With the June 14 Bakersfield city budget meeting looming, a local organization and the campaign they’re a partner in have urged the City to adopt a budget to protect its tenants.
The Keep Bakersfield Housed campaign is a budget request to allocate $1 million to establish a comprehensive right-to-counsel program that will provide tenant rights education and outreach, legal services and advice for landlord/tenant issues, and attorney representation for tenants in court.
During a Keep Bakersfield Housed campaign meeting that took place yesterday, Sandra Plascencia — a policy advocate with Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability — explained that in September 2022 various organizations and community members advocated for an eviction protection program that was voted on and approved by the Bakersfield City Council. The City then set aside $500,000 in contingency funding to go towards a right-to-counsel program, but the program never ended up receiving the funding.
“Because it is in contingency, they could have used those funds for anything,” Plascencia explained. “They weren’t secure enough for housing because. We’ve been trying to figure out whether or not those funds are still available.”
During yesterday’s meeting, Plascencia also explained that they have been meeting with various City Council members to gain their support for this campaign and have them support a program that will provide numerous benefits to Bakersfield tenants.
“We have met with Councilmember Arias, Gonzales, Kaur, Freeman, and Smith,” Plascencia revealed. “It’s been wishy-washy. They have not given flat-out support, any of them. They’ve said that they think it’s a good idea, but they haven’t given their full support.”
The right-to-counsel program would provide tenants with knowledge of what their rights are as tenants and give them information on how to protect themselves before they fall under the threat of eviction. And if they are facing an eviction, it would provide them with legal counsel and aid so that they wouldn’t have to go through the court process alone and represent themselves.
“In Kern County, 59% of landlords have attorney representation when less than 1% of tenants do. So 59% of landlords have access to an attorney that can represent them in court, but tenants don’t. This is a huge gap,” Plascencia stated.
Plascencia went out to explain that the main point of the right-to-counsel program would be to make sure that tenants are not being displaced and losing their housing.
The campaign consists of Leadership Counsel, Unidad Popular Benito Juarez (UPBJ), Tenants Together, Faith in the Valley, Greenfield Walking Group, and community members.
The $1 million budget that the Keep Bakersfield Housed campaign is asking for will go towards:
- Directing Attorney salaries – $375,000 ($125,000 per attorney)
- *each attorney can help around 1,000 tenants so three attorneys would mean around 3,000 tenants receive help yearly
- 1 Legal Secretary – $55,000
- 6 Legal Clerks – $300,000 ($20/hour)
- Misc. Expenses – $20,000
- Public Outreach and Education – $200,000
- Outreach in various languages, workshops on tenant rights, and a public awareness campaign aimed at sharing tenant resources and information on tenant rights citywide
- Evaluation – $15,000
The City will be having one more budget meeting before the Council will make its final budgeting decisions at the end of the month. The next meeting will take place at 5:00 p.m. on June 14 and will go over the currently proposed budget. The final meeting will take place at 5:00 p.m. on June 28.