Housing insecurity remains a chief concern among immigrants new and old, even in the welcoming community of Half Moon Bay. Take 17-year-old Belinda Ferrera. She has moved homes four times in the three years since she arrived from Jalisco, Mexico. Patti Rosas has moved eight times in 17 years, bouncing between Bakersfield, where her husband can find more consistent work and the cost of living is lower, and Half Moon Bay, which she says is smaller, safer and has a stronger immigrant culture.
“Half Moon Bay is a happy community,” Rosas said. “When you go out, people greet you and you usually know other people ... Bakersfield is much bigger.”
Nonetheless, immigrants interviewed for this story say they face high rents and racism in Half Moon Bay.
Rosas believes the community could help immigrants and other low-income families find more affordable and secure housing by instituting policies like rent control. In her native Mexico, by contrast, Rosas says it was much easier to find housing where people negotiate housing prices directly with friends and neighbors instead of signing contracts.
Ferrera said the problem goes beyond high rents.
Because immigrant families are often large or live with extended family, many houses and rooms are overcrowded and crammed with too many people in too small of a space.
“The rent is very expensive and all families live with many people in the same house,” Ferrera said. “When the cost goes up, more people come … Nobody has their own space.”
Ferrera believes that Half Moon Bay’s popularity with tourists is also a factor in the rising rent prices, making houses closer to downtown more expensive.
Despite these issues, Half Moon Bay remains a draw for the immigrant population. Maria Hernandez explains that she stays in the area because it is much safer than other communities where violent crimes are more commonplace.“In all the towns, there is violence,” Hernandez said, “but here you see less of it.”
Angelina Valdez agreed that money for rent is her largest concern and she doesn’t think that is changing soon.
“You are working only to pay the bills and the rent,” she said. “There is nothing to save and nothing for the future to buy a house.”
Even if people like Valdez could save enough money to buy property or secure better housing options, they say discrimination makes that dream less attainable. Mexico native Nancy Alvarado explained that she feels the system is stacked against immigrants who are working hard and contributing to their communities because it is so difficult for them to secure the necessary legal documentation to obtain loans or establish solid credit.
Alvarado, who cleans houses, currently lives in a small rental home with only three rooms to accommodate her family of four, providing them with little room for living or dining. She has written letters to the city asking for help to secure better housing.
Although Alvarado and others interviewed have considered leaving Half Moon Bay due to the rising rent prices, they have chosen to stay put. The town provides a safe and quiet community and necessary resources. For example, Alvarado’s son is currently in therapy due to anxiety she said he suffers due to current U.S. immigration policy. Her son is terrified that he would be separated from his family.
“He is 6 years old and realizes what is happening,” she said. Alvarado said she cannot return home to her native Mexican town, which is plagued with gang violence, the reason the family left in the first place.
“(Before coming to the U.S.) I never imagined that it was so difficult and that there were such racist people,” Alvarado said. “We do our work, we contribute ... We are not a burden for California.”