East San Jose nonprofit uses Christmas tradition to highlight anti-displacement proposal
Father John Pedigo, with Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County led a group from SOMOS Mayfair in prayer at a "posada" at City Hall Thursday afternoon. Photo by Adam F. Hutton.

East San Jose community nonprofit SOMOS Mayfair staged a demonstration in the form of a “posada” — a Christian tradition in Mexico that re-enacts the story of Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, named for the Spanish word for inn — against gentrification and displacement Thursday afternoon at City Hall.

A report from city housing officials in September found an alarming four out of ten San Jose residents are at risk of being displaced — and most of those are Latino, African American and Vietnamese. And with more than three out of four San Jose apartments renting at market rates — with no tenant protections against steep increases — residents who lose their “affordable housing” option wind up leaving the area, couch-surfing or becoming homeless.

“We have a lot of Marys and we have a lot of Josephs in our town,” said Father John Pedigo of Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County. “We’re living in a Bethlehem right now where there is no hospitality — in one of the wealthiest valleys in the world — and we have to do something about it.”

Father Pedigo joined the group of East Side activists Thursday.

A group from SOMOS Mayfair took petitions with more than 1,200 signatures in favor of an anti-displacement agenda, to members of the San Jose City Council Thursday afternoon. Photo by Adam F. Hutton.

“A lot of our community residents are living the crisis — gentrification and displacement — so we had to address this,” said Gabriel Hernandez, a community organizer at SOMOS Mayfair.

“We’re not here to protest and be angry,” Hernandez continued. “We’re here to bring a message rooted in our experience with this crisis, from our minds and our hearts, to try to compel the city to do what we think is just.”

Pedigo, with Catholic Charities, agreed it is a moral imperative for city leaders to provide a safety net for its most vulnerable residents.

“From a spiritual point of view, we have to believe in ourselves,” Pedigo said. “We have to believe, like Mary and Joseph, we deserve a dignified place to stay. Collectively we have to be that posada.”

Dubbed “Posada De Los Inquilinos” or The Tenant’s Inn, organizers emphasized the event was not a rally or a protest and the group is not making demands — unlike some of the other demonstrations SOMOS Mayfair has staged in 2019.

“We’re not mad at them and we’re not protesting the city today,” Hernandez said. “But the City Council members who are responsible for making decisions, we’re asking them to do something because it is just — we’re asking them to do the right thing. This is a small step that the council can take to address this immediately at the next City Council meeting if they decide to.”

SOMOS Mayfair is proposing a variety of anti-displacement policies based on similar initiatives in San Francisco, Oakland and as far away as New York. Among those preferred policies are commercial linkage fees, inclusionary housing and investment in more affordable housing.

The linkage fees would require developers of new commercial properties in certain areas of the city to pay a fee to help offset the impact their projects have on the local housing market. The group would like people who have been displaced or are at risk of losing their homes to get first preference on the affordable apartments that would be built using those development fees. The group has also asked the City Council to pass a tenant’s bill of rights that would prohibit discrimination, harassment and invasions of privacy by landlords.

Contact Adam F. Hutton at afhutton.sjspotlight@gmail.com or follow @adamfhutton on Twitter.

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