Derek is a social justice activist — but first and foremost a dedicated father and husband. When he and his wife were hit with two major rent increases in the past two years, with nothing to protect his family from further rent hikes, Derek began to think they may be forced to leave their longtime home in Inglewood, a working-class community near the Los Angeles International Airport. The idea of uprooting their two young daughters sickened him.
“My children,” says Derek one afternoon, sitting at a picnic table in the backyard of the Social Justice Learning Institute in Inglewood, “they don’t know anything else. My 11-year-old daughter has friends here going back to kindergarten. I’d disrupt her entire way of life if we had to move.”
Derek and his wife are now paying $400 more per month in rent — or $4,800 more annually — than he was in 2016. Similar increases in the future would be unsustainable. But they decided to stay — and fight. They became active members of Uplift Inglewood, a housing justice group.
“At the end of the day,” says Derek, an affable, upbeat, 35-year-old native of Pittsburgh, “we can solve this problem. And the problem is that corporate landlords don’t have the existing community in mind for what Inglewood’s future will be. So the people need to band together and fight and make things happen — together.”
The struggle Derek and his wife are facing is all too common throughout California.
As corporate landlords such as Blackstone billionaire CEO Stephen Schwarzman and Equity Residential billionaire chairman Sam Zell grab for even more king-sized profits, median rents in California are higher than any other state in the country. Among all 50 states, California has the fourth highest increase in rents.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a Californian earning minimum wage would have to work 92 hours per week in order to afford to rent an average one-bedroom apartment. And even though the state represents only 12 percent of the total U.S. population, California is home to 22 percent of the nation’s homeless population, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development.
Now, Proposition 10 — the Affordable Housing Act — is on the November ballot. With Prop. 10, cities and counties will be allowed to urgently address California’s housing-affordability and homeless crises by limiting excessive rents in a way that suits the needs of their communities. And landlords will still receive a fair rate of return on their investment.
The movement to support Prop. 10 continues to grow. Trusted organizations like the California Democratic Party, California Teachers Association, SEIU, AFSCME, and the California Nurses Association have joined the cause to stand up for the families and workers they represent.
Tenant defense groups like Housing California, the Eviction Defense Network, Property Owners for Fair and Affordable Housing, and others urge Yes on Prop. 10. Civil rights and faith-based groups like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California, the ACLU, and many others have endorsed the initiative.
Derek, a former electrical engineer at the defense and aerospace firm Northrop Grumman, and his wife run the health equity program at the Social Justice Learning Center. They helped build more than 100 community gardens where Inglewood residents can grow healthy foods, they created a farmer’s market, and they operate a nutrition education program, among many other duties.
“My wife and I work very hard,” says Derek, “and it wasn’t beyond our means to live here. But we’re getting to the point that we won’t be able to.”
If they are forced out, not only would their daughters suffer, but Inglewood would lose two residents who have dedicated their lives to helping the community. It’s the real human cost suffered when landlords only think about reaping bigger and bigger profits — with nothing to check them.
“We need to allow communities to level the playing field for tenants,” says Derek. “We have to start putting mechanisms in place to keep people in their communities. Right now, the corporate interests have the game locked.”
It’s why he believes rent limits are necessary in Inglewood and other cities.
“Rent control stabilizes the floor underneath families’ feet,” says Derek. “Too many people are spending too much money on rent, and they can’t afford other things, like healthy foods or starting a small business or buying their own homes.”
Derek is willing to do whatever it takes to pass Prop. 10. He urges Californians to join him. The well-being of millions hang in the balance.