With the growth of the immigrant Latino population in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, thousands of immigrant families from Central America and Mexico make their home in Los Angeles, finding jobs at minimum or below minimum wage within the garment, food processing and service industries.
This community is increasingly characterized as “working poor” as many are employed in the non-unionized service industry and work two or more jobs yet still remaining well below the poverty level. The monthly rent for a two-bedroom unit in Los Angeles averages $1607–well outside the means of low-wage workers. With a vacancy rate of 5% and as owners jockey for higher rents, tenants have to contend with deteriorated housing, an increase in violations of eviction laws, and displacement.
As the production of affordable housing in Los Angeles has fallen to a standstill and rent-controlled units are irreplaceably lost, decent rental housing is out of reach for most working poor families and thus they are placed at the mercy of profit-driven landlords and are often forced to accept living in deplorable conditions.
Unfamiliar with their rights as tenants and fearful that they could be evicted or deported, many Spanish-speaking families are reluctant to complain or demand improvements from their landlords.
What’s worse, their fears are often founded in a grim reality and it is not uncommon for landlords to harass immigrant tenants by serving illegal eviction notices or threatening to report them to the immigration authorities.
Escaping or moving away from the housing problem is not an available option for most tenants, and one individual’s capacity to counteract landlord abuses and violations can be limited.
Organizing as the solution:
The economic downturn and the reduction in funding for housing and related social services coupled with the growing hostility against Latino immigrants continues to be reflected in the exacerbation of tenant problems.
The very real housing crisis has created a growing demand for long-term solutions for communities most affected by the ever increasing economic divide. IU is one of the few Spanish-speaking organizations striving to empower tenants to fight for their right to safe, decent and affordable housing
As we see it, the opportunity to learn the laws, resources and skills to collectively address problems holds the best promise for empowering tenants.
By building leadership, training tenants in self advocacy, facilitating tenant participation in policy making, and joining together to collectively oppose unfair and exploitative rental housing practices, tenants discover their potential to create better living conditions, improve the housing stock and build community.