Updated: Jan 25, 2021
The City of Downey is updating its Housing plan, known as the Housing Element, and is calling for community participation in a housing needs survey. The survey takes on a special importance given that Downey has been tasked by Sacramento with building 6,500 new housing units by 2029. Yet, it remains unclear that any of this housing will be truly affordable for community members, especially low-income families and young people.
A Downey community member, Nathan York, previously testified to Political Life that, after a lifetime of living in Downey, he was evicted by then-Mayor/realtor/attorney Alex Saab in 2016. The rents are so high that another community member, Juan Francisco Vera, suffered from rent stress and passed away in 2020 from health complications, leading his daughter, college student Andrea Vera, to connect the dots from the City Council's inaction on rent control to the death of her father.
While the current survey put out by the City does ask for respondents' views about whether or not Downey should "Ensure that children who grow up in Downey [like York and Vera] can afford to live in Downey on their own" and whether the City should create "Support programs to help homeowners at risk of mortgage default to keep their homes, including mortgage loan programs," the survey does not mention support programs for tenants at risk of rent defaults, or an evictions ban.
Catherine Alvarez, Founder of the Downey Tenants Union and elected Council Member for Downey District 3, commented “The truth is that, like much of California, Downey is undergoing a housing crunch. We have both a crisis of availability — there isn’t enough housing. And a crisis of affordability — people can barely afford the housing that is available. We need bold action to support Downey's families, the majority of whom are tenants and support policies like rent control."
Alvarez appeared to be referencing the results of her own election, wherein she won with a 10% lead over her main opponent, while running as a Rent Control candidate. Early in the pandemic, she and the Downey Tenants Union hosted several car caravans to “Cancel the Rents, Cancel the Mortgages”—policies that seemed extreme at the time, but which have become widely popular as the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic produces mass unemployment.
“Working-class families have been marginalized for far too long. That is why we need community members to participate in the housing survey. Even though it doesn't really ask about rent control, which was already a very popular issue prior to the pandemic, we still should complete it and keep pushing our voices as a working class community.”
The survey is available at https://migcom.typeform.com/to/bgCfjvsO