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Guest Post By Shervin Aazami: What Can A True Progressive Advocate In Congress Mean For The Valley?

The West San Fernando Valley has been my home for nearly my entire life. Since I was four years old, Brad Sherman has been my congressman. He is now seeking his fourteenth term in federal office. The question for any elected official or candidate is not what they can singularly achieve, but what, exactly, do they stand for-- what are the core values and priorities that guide their mission as a public servant. What are they advocating for, and what is their vision to uplift and empower their community and address the structural policy issues before us?

I come from the public health discipline, where I have led local and national programs to address issues ranging from food insecurity to HIV prevention to access to behavioral health services in Black, brown, and Indigenous communities. The central tenet to public health is the idea that no one’s zip code should determine their ability to survive. We should be focused on addressing the root causes of our social and economic ills as opposed to tinkering around the edges with incremental steps that inevitably leave people behind. In the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, poverty is a policy choice, and our budgets reflect our values. There is zero reason beyond corporate greed and political cowardice that we can’t guarantee the basic rights and services we all need to live with dignity-- housing, healthcare, food security, education, clean air and water, and living wages.

Congress has the opportunity now with the President’s Build Back Better (BBB) agenda to make truly historic investments in the working people of this country and bring us meaningfully closer to realizing an equitable and just society. But what started out as a transformative package has since dwindled into a skeleton of what it was because of the stranglehold corporate power has over our political system. I’d like to expand on one specific policy area in BBB that is of outsized significance to the Valley and Los Angeles at large-- housing.

While a recent report showed that rent is unaffordable anywhere in America for someone living on minimum wage, the situation is exponentially more dire here in our city. Nearly six unhoused neighbors die per day in LA. Average rent for a one-bedroom is roughly $3,000. Average prices for a single-family home in the Valley are just under one million. And because wages have failed to keep pace with productivity and inflation, working families are making less while paying more for necessities. We have a gigantic shortage of public housing units-- nearly 4 million units needed nationwide-- made worse by draconian zoning laws and federal austerity measures. While Democrats are trying to sell what started as over $300 billion for housing and is now at less than half that amount in the BBB as an extraordinary investment, the reality is much more frustrating.

Let’s break it down: $150 billion for housing over ten years equals $15 billion annually. That’s less than a third of what Congress already appropriates per year for housing programs under the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Not exactly “historic.” What’s even more frustrating is that none of the housing funds go towards constructing new housing; instead, because Congress has so chronically underfunded public housing for so long, a huge chunk of the money goes towards fixing an over twenty-year backlog of maintenance and capital improvement needs for existing public housing stock. No one denies the need for these improvements-- especially to decarbonize and electrify housing units-- but our biggest challenges are the dearth of public housing and failures to rectify the generational impacts of redlining which continue to leave our communities segregated by race and class.

Remember when I said budgets reflect our values? Congress wants to spend $150 billion over ten years for public housing. In comparison, Congress is about to enact a military budget of nearly $780 billion for a single year-- or $7.8 trillion over a decade. When our legislators think it’s prudent to allocate less than 2% of what they budget for the Pentagon for public housing, can we really be surprised that we have at least 580,000 unhoused neighbors nationwide and millions more one lost paycheck or medical emergency away from falling into homelessness?

Housing is a human right, and the Valley deserves a representative in Congress who will fight tirelessly to make that a reality. We need to repeal the decades-long ban on federal financing for public housing construction, end exclusionary zoning, and fully fund construction of millions of new public housing units. We need a federal tenant bill of rights, to strengthen anti-discrimination laws in the Fair Housing Act, and to bolster tax credits for both renters and new homeowners. We must ban the criminalization of homelessness and stop means-testing eligibility for housing assistance. These are among the housing policies I would fight for in the BBB and beyond, because these are the measures we need to help struggling Angelenos keep or put a roof over their heads.

Recently I attended a community meeting in my district at which Rep. Sherman was speaking. I publicly asked him if he would join House progressives in withholding his vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package in the absence of a secured deal on BBB. Not only did he dodge a simple yes or no question, but he replied that the “tactic” changes daily. The only tactic I know progressives to be pushing is this-- no bold social package for working families, no deal. We’ve witnessed the BBB dwindle from $6 trillion to $3.5 trillion and now to $1.75 trillion and potentially even less-- all to appease two corporate obstructionist Democrats. Through all of this, Brad has been silent. His colleagues have submitted letter after letter urging Democratic leadership to maintain universal childcare, 12 weeks of paid family leave, funding for public housing and eradication of homelessness, and climate policy. Brad has failed to sign each and every letter. What’s most alarming is that Rep. Sherman, as chair of the very subcommittee with jurisdiction over federal housing laws, has failed to introduce a single bill to increase affordable housing or address the growing humanitarian crisis of homelessness. In fact, it was only after our campaign organized a sleep-in outside his district office in Sherman Oaks that he arrived on Capitol Hill to performatively echo support for an extension of the federal eviction moratorium-- but has yet to introduce or support bills to legislatively extend it or address the bureaucratic nightmare working families are encountering in their attempt to access rental assistance funds.

This isn’t the representation the Valley deserves. Our West Valley district is solidly progressive and voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2020 presidential primary. There is no political downside for Brad to be the progressive advocate we need and expect. But after 25 years in office and a $3.7 million war chest from defense companies, Wall Street banks, private equity firms, and credit card companies-- Brad Sherman has made it crystal clear who he is fighting for, and it isn’t the working families of the Valley.

My hometown deserves a corporate-free, unapologetic advocate for progressive policy-- for single-payer Medicare for All, housing as a human right, climate justice, and a permanent end to our wars for profit. We deserve someone who will fight uncompromisingly for living wages, reproductive rights, democracy reform, and universal basic income.

The Valley can enact that change on June 7, 2022. Let’s do this.

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