The Nightmare After Christmas

Denise Sicat Wong and Nelssy Verdan

Dec 26 kicked off an avalanche of financial woes for Union City renters – we need to act now to prevent the displacement of our community.
On Election Day, Measure WW in Union City, a utility users’ tax designed to ameliorate the city’s current financial issues, passed, while Proposition 15, which would have closed a corporate tax loophole in California and help cities pay for essential services, failed. Now in effect, the utility users’ tax may be one step forward to address budget shortfalls, but without reforming the larger disparity in our policies it falls short of addressing the immediate needs of our communities in crisis.
Our organization, Filipino Advocates for Justice, has been active in Union City since the 1980s where we have witnessed periods of disinvestment of community services and its impacts. We are familiar with the budget deficit Measure WW was intended to address locally. We heard the need over and over again when FAJ spent seven weeks talking to over 7,000 local voters who supported tax fairness policies like Prop 15 and texting over 11,000 voters during the election season. Union City is exactly the type of city that would have benefitted from Prop 15. Other Bay Area cities like Berkeley, Oakland, and even Alameda County itself recognized this and all endorsed Prop 15.
Closing the corporate tax loophole would have generated funds to address underfunded schools, crumbling roads, housing scarcity, lack of healthcare, and lack of a safety net. Corporations and the real estate industry continue to receive tax breaks while working families carry an increasingly large burden of the resulting divestment from city services.
This tax may seem like a godsend in the face of Prop 15’s defeat, but it doesn’t help the extremely difficult situation 2021 has now presented for Union City renters.  The utility users’ tax will be an added expense for renters during a dangerous timeline. We are in the middle of a pandemic with no end in sight. Renters have all struggled economically one way or another throughout the past year. We can only expect last month’s updated statewide shelter-in-place order to result in both continued income loss and the depression of our local economy. And if you’re navigating this pandemic as a working student, well – now what?
Cost-burdened tenants do not just have evictions to worry about; students and families can easily be displaced by rent increases that they simply cannot afford right now. At present, there is no guarantee our rents won’t go up in the coming months. As organizers working with tenants every day (many of them California State University, East Bay students), we know this persists as one of renters’ biggest concerns. Unemployment benefits ended on Dec 26, rent was due on Jan 1, and California’s eviction moratorium (a temporary solution at best) sunsets on Feb 1. Last month’s federal stimulus package may help us pay our bills, but will it pay our rent increases? Union City needs to act now in order to prevent a disaster.
Renters struggle enough to make rent. Renters will continue to struggle in order to make rent in the months ahead. Passing rent control is a critical way to ensure our immediate needs and protect our community.