During the Bakersfield City Council meeting on September 21, a local advocate and resident spoke before the Mayor and City Council members urging them to allocate funds towards eviction protection and rental assistance to strengthen the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) further locally.
Funds from ARPA are used to speed up the country’s recovery from the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing recession. After Congress passed the $1.9 trillion spending package, $350 billion went to the coronavirus state and local fiscal recovery fund, and $65 billion of it was allocated to counties. Kern County received nearly $175 million.
During her comments to the Mayor and City Council members, Sandra Plascencia — a Policy Advocate for Leadership Counsel — discussed the ARPA spending plan, stating that it’s great for some areas but is struggling in others.
“We are disappointed to see that the funds have been reduced for home rehab and info projects, reducing the total investment for housing to $15 million instead of the $18 million that was originally proposed,” Plascencia stated. “The vacancy rate in Bakersfield is now below one percent, we are in desperate need of housing and the reduction should not have been made.”
According to Plascencia, residents have been reporting rent increases above the 10 percent cap allowed by the state. The 10 percent rent cap is a product of the Tenant Protection Act of 2019, also known as Assembly Bill (AB) 1482. However, many landlords have been able to find loopholes within AB 1482 as the law does not apply to renters in the following places:
- Apartments built in the past 15 years
- Some single-family homes
- Some dormitories
- Affordable housing
Additionally, residents have reported that landlords are not following the tenant protection laws and these residents are now fighting for their rights without legal defense. During her commentary, Plascencia also revealed that 59 percent of landlords have legal representation while less than one percent of tenants have representation in court. She stated that investing in an eviction protection fund will ensure folks receive the legal aid they need to stay housed
“Tenants are being pushed out of their houses by landlords who want to sell or rent their homes at the current market rate, displacing a multitude of residents. With the vacancy rate below one percent, tenants are forced to scour the already competitive rental market in hopes of finding a home that will most likely take up the majority of their monthly income,” Plascencia said.
Plascencia concluded her commentary by reminding the Mayor and City Council members that the past year and a half has shown that rental assistance is an enormous need in Bakersfield.
“As rent increases continue throughout the city, you must prepare to support residents who cannot pay their rent,” Plascencia concluded.
Wendell Wesley Jr., a Ward 2 resident, followed Plascencia during the public comment section of the meeting. He introduced himself as an ARPA funding recipient and stated that he feels blessed to have received the funding or he would be homeless again.
Wesley first experienced homelessness following a work injury that left him unable to afford his rent. He stated that it was an experience he wouldn’t wish on anyone.
“The elements are one thing when you take a drive down to the coast, but to spend or live out in the elements 24/7, month after month after month and year after year is very challenging,” Wesley remarked. “We need to look at our society and, instead of pointing fingers, let’s just find a solution.”
Wesley continued by stating that Kern County’s elected officials could better support their residents by supporting the tenants union. He also commented that when residents are forced to sacrifice 50 percent or more of their income in order to stay housed, their quality of life can diminish.
Wesley continued by suggesting the city and county look into building container homes, which could assist in tackling the housing issue and help homeless individuals get off the streets.
“I think as far as housing goes, we are way, way behind on housing. We’ve been for quite some time and they [Bakersfield City Council] know this,” Wesley stated. “They can make a difference.”