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Christmas brings the gift of stress to tenants worried about rent hikes in 2020

Nathalie Vera/

SANTA MARIA, Calif. --Holidays are a time to celebrate, but some Santa Barbara County tenants say they are dreading the season --this is the time many find out their rents go up next year.

The county is preparing for a five-year plan on housing and urban development in 2020; a new survey is asking tenants to share frustrations.

For Santa Maria residents like Aniceto Morales, this includes rent hikes every year.

"We live in uncertainty because the landlord tells us she will raise the rent. Other times, she says she can replace us with people who could pay more," he shared in Spanish.

According to Morales, at the end of last year he was told he'd be paying $100 more for his three bedroom apartment. But when 2019 rolled around, he claims his rent went up by $200 instead.

He says his landlord also complains about Morales hosting church meetings at home. The Santa Maria parent says finding a new place to live in the city is tough, adding that some landlords turn applicants away if they have children.

According to a housing report by the Central Coast organization CAUSE, Morales is not alone. The group surveyed hundreds of renters in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties who alleged they experienced constant rent hikes, unjust evictions, and discriminatory apartment application practices.

Santa Barbara County and the cities of Lompoc, Goleta, and Santa Maria are working on a fair housing plan in 2020.

“We just wanna know what residents feel are the barriers [to finding a place to live,]" said Rosie Rojo, community programs manager at the City of Santa Maria. "Or maybe they can tell us about things that are working that contribute to housing here in Santa Barbara County.”

The five-year plan is part of a requirement to receive federal funds for housing programs.

“Do [tenants] feel that housing is accessible, is it accessible to people with disabilities, people of different age groups, people with certain needs?” said Rojo.

These are some of the questions tenants can answer on a new survey about their struggles.

“The information that we receive will help us put together a plan on how to better handle and deal with fair housing and economic development issues," said Rojo.

The community programs manager adds that in recent years, the city has worked on a number of housing projects like Los Adobes de Maria III, an apartment complex for farm workers.

"Now we have Sierra Madre Cottages coming up, it's a senior development also with People's Self-Help Housing," she said. "And then the residences on Depot Street, which is a Housing Authority project. That's gonna be 80 units for people who are low income, people with special needs, and veterans.”

The survey is available in English and Spanish.

In the meantime, tenants like Morales hope they can pay their rent for another year.

"Necesitamos apoyo," he says, asking city leaders to host workshops for tenants on their rights, and on future housing plans.

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Nathalie Vera


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