Displaced Mother Of Six Fights To Limit Excessive Rents

In Pomona, about 30 miles east of Downtown Los Angeles, Gloria Cortez sits next to a small U-Haul trailer with her two-year-old daughter and eight-month-old son in a parking lot behind a faded motel. She and her family have been homeless for nine months. Their troubles started last year, when they couldn’t afford a staggering 23 percent rent increase.

Cortez, a 34-year-old mother of six children, never expected to be homeless. Her husband held a steady job as a truck driver, and the family lived in a two-bedroom apartment, just managing the $950 rent. When Gloria was pregnant with her youngest child, she became worried about the baby’s health — there was a serious mold problem in the unit. She notified her landlord.

The landlord refused to address the health risk. After Cortez brought the issue to a governmental agency for help, her rent was suddenly jacked up by 23 percent. The family scrambled to find money. When they were two weeks late on their payment, the landlord evicted them.

“When I brought up the mold,” Gloria said, “they made sure to get rid of us.”

Cortez was then hospitalized for complications around the birth of her child. Her husband stayed home for weeks to care for their kids — and lost his job.

Stories like this happen in California every day. Corporate landlords like the Trump-linked Blackstone Group game the system to evict tenants so they can hike the rent to outrageous levels — and families like the Cortezes are forced into homelessness.

“This is happening right now,” says Cortez. “Families are going into the street — every single day of the week.”

Holding her little boy, the mother becomes visibly upset.

“The landlords charge you whatever they want,” says Gloria, her voice quivering with emotion. “If there was rent control in Pomona, we would not be homeless.”

How did we, as a society, get here?

Housing experts and community activists point to a dubious state law that handcuffs local communities from expanding limits on excessive rents. Proposition 10 would repeal this law, and allow cities and towns to pass rent limits that fit the circumstances of their communities, while still ensuring that landlords receive a fair rate of return.

Cortez says there are no shelters for families in Pomona. A nearby park has become a refuge for homeless families who can’t afford high rents. Sometimes Cortez receives money to stay at the faded motel, but the voucher from CalWORKS only covers a two-week stay before the family is back on the streets.

“Here in Pomona,” says Cortez, “the rents are over-priced. We can’t afford them. That’s why we’ve been homeless all these months.”

Cortez says about her husband and herself: “Since we’ve been little, we’ve known how to work hard — we like to work. But because we’re homeless, there’s no work. The fear from one day to another that we don’t know what’s going to happen — it’s a nightmare.”

“This is something we need to fix right away,” says Cortez about California’s housing-affordability crisis.

Now, with Prop. 10 on the ballot this November, help is on the way. To ensure a better future for her children and other families facing the same impossible situation, Cortez is joining the fight to take the power away from the corporate landlords and return it to communities.

With the highest median rents in the United States, and with California facing the fourth highest increase in rents last year among all 50 states, it’s time to act.

The movement to support Prop. 10 is quickly growing. 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, and Property Owners for Fair and Affordable Housing urge Yes on Prop. 10. Civil rights and faith-based groups like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California, and ACLU of Northern California and Southern California have endorsed the initiative.

“As a mother,” says Gloria, “I’m worried about what’s going to happen to my kids. I want my kids to be stable and safe.”

She adds, “It’s been difficult. But it’s making me stronger. It’s giving me the courage to fight for my kids, and to fight for others.”

To ensure a better future for her children, Cortez says she’ll never give up the fight.

We don’t have to settle for this housing-affordability crisis. We can join Gloria’s fight because families throughout California deserve better. We can do something, starting by voting Yes on 10. Return the power back to communities.