Hayward landlords used coded racial language during a meeting in May, says the author, and the Hayward City Council ‘did not bat an eye’

By Alicia G. Lawrence

On May 29, the Hayward City Council voted unanimously to implement an Emergency Moratorium on Vacancy Decontrol, and to clarify the language around Just Cause eviction protections.

We – The Hayward Collective – were meant to take this as a small victory: “A step in the right direction,” words we used at that same meeting. Yet, these emergency ordinances simply do not go far enough to stabilize a hemorrhaging community. Our proposed emergency moratorium on rent increases was left out of the conversation entirely. And expanding Just Cause to the remaining 33 percent of the Hayward tenant community was somehow asking for too much.

But the most haunting aspects of the evening were the racially charged comments made by landlords and the complete lack of reaction from our city council.

The Hayward Collective consistently centers Black and Brown people in our work; they are the ones who inevitably fare the worst due to the thread of racism sewn into the fabric of society. When talking about seniors, veterans, disabled folks, or low-income families – we center Black and Brown people within those demographics.

After the May 29 vote, it’s apparent our city council does not understand modern manifestations of racism in this country, and how we must bring an anti-racist lens to policy making. If we seek justice, we must bear in mind the implications of all policy for people of color.

It’s almost as if council – as long as habitability is not an issue – believes it has no responsibility for protecting tenants from exploitation.

The third-most diverse city in the country, Hayward is ethnically 40.3 percent Latinx, and the remaining non-Latinx population is 10.8 percent African-American, 25.4 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, and 17.1 percent Caucasian. With a housing stock of 47.5 percent rental units (and all council members being homeowners) our 7-person city council – with 4 white members and 3 non-Black Latinxs – is simply not representative of this city.

The Hayward Collective carries these facts and lenses through our work, as racism is everywhere, and it was on display on May 29. Some Black landlords spoke in support of landlord issues. But by and large, white landlords cited the racist dog whistles of gang activity, drugs, and drug dealers as defenses for their positions.

Racism is at play when landlords argue for unlimited power to evict tenants by evoking “gang members” and “drug dealers” – coded language for Black and Brown people. Even more disturbing – our City Council doesn’t bat an eye at this language.

Throughout this process of fighting for tenant protections we’ve insisted that tenants understand their own needs. If people say they need rent control it’s because they are experiencing repeated unjust rent increases. Yet, when tenants raise habitability issues in parallel to repeated exorbitant rent increases, council says “Well, our rental inspection program will take care of that.” The rental inspection program – whose efficacy is hobbled by the lack of legal tools by which tenants can hold landlords accountable – will take care of the habitability issues, but it will not help with the rent increases. It’s almost as if council – as long as habitability is not an issue – believes it has no responsibility for protecting tenants from exploitation.

A deep stock of rent controlled housing plus legally enforceable tenant protections are necessary parts of the justice and equity we seek if we care about Black and Brown people – who are also seniors, veterans, and other demographics that liberals and progressives claim to care about. But we must not shy away from honest and difficult conversations about race, privilege, and power dynamics if we are to achieve that justice and equity. We must directly confront racially coded language used to perpetuate racist policies.

The Hayward Collective has submitted to the Hayward City Council and staff a new set of asks in an effort to make Hayward a tenant-friendly community. As council and staff review these asks, we hope they broaden their scope and understanding of the disparate impact of racism within the housing crisis, and why its necessary to be cognizant of racially coded language invoked by landlord groups seeking to maintain business as usual. Otherwise, when this council reflects upon its legacy, they will have to reconcile how under their watch Hayward lost the diversity it values so dearly.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alicia G. Lawrence is a Hayward resident who is a Housing and Tenants’ Rights advocate in The Hayward Collective, a grassroots organization that aims to build a community of accountability, equity, health, and social justice through fluid stactivism, art, advocacy, and self-care.