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Community members and activists gathered at Fresno City Hall for a Cancel the Rents rally on June 26. Participants demanded rent cancellation for tenants and small businesses as well as cancellation of mortgages for home buyers and small landlords hard hit by the pandemic and economic crisis.
The event was organized by the Fresno chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) with support from the Party of Socialism and Liberation (PSL) and was endorsed by several local organizations. With a presence in more than 200 campuses across the country, USAS challenges corporate power and campaigns on behalf of workers’ rights throughout the United States and in solidarity with international struggles.
Without rent cancellation, thousands of people in Fresno and millions nationwide will be facing one of the most disastrous housing crises in recent memory. About 40 percent of Fresno residents live in poverty, one of the highest poverty rates in California.
“Families understand that the most important basic necessity is to have shelter,” said Alexandra Alvarado of Faith in the Valley. “Many have had to forgo basic necessities such as food, utilities, and medical costs, in order to pay their rent”.
USAS organizer and Fresno City College student Camila Rivera stressed that “[the demand to] Cancel the Rent is not a Democrat or Republican issue; rather, housing is a basic human rights issue and should be essential to the working class because we are the backbone of this country.”
The common theme cutting across the speeches was that these issues deeply affect all working-class people. Housing for the homeless and the special challenges faced by undocumented workers in security housing assistance were highlighted by the speakers. As PSL member Angel Rojas put it, “homeless veterans, homeless children, and homeless families are just pushed aside.”
Despite the uphill battle, there was nevertheless a strong sense of optimism bleeding from the hearts of all the speakers at the event.
“We need to stick together and we need to continue to build this movement,” summed up Ralphy Avita, a teacher and member of the Brown Berets. Avita went on to praise the potential he sees in the youth who will continue on as the next generation of activists and organizers.
“If the moratorium is not extended, over 5,000 families will be facing eviction in Fresno alone,” Alexa from Anakbayan underscored.
The moratorium extension was indeed signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom two days after the Fresno rally, along with an expansion of the state’s rent relief program that, on paper, would cover up to 100% of rent for tenants economically impacted by the pandemic. This important development is a victory and shows that the demands of our movement can be won.
However, California’s rent relief program has so far been plagued by bureaucratic hurdles aggravated by accessibility challenges for non-English speakers as well as those without easy access to the online application process. As a result, qualified tenants across the state have been unable to obtain the benefits promised. Tenants who cannot secure rent relief by the time the eviction moratorium could still be at risk of being evicted by their landlords.
It is imperative that we continue the struggle so that legislation translates into real relief for those who need it. The Fresno City College USAS chapter and the PSL are planning future events such as banner drops, study groups, speak-outs and much more. No one should lose their home in the richest country in the world.
“People across the country are becoming increasingly fed up with the lack of government support for those facing housing insecurity,” said PSL member Nick McKenna. “Housing is not just a local or national issue, housing is a human right.”