By PBB Member Mandy DeSchutter
It’s no secret that the housing situation in Bakersfield is dire. In 2019 the rental vacancy rate of apartments in our city was 4.7%. In 2020, that dropped to 2.5%. This year, we are looking at an almost unheard-of rate of 1% for available vacant apartments. Rent prices are soaring, the number of available units is dropping, and people in Bakersfield are struggling.
We have also seen a drastic increase in people experiencing homelessness over the past three years. In 2018, the Bakersfield-Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative published in their annual Point-in-Time report that there were an estimated 370 unsheltered individuals in our community. In 2021, that number has increased to 1,581. That is a 427% increase in the number of unsheltered individuals, not counting the people who are in homeless shelters.
Bakersfield is in a housing crisis. With statistics this stark, you would think the city’s budget would reflect a real and serious effort to address these problems and fund solutions. And yet, the proposed 2021-22 budget allocates only $5 million to construction of affordable housing, a shrimpy amount that doesn’t stand to make a dent in the massive housing shortage.
Comparatively, the city council is allocating $132 million towards the police, an increase of around $13 million from last year. Since 2018, the BPD has seen a budget increase every year–$4.6 million in 2018-19, $15.7 million in 2019-20, and $10.8 million in 2020-21. A total of $31.1 million increase in three years. And yet with all this money, crime rates rise. Whatever the city thinks they’re doing by throwing more and more money into the police department, it’s not working. They are not solving the root of the problem.
It’s past time we rethink the notion of public safety in Bakersfield. Public safety does not mean having more cops standing on a street corner. It means investing in health care, mental health resources, community support, access to housing and shelter, economic development, education, and focusing such efforts on communities that have been historically divested from and ignored by the city for decades.
Where it comes to housing, the People’s Budget Bako outlines a true commitment to really address the housing needs in Bakersfield, centering the needs and asks of those most affected by housing insecurity. It includes a housing guarantee for Bakersfield residents to ensure that anyone who is in need of a home or shelter is able to find it. Guarantees of safety standards for affordable housing units, with legal leverage to negotiate with the City if units are found to be out of compliance. Rent and mortgage assistance to keep people in their homes, and right to counsel for those facing evictions in rental units.
To support the unhoused, the People’s Budget Bako requires the city to commit to a review of homeless services currently available to identify and remove barriers that make them difficult for people to access. It also recommends a coalition of landlords and formerly unhoused individuals that can work together to create a program to offer housing units at no cost upfront/low cost later on. For those currently battling with homelessness, it includes a commitment to support with food, water, clothing, and hygiene supplies to ease the struggle and make the transition to housing easier.
I implore the city to reconsider what public safety means, especially for the Black and Indigenous residents of Bakersfield, and all people of color who face harassment and death at the hands of police. This is why I wholeheartedly support the proposed 2021-22 budget put forth by the People’s Budget Bako. I strongly urge the city council to approve the People’s Budget to make the necessary adjustments to actually meet the dire needs of our community.