Proposed state bill helps struggling Merced families remain in their homes | Opinion

During the two years my family lived in the mold-and-insect-infested house on Merced’s Brookdale Street, my twin brother’s asthma got so bad he would start convulsing. The house didn’t have a working shower. My mom worked two jobs, but it still wasn’t enough for her to afford rent and other necessities for our family to be fully stable.

We moved out, one of many moves we made growing up, and came to live at my grandmother’s house — our refuge we returned to time and again in between homes.

Unfortunately, my family’s experience is not unusual. I have relatives and friends who have had to couch surf, folks who don’t have the safety net I have at my grandma’s. I saw them constantly facing uncertainty and chaos, only steps away from having to sleep in their cars or on the streets. This is not new, though: Since 2020, housing prices have spiked by 45 percent in Merced County. But even before the pandemic, the number of people who became homeless rose by 18 percent.

All of us who call Merced home deserve to have a safe, stable place to lay our heads at night. But greedy politicians who are out of touch with the needs of working families have created policies that make it common for parents to spend more than half of their income on rent, leaving little room for other basic necessities like food, transportation, and health care.

Central Valley young adults are scrambling as well. A 2022 Power California youth poll shows more than two in five young people have to take on a second job or side hustle; over one-third postpone paying certain bills; and almost one in four move back in with family to survive. Too many of us are one car break down, or a sick family member, from eviction or homelessness.

The housing crisis we see in Merced and throughout the Central Valley mirrors the experience of communities statewide. It is no accident that California has both the largest number of billionaires and homeless people in the United States. This level of inequity is the direct result of policies driven by politicians who have close ties and who make backroom deals with corporate landlords and big developers. This is why we need courageous local and state leaders who will prioritize working people and our families over the corporate housing groups that continue to earn record-breaking profits and drive up costs for renters and homeowners alike, making housing more unaffordable for everyone.

A state bill currently going through the Judiciary Committee in Sacramento — the Homelessness Prevention Act, SB 567 — is a solution for families struggling to stay in their homes. Sponsored by Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, a Democrat from Los Angeles, the legislation will strengthen tenant protections like rent control and close loopholes to prevent unjust evictions.

If enacted into law, SB 567 would limit rent hikes from 10% to 5% a year. This means for every $100 a family saves on higher rent, we can prevent up to 15,000 people from becoming homeless. SB 567 would also make it harder for landlords to evict people without just cause, and extend these protections to include folks living in single-family homes, condos, and mobile homes.

Like the safety I was fortunate to find at my grandma’s, who has been a Merced resident for 60 years, the safest neighborhoods are the ones where we know our neighbors and together we are responsible for ensuring the wellbeing of our communities. SB 567 will not only prevent homelessness throughout California, but it will also provide the stability families need to own their own homes one day. Regulating rent increases contributes to the safety and success of Merced and all of our neighborhoods.

It’s time for our state representatives in Sacramento to support hard-working young people and our families in Merced and vote for the Homelessness Protection Act. Together, we can build a stronger Merced and California.

Nathen Avelar is a leader for Power California Action and a third generation Merced resident.