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Pomona Activists Win Major Rent Control Victory to Protect Tenants

In News by Betty Toto

A win for Pomona rent control and tenant protections came from unwavering activist perseverance. Yesenia Miranda-Meza, a Pomona resident and single mother of three, became a force to be reckoned with after her landlord hiked rents by triple digits in her apartment complex.

In 2017, the fallout from gentrification in other cities miles away caught up to Yesenia’s place of residence. Her landlord, trying to capitalize on rent increases happening in areas such as Inglewood and Koreatown in Los Angeles, increased tenants’ rent by $250-$300 a month. All these units were in various stages of disrepair with pest infestations.

Yesenia, a paralegal at the time and pictured above, found no laws to protect her and the other tenants from these exorbitant increases. Upon further investigation, however, she discovered she and her neighbors could challenge the increases due to unlivable conditions.

With Yesenia organizing at the helm, the Curran Place Tenant Union — named after her apartment complex — was established. Through a series of direct actions and earned media, they received the attention they needed to fight the rent increases and improve their living conditions. Soon organizations like the Latino/Latina Roundtable, Elena Pop of EDEN, ACCE, DSA-Pomona, and the Pomona Valley NAACP joined them to support their efforts.

An intense period of advocacy, activism, and negotiation for the Curran Place Tenant Union ensued. So intense that an accident amid the flurry could have ended more tragically for Yesenia.

With an eviction case looming over her and five other tenants’ heads, Yesenia continued to negotiate the terms of repairs and the rent increases for Curran Place. Her newly founded group Pomona United for Stable Housing (PUSH), along with Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action (LACCLA), used the uninhabitable conditions to fight the eviction cases in court, which they won.

In late March 2018, the Curran Place Tenant Union met with their landlord. They demanded that all proper repairs be made to the apartments, making them habitable. In addition, the rent hike should be decreased to $100. If these demands were not met, Yesenia told the landlord, they would be going on a rent strike and would organize to include his six other apartment complexes in Pomona. When the landlord refused, the tenants prepared to go on a rent strike.

Yesenia collected $20,000 in money orders from tenants for the rent to put in the trust of their lawyer, John Nolte. As she drove to buy her money order with all the money orders in hand, Yesenia was in a three-car collision, breaking both her legs. In shock, as she was being taken from the car by firefighters and paramedics, she refused to get into the ambulance until they retrieved all the money orders and cash strewn inside her totaled car. One of the paramedics told her, “Ma’am your foot is hanging off your leg.” Yesenia remembers not feeling the pain until the firemen retrieved and gave her the cash and money orders.

Yesenia’s surgeon said it would be a miracle if she walked again without assistance. She was faced with surgeries and lengthy rehabilitation. Unable to go back to her second-floor apartment until after she healed, she would remain at the rehabilitation center for six months. Yesenia’s perseverance again paid off and thankfully can walk on her own.

During her hospital stay and rehabilitation, her landlord conceded to the demands of the Curran Place Tenant Union. All repairs and upgrades would be completed and the rent hike would be decreased to $100.

The Curran Place Tenant Union’s struggle showed Yesenia that they were not alone. Other tenants in Pomona were facing exorbitant increases and facing evictions, including tenants in the six other apartment complexes in Pomona owned by their landlord. PUSH, co-founded by Yesenia Miranda-Meza, Don Jose Diaz, attorney John Nolte, and Pomona Economic Opportunity Center (PEOC) organizer Benjamin Wood, grew from the Curren Place Tenant Union. They were now fighting for the Pomona tenant community at large.

They went on to attempt two local ballot measures for rent control and tenant protections for Pomona renters. Yesenia, unable to participate fully in the first campaign, remembers getting folks to sign on from her hospital bed. Unfortunately, both ballot initiatives failed, the first initiative partly due to their lead organizer being laid up from the accident. The second ballot initiative failed because of the inability to collect enough signatures due to the pandemic.

In the meantime, John Nolte was persuaded to run for Pomona City Council. Winning the election, he in turn appointed Yesenia as chair of the City Planning Commission. Both sat on the Ad-Hoc Housing Committee and were involved in making recommendations for the Housing Element, an analysis report that is required by California law and due every five years to the state. The Housing Element outlines a city’s current housing situation for residents of all income levels and strategies the city plans to respond to housing needs.

Unfortunately, officials tried to insert into the Housing Element a 36-month waiting period for the implementation of any tenant protections. Yesenia, now chair of the City Planning Commission, with City Councilman John Nolte responded in opposition. Met with resistance, PUSH organized a large demonstration at Pomona City Hall. Afterward, the Housing Element committee conceded, and the 36-month waiting period was removed before submitting the report.

After the second initiative did not make the ballot, Yesenia considered giving up. She was overwhelmed by personal and family health issues and the passing of her grandmother. Then, on July 18, it seemed as if the years of work she put in would pay off. A resolution would be adopted by the Pomona City Council that would direct city staff to prepare the regulatory framework and infrastructure necessary for residential rent stabilization, just-cause eviction, and other protections for residents who face housing instability, as well as a rent stabilization urgency ordinance that would protect renters while the permanent ordinance was being written. This new development moved Yesenia to be ready to rally the community.

Finally, after five years of intense activism, victory came on August 1, 2022. The Pomona City Council in a 5-2 vote passed the rent stabilization urgency ordinance to be immediately effective for 12 months. Furthermore, the mayor called for the permanent rent control and tenant protection ordinance to be put in place over the next 90 days. During that time, Yesenia and PUSH will have the opportunity to advocate for the inclusion of additional tenant rights to strengthen the permanent ordinance.

Yesenia’s tenacity and perseverance proved the winning formula for Pomona residents.

Betty Toto, the author of this article, is Housing Is A Human Right’s policy advocate and organizer.