Protesters gather outside Irvine Co. office, seek rent cancellations
Protesters took to the lawn outside of the Irvine Co. office building in Newport Beach on Friday to express their concerns about economic struggles they face regarding affordable housing.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a loss of wages for many people not deemed to be part of the essential workforce.
A group called the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment organized a caravan of about 15 cars that made several trips around the building, honking horns and displaying signs that focused on two messages in particular “Cancel Rent” and “Make Them Pay.”
About a dozen demonstrators took to the lawn in front of the building, some equipped with megaphones. Several read prepared statements, speaking to the hardship faced by low-income and middle-class families who do not feel financially secure.
Ivan Pulpolibri, an artist from the east side of Los Angeles, said the location of the protest was symbolic because the Irvine Co. is one of the largest private real estate companies in Southern California.
“This is one of the companies that is in the process of displacing people,” Pulpolibri said.
Protesters called on Gov. Gavin Newsom and Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, by name to create legislation that would put a halt to the collection of rent and mortgage payments, as well as utility fees, until the end of the pandemic.
Sergio Vargas, 28, of Los Angeles, a lead organizer for the alliance, said the group named key members of the Democratic Party in its call to action because “the Democrats are supposed to be the party of the working-class people.”
“We’re calling on politicians, Nancy Pelosi, we’re calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom, on our council members, supervisors for them to implement laws to make these corporations pay for the cancellation of rent and mortgages during the crisis of COVID-19,” Vargas added.
Vargas noted the high unemployment rate among Los Angeles residents. He said he was passionate about the cause because he has seen families decimated by their inability to find affordable housing.
Maria Morales, 28, of south Los Angeles, Vargas’ girlfriend and a mother to a 2-month-old son, is on maternity leave, but the coronavirus has hit close to home for her.
“I have immediate family that’s being affected by this crisis,” Morales said. “They’re not able to pay their rent. They don’t receive unemployment. They don’t qualify for unemployment, so they’re scrambling for these resources.
“They’re [choosing] between, ‘Do I pay my rent?’ or ‘Do I buy food for my children?’ I’m here to support them in solidarity. I’ve been fortunate enough to have my job still, to have my partner who is helping me, but there’s other people like my family, friends who [do not] have that choice.”
Guadalupe Ortiz is a homeowner and landlord. Those she rents to have lost their jobs, and with her husband out of work for six weeks, she cannot make her mortgage payment.
“We understand this crisis is not just now,” Ortiz said with Vargas acting as an interpreter. “As soon as the shelter-in-place [order] is lifted, there’s going to be a lot of foreclosures, there’s going to be a lot of wealthy corporations like [the] Irvine [Co.] who are going to come in and try to buy every single house they can. We cannot let this happen.”
The Irvine Co. declined to comment on the protest.
In a statement released by the California Apartment Assn. on May 1, Tom Bannon, the chief executive officer of the CAA, condemned threatened rent strikes that tenant-advocacy groups were attempting to organize in the state.
“Choosing not to pay the rent causes a serious chain reaction that goes well beyond the renter and landlord,” Bannon said in the release. “When rent is not paid, rental property owners may find themselves unable to cover their own bills, including their mortgage, utilities, property upkeep, and if they have employees, their payroll. If a landlord’s employees aren’t paid, how are those workers going to feed their families or pay their own rent?”
Bannon made a distinction between rent strikers and those who could not pay rent due to financial hardships brought on by COVID-19. The statement said that renters who fall into the latter category should explain their situation to their landlord, and the CAA also urged property owners to have patience and compassion when dealing with tenants impacted by the pandemic.
The CAA does have safe-at-home guidelines in place, which Bannon said will be extended through June 30. They include freezing rent, halting the eviction of renters affected by COVID-19 and waiving late fees for renters who pay rent after the due date because the pandemic has affected their ability to do so.
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