People caught in Santa Cruz traffic received an urgent reminder to vote in favor of housing justice legislation as a Students United with Renters (SUR) rally unfolded at the Bay and Mission intersection on Oct. 11. Their chants of “Fight, fight, fight! Housing is a right!” were well-received as cheerful passers-by honked in solidarity.

SUR is a group within Santa Cruz, composed of students and community members, that works to secure housing justice for all. Specifically, it aims to protect tenants from unjust eviction and prevent unwarranted rent increases.

Organizers carried homemade signs expressing the severity of the housing crisis in Santa Cruz, garnering attention from passing cars. Photo by Christina Bulosan.

Rally participant and 35-year Santa Cruz resident Glenn Smith, who is personally affected by the increasing housing prices as a renter, expressed his frustration with the lack of protection for  tenants.

“The landlords take advantage of any little thing, and that’s why we need oversight. That’s the concept of M,” Smith said.

Passionate  support of Measure M, a measure that would moderate rent increases and protect tenants from unjust eviction, was a uniting goal among the participants at the rally. As a megaphone was passed around, tenants had an opportunity to share emotional accounts of the struggles they’ve faced with housing. Several ralliers expressed fear concerning the lack of security they feel without the just cause eviction requirements that Measure M seeks to put in  place.

“l make sure to just be as undercover as possible,” Smith said. “[I] don’t ask for repairs, and my rent is there two days before the first.”

While some tenants spoke about the ways fear of eviction shapes their behavior, other tenants worried components of their background made them more likely to be evicted. Three-year Santa Cruz community member and Vietnam War veteran Albert Brett stressed that government subsidies increase the likelihood of eviction.

“I believe [landlords] don’t want the government oversight and they can’t raise the rent without just cause,” Brett said.

Another tenant’s fear of eviction manifested as a request to remain anonymous out of concern that his landlord, a fierce opponent of Measure M, may disapprove of his participation in the rally and retaliate.

In addition to placing emphasis on passing Measure M to relieve this shared fear of eviction, the ralliers also united around passing Measure H and Proposition 10. Measure H seeks to sell $140 million worth of general obligation bonds and increase property taxes in an effort to secure affordable housing for populations that are vulnerable to houselessness. Proposition 10 seeks to give more power to local government to establish their own rent control rules. Ralliers agreed voting yes on these three pieces of legislation would be a step in the right direction for housing security.

While many participants in the SUR rally were tenants who struggle in the competitive rental market in Santa Cruz, others were students competing for on-campus housing at UC Santa Cruz who were equally passionate about securing housing justice in Santa Cruz.

“I haven’t been personally affected because I live on campus […],” said fifth-year transfer student Thảo Lê. “However, I know that the housing crisis on campus does kind of mirror and get price signals from the market off campus.”

UCSC transfer student and housing activist Thảo Lê (pictured) has continuously spoken out about and organized against housing insecurity in Santa Cruz. Photo by Christina Bulosan.

Lê is familiar with the conversation surrounding the competition for the limited number of rentals in Santa Cruz through their work with both the Student Union Housing Working Group (SUHWG) and the No Place Like Home (NPLH) project at UCSC.

SUHWG provides a voice to student tenants on and off campus by documenting their experiences with unjust landlords and the NPLH project aims to understand the impacts and reasons for the Santa Cruz housing crisis.

Though a firm supporter of Measure M, Lê acknowledged the validity of the suggestion to build more housing that’s often put forth by opponents of Measure M.

“It is definitely necessary to build more housing,” Lê said, “but if there’s no law in place to make sure it’s affordable […] then it’s not going to help people who are low-income, which are the very same communities that are being displaced.”