Photo Credits: CAITLYN SAMPLEY / AGGIE
Davis Housing Discrimination Committee created in response to student concerns over unfair treatment of student renters
The Davis Housing Discrimination Committee, a new ASUCD committee, was recently formed as the result of a bill authored by Nayzak Wali-Ali, a first-year political science major and chairperson of the ASUCD External Affairs Commission.
Students have expressed concerns about being discriminated against in their off-campus housing experiences. Wali-Ali will primarily serve marginalized student communities, which often experience the most housing discrimination.
The committee aims to educate students on housing discrimination so they are aware of their rights and to generate awareness on this type of discrimination and ensure that students feel safe — “making sure that students understand that a form of discrimination being enacted against them is not normal,” Wali-Ali said.
“Housing discrimination is an issue and, because we are a college town, we want to make sure that we protect our students and our student tenants,” Wali-Ali said. “Many of the students don’t really know what to do if they’re facing discrimination — they may just swallow it and continue.”
Landlords might tell student tenants to leave if they express any frustration or unhappiness with specific housing arrangements and, additionally, students of color find it particularly difficult to find housing, Wali-Ali said. Wali-Ali also mentioned hearing reports that landlords refused to change or fix items in students’ apartments or are particularly hostile for no reason.
“The main goal with this is that it is a safe space for students to come to these people who will be knowledgeable in what is going on, telling them that no, this is not normal,” Wali-Ali said.
Edgar Masias-Malagon, the ASUCD External Affairs vice president and a fourth-year global disease biology major, discussed the ramifications of the City of Davis’ extremely low vacancy rate and its impact on student renters.
“Given that we have a 0.2 percent vacancy rate, we decided that we wanted to address [housing discrimination] because there’s only so many units there, and people are not willing or wanting to lease these units to students based on how they identify, or their race,” Masias-Malagon said. “[This discrimination] really sets them up to live somewhere that’s not as nice, overly priced or poorly managed.”
Francois Kaeppelin, the public engagement director for the Office of the External Affairs Vice President and a second-year electrical engineering major, also spoke on the issue.
“A normal vacancy rate would be like three to five percent,” Kaeppelin said. “We don’t have any housing, the rents are going up and people are being forced to cram into these family-sized homes — people are sleeping living rooms and garages because they have nowhere else to go. A lot of landlords are really racist. The goal of the committee is to address those landlords who would say yes to a white person staying in their house but no to a black person, or to a queer person or to a gay person.”
Though Yolo County used to have a Tenant’s Right Conference, the last one was in 2016, Wali-Ali said.
“So we’re hoping to bring that here to Davis and revamp that,” Wali-Ali said. “It’s really about creating awareness for the issue, being a space for students to come to if they have issues and making sure the students don’t have to do it alone.”
The committee will work through levels of escalation with a specific focus on mediation. At the mediation stage, lawyers will intervene and have a conversation with the landlord about the seriousness of the crime of housing discrimination.
Masias-Malagon said the committee will serve as a “liaison” between landlords and renters as well as between landlords and the authorities, as students, especially certain marginalized groups, might not “feel comfortable dealing with that.”
“We kind of want to serve as that bridge between city officials and administration, and we also want to provide that anonymity where people can come in and request that we listen to their case anonymously, and we can pursue action for them if they don’t feel comfortable,” Masias-Malagon said.
In addition to the chair of the committee and the eight individuals currently in the process of being hired, the committee will also include ex-officio members — other individuals within ASUCD who do not have voting power but who will sit in on meetings and advise the Housing Discrimination Committee. Wali-Ali said these ex-officio members will be representatives from several different ASUCD commissions, committees and units since the issue of housing discrimination is highly intersectional.
Individuals on the committee will include students who have basic knowledge about the housing complaint process, have an understanding of the resources in the area and have experience working with marginalized communities — the communities the committee will be primarily serving.
“We want to make sure we’re getting people who are sensitive and compassionate,” Wali-Ali said.
Written by: Sabrina Habchi — firstname.lastname@example.org