By Seth Sandronsky
Jovana Fajardo helms the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Action Sacramento division. The grassroots nonprofit is active on many fronts advocating for solutions to the housing crisis. With chapters statewide, its members actively pursue policies and initiatives that advance economic, racial and social justice for underserved Californians. Fajardo began her political career in immigration reform. From there, she gravitated to affordable housing activism and is now the division’s lead organizer.
Solving Sacramento recently spoke with Fajardo to get her thoughts on the housing crisis and how she sees the role of grassroots community organizations as part of the solution. The interview was conducted by phone and email.
What do you see as the major factors driving the lack of affordable housing in the Sacramento region?
Corporate greed! The major factors in Sacramento [are] the rise in corporate landlords buying out Sacramento housing, inflating prices, as well as the lack of strong renter protections to preserve housing as affordable. There is also little investment put into building deeply affordable housing. We see too many families struggling to pay their bills as it is, and we see too many corporate property owners taking advantage of those families.
Property owners are raising the rents, not making repairs, charging unknown utility charges that have no meters or common sense, charging parking and any other fees that they can get away with. All the while, we see market-rate empty units on a daily basis while homelessness surges higher than ever in Sacramento. (A more recent survey conducted by the Downtown Sacramento Partnership indicated a decline in Sacramento’s unhoused population, though factors such as cold weather and law enforcement may have contributed to the drop that many believe is not permanent.)
Unfortunately, there are only a few politicians who will stand for the people and denounce the California Apartment Association, or big real estate money, influencing Sacramento politics and policies.
What do you see as the most promising solutions to addressing the issue of housing affordability?
We are excited to be working with Councilmembers [Katie] Valenzuela, [Caity] Maple and [Mayor Pro Tem Mai] Vang and other allies: [The Service Employees International Union] Local 1021, Northern California Carpenters Regional Council and Sacramento Community Land Trust on Sacramento Forward. The latter is a policy package that we believe will transform and dramatically increase the city of Sacramento’s affordable housing stock, protect vulnerable tenants from losing their homes and provide key protections for workers priced out of the homes they are building. We need to come together and come up with new and innovative solutions since current policies do not seem to be working.
What more can you tell us about these solutions and why they offer the most potential to solve the problem?
Sacramento’s current policies are not working. We need to come together as a community and demand accountability and change. Big real estate and the corporate property owner lobby to ignore struggling community members and look the other way to back certain politicians financially. For every person who is no longer homeless in Sacramento, three more become homeless for the first time! This is not acceptable. Spending millions in sweeps is not a solution.
Corporate property owners are profiting at a record profit and should be paying the bill for what they have created in our community. Sacramento Forward is pushing to build more affordable housing by working to establish an inclusionary housing requirement that a percentage of all new units be affordable for low-and very-low-income households.
We are also pushing to stop people from losing their housing by enacting “just cause” eviction protections at 30 days of occupancy (when we currently are at 1 year); required reporting of any eviction notices to the city of Sacramento, establishing and funding the right to legal counsel for both tenants and landlords; reducing annual rent increases to align with regional income growth and limiting rent increases during tenant turnover—with a process for hearings to allow exceptions, and extend tenant protection program and rental housing inspection program protections to all housing in Sacramento.
We are also pushing to prevent further corporate purchases of property by adopting the Sacramento Opportunity to Purchase Act, which would require (the owner of) any tenant building listed for sale to sell to the tenant or eligible community group if they can meet the initial listing price. We are also pushing to stop the race to the bottom for wages.
What evidence exists to show the effectiveness of these solutions?
On right to counsel — studies have shown that having an attorney in an eviction case increases a family’s chance of avoiding homelessness by over 70%. On rent control, a 2020 study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that a $100 median rent increase led to a 9% increase in homelessness. Well, Sacramento’s current maximum allowed rent increase this year is 10%. That means if you’re paying the average median (number half above and half below) rent for a two bedroom apartment in California ($2,274/month) and got the maximum allowed rent increase, your rent would go up by over $227/month—leading to a nearly 20% increase in homelessness. By lowering Sacramento rent hikes, we can keep more families housed and not in tents.
What limitations around these solutions exist?
Current limitations are the financially backed politicians and the corporate greed that funds them. We need brave politicians to stand their ground and not be afraid to vote in support of the community. Several members of the Sacramento City Council and Sacramento Board of Supervisors have gotten thousands of dollars in donations from the (California Apartment Association) and Realtors who then refuse to join the conversation to think of new solutions collectively. They repeatedly refuse to meet with tenants while regularly meeting with Sacramento Realtors and the CAA. This is biased proof that their donations are buying Sacramento votes!
Explain how a strong people’s movement plays into this issue (of affordable housing and homelessness), and the advantages and disadvantages of organizing a large group of people.
Sacramento families are struggling. Politicians need to hear firsthand from tenants and families about what is really happening in Sacramento to come up with real solutions that can change the political dynamics in Sacramento. Issue-focused organizing is one of the most tangible and motivating ways to move people into action. We focus on grassroots engagement, and voter and candidate engagement. People at the grassroots level need to be engaged in creating community-centered solutions and fighting for them in the public and political arenas. Voter and candidate engagement is also important because issue wins most commonly happen through the ballot or the legislative processes. Having a sophisticated voter engagement and candidate-facing strategy is critical. ACCE action empowers and activates both our deep member base as well as our expansive voter base built through over a decade of deliberate civic engagement programming to analyze, strategize and implement our civic engagement and political work.
This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
This story is part of the Solving Sacramento journalism collaborative. Solving Sacramento is supported by funding from the James Irvine Foundation and Solutions Journalism Network. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian America Media, Sacramento Business Journal, Sacramento News & Review, Sacramento Observer and Univision 19.