Housing security in Redwood City is the top unmet basic need related to the pandemic, according to a Spring 2021 survey conducted by Redwood City Together. The survey also reveals one of the causes. Eviction threats have increased by a factor of 9 since the initial survey in the Fall of 2020. As immigrant community leaders and people of faith, we hope that we as a City can imagine ways not only to return to “normal,” but to come back “better.” Knowing that the pandemic has had a disproportionately devastating impact on immigrant families, what does “better” housing security for all of us truly mean?
Eviction threats have impacted several immigrant families living in a small apartment building on Jackson Street in Redwood City. The families have lived in their apartments for 13 - 17 years. Yet despite the fact that the families have improved the property over the years out of their own pockets -- replacing all kitchen appliances, flooring, paint, and even building a fence and garden during the pandemic -- these verbal and written eviction notices still arrived. As soon as the state’s pandemic eviction protection law was set to expire, their new property manager delivered letters in preparation to evict the tenants and renovate the kitchens and bathrooms. None of these families can afford other comparable places to live in Redwood City. These families are deeply connected to their surrounding schools, jobs, and community. The sad truth is that an eviction will uproot their lives, severing their community ties and removing their children from the only home they had ever lived in.
“Yes, the building is old,” one resident shared, “but we have invested our money in keeping it in excellent condition, better than when we moved in. We are used to living here. Our children go to school nearby. We just want to live together as a family in our home.”
One family has already moved out, intimidated by the impending eviction and suffering physical health impacts from the stress. The move was costly and came at a time when the family’s savings were depleted after losing their jobs during the pandemic. They now pay twice as much in rent in order to stay in Redwood City so that their daughters can continue their education at Sequoia High School. The other families have chosen to stay, willing to cooperate with property management and put up with the inconvenience of temporarily relocating until renovations are completed. Of course, there is no guarantee that the property management will collaborate with the tenants, and may choose to continue evicting the tenants through the court.
We understand that landlords do need to update their properties. However, we do know that using a renovation like this as an excuse to permanently evict is unethical. And we know that it is our moral imperative to encourage and support bold and creative solutions that will benefit both tenants and landlords.
The ownership history of the Jackson Street building reveals the impact and inequity caused by corporate speculation of rental housing in our community. The Jackson Street property had been owned and operated by two brothers from the area until January 2021, when they sold it to Compass, the third-largest residential real-estate corporation in the United States and one of the largest in the Bay Area. Compass hired Millennium Flats, a property management company, to oversee the building. This is one example of the growing trend in our suburban town to displace the most vulnerable people in our community, including Latino immigrant families, in pursuit of corporate profits. Compass and Millennium Flats are wealthy companies. As faith leaders and immigrant advocates, we ask them to show leadership, creativity, and compassion in supporting their residents who have helped sustain their building, and our community itself, through their many years of tenancy. We envision a community in which our neighbors’ stability is valued over lining the pockets of corporate interests.
In collaboration with community leaders of Faith in Action Bay Area, the residents of Jackson Street have begun sharing their story as part of a broader anti-displacement campaign. Together, we hope to build support for a new policy in Redwood City that would disqualify renovation as just cause for eviction. We have the moral obligation to establish policies that prioritize keeping families in their homes and connected to our community, and to truly “come back better”.