressed local economy, outside investors were often the only ones able to purchase homes, often outbidding prospective local buyers. When the housing bubble burst, many unscrupulous investors simply stopped paying on their mortgages, unbeknownst to the renters who faithfully kept up with their rental payments.
The battle lines are being drawn. Just as the Occupy movements, which have mushroomed throughout the country including Merced and Fresno, have made clear, it is becoming obvious whose interests are and are not being served by the realtors, bankers and businesspeople who oppose the Just Cause for Evictions Ordinance. Hold the Merced City Council to its decision. The rights of renters must be upheld.
Sal Sandoval is a physician in a homeless clinic and a California Central Valley Journey for Justice organizer for the recent UC Merced Forum. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.