FRESNO, Calif. (KGPE) —Imelda Cruz has not had a place to call home in more than a year. After getting evicted in late 2019, the mother of four says she had difficulty finding an affordable place to live. She says she spent $500 in housing applications last year but was denied due to bad credit, income, or because of her autistic son’s service dog.

The pandemic stifled job opportunities, and after bouncing around from Fresno, to Bakersfield, and back to Fresno over the past year, she’s taken shelter in her son’s two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment along with seven other occupants.

The pandemic has exacerbated the California housing crisis. In the Central Valley, once known for its affordability, stories like Imelda’s are not unusual. 

“She had to live with me and my family in this 800 square foot apartment in the middle of the pandemic,” said Pedro Navarro Cruz.

Navarro Cruz is one of Imelda’s eldest sons. He’s also an organizer at the local chapter of the nonprofit, Communities for a New California Education Fund. After stories like Imelda’s and other renters became common in 2020, the organization formed “Angeles de la Vivienda”, or “Housing Angels”, a Spanish-speaking neighborhood committee that focuses on affordable housing, reducing homelessness, and increasing homeownership among Latino families.

“I’ve seen many times where these folks are not seen as equal and our group is trying to change that,” he said. 

Angeles de la Vivienda seeks to empower renters by connecting them to resources, promoting civic engagement, and encouraging people to share their experiences.

“It’s all about connecting with other folks that have a story,” said Cruz Navarro. “Because something that we believe here at CNC is that the most powerful tool we have for change is our own personal story.”

“It’s because of the language barrier,” Imelda shared in Spanish, adding that other renters may be taciturn about their experiences – or hesitant to inquire about resources due to their immigration status. 
But Angeles de la Vivienda wants to give them a seat at the table when decisions are being made. Tackling the language barrier is one of their priorities. 

“Different entities are not ready to provide Spanish translation,” said Cruz Navarro. 

The City of Fresno has made some progress over the past year: rental and utility assistance programs have provided relief to low-income families during covid. Last week, Fresno City Council also approved a trust fund to build more affordable housing units over the next few years.

“I think it’s super important to engage folks in the Spanish-speaking community,” said Cruz Navarro. “I like where it’s going, I’m really excited for this group.”

Angeles de la Vivienda meets biweekly. For more information, contact CNC Education Fund by visiting their website or contacting them on Facebook.