Stopping Unjust Evictions
Housing Crisis in Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara has long struggled with severe economic and racial inequality, particularly in housing. For over a century, the city has been marketed worldwide as a destination to find natural beauty and healthy living for those who can afford it, making this small area of land between the mountains and the ocean extremely valuable. Yet its tourism and service-based economy has always been made possible by the undervalued labor of immigrants and people of color, who have been segregated into a few working-class neighborhoods. As the global housing crisis has continued to grow, these historically more affordable communities are being pushed out as corporate landlords buy up buildings to evict, renovate, and raise rents. From 2011 to 2017, Santa Barbara saw its Latinx population drop by over 9,000 residents, or roughly 24% of its peak. Many families have been displaced to Ventura, Lompoc, Oxnard, Santa Maria, and even out of state.
CAUSE and our predecessor organization PUEBLO have worked to stop evictions and displacement in the Santa Barbara area for over a decade, helping to create tenant protections like requiring landlords to pay displacement assistance to renters evicted to convert their units into condominiums.
In 2015, Mili, a longtime CAUSE grassroots leader, shared with our Santa Barbara chapter that she had gotten an eviction notice. Without giving any reason, her landlord simply told her that she and her children had to leave their home. She believed she was being targeted as a single mother. The committee decided to take on a campaign for a Just Cause Eviction Ordinance that would ban unfair evictions in Santa Barbara.
In 2016, Guadalupe, another CAUSE leader, received an eviction notice. A major real estate investment company was buying apartment buildings of working-class immigrant families throughout her neighborhood and clearing out tenants over the holidays to dramatically raise the rents and market the units to college students instead. Unable to find an affordable place to stay in Santa Barbara, she was forced to move out of state.
Tenants Struggle to be Heard
This high-profile mass eviction received award-winning local news coverage, and raised the pressure for the city to pass tenant protections. In 2017, the city council held a discussion on options to expand renters’ rights in the city, drawing an overflowing crowd of both tenants and landlords. The council moved to create a Tenant Protection Taskforce, with both housing advocates and property owner associations represented, to try to seek consensus.
That consensus would be much more difficult than expected. The Tenant Protection Taskforce was renamed the Tenant-Landlord Taskforce, and advocates soon found the taskforce stacked against them with CAUSE as the lone tenant rights organization, alongside disability advocates Independent Living Resource Center, the City’s Housing Authority, two local landlord associations and one professional lobbyist for the state landlord association. Landlords refused to budge on anything but the most basic protections. The taskforce recommended a narrow policy riddled with loopholes, that would provide displacement assistance for tenants kicked out of their homes only if they were low-income households, facing large-scale mass evictions in certain high-density zones of the city. CAUSE continued to advocate for a full Just Cause ordinance, of the kind that covers millions of renters throughout California, simply preventing any evictions without a fair reason such as nonpayment of rent, damaging the property, or disturbing other tenants.
In the end, the political stalemate would be decided at the ballot box in the 2017 city council elections. Landlord associations spent thousands to elect candidates opposing new tenant protection regulations, but voters elected a progressive city council who was vocally in support of renter’s rights.
Protecting Renter Families from Displacement
For over a year after, the issue remained stuck in the maze of city committees, in seemingly endless debate, as evictions continued to impact residents of Santa Barbara who shared their stories at city council, at rallies and marches, and in local news media. Yet finally in 2019, the city council voted 6-1 to advance a Just Cause eviction ordinance in the city of Santa Barbara.
Later that year, the groundswell of support for tenants rights across the state also moved forward a Just Cause Eviction bill in the State Legislature, which was signed by the Governor.
These critical protections couldn’t come soon enough as the housing crisis had spread beyond notoriously expensive Santa Barbara to other cities throughout the Central Coast like Oxnard, Ventura, and Santa Maria. CAUSE is continuing to advocate for policies that prevent prevent unjust evictions, stabilize housing costs, and protect the safety and well-being of tenants.