High cost of living is redefining the American dream; the opportunity of a better life is not accessible to all.

Rachel Pozos (pictured above), a former sexworker, is using her resiliency and struggles as an undocumented Translatina in the City of Santa Ana (Santa Ana) to uplift the voices of others in similar situations across Orange County (OC). When the prices of rent skyrocketed in OC and nearly left her on the streets, she resorted to sexwork for survival.

The past four years, she has been tottering Santa Ana’s motels to have a place to sleep, while seeking stable housing that will allow her to live closer to her job at Alianza Translatinx.

Rachel is not alone.

Across the country, landlords are increasing rents and tenants are facing housing instability. Alianza Translatinx (ATL), a 501(c)(3) Nonprofit has documented this crisis in OC, focusing on one of the most marginalized communities; Transgender (Trans) monolingual Spanish speaking people.

In 2023, ATL surveyed 159 OC Transgender, Gender non-conforming and Intersex residents. Of the respondents, 52%, or 83, identified financial stability/stable income, and 20%, or 32, identified affordable housing as challenges to securing stable housing. Underscoring the importance of addressing economic barriers. A majority of respondents, 68%, reported experiencing discrimination based on their gender identity; highlighting the prevalence of discrimination of the Trans community as an additional barrier to securing housing.

Why are landlords complicit? In part, because they have the power and ability to be. While some landlords still have sympathy and consideration for their tenants, many are unwilling to lower or freeze rent prices when the property across the street is charging more. This is what happens when housing is treated like a commodity and rental prices are market driven.

In Santa Ana, Rent Control limits the rate of rental increases for some housing types; but it does not limit how high rent can be for a new tenant. Stable housing in OC has become unattainable for many. According to a Redfin, new home buyers must earn $115,000 to afford the typical U.S home.

In Santa Ana, where Rachel seeks a home, research has found that the cost of housing is more than double the national average.

Housing stability in Santa Ana has become an unattainable luxury with high rents set by landlords and ongoing gentrification. To get by, residents like Rachel have to get creative and resort to unconventional employment to survive.

For Rachel, sex work was simply a source of income. Without it, she would have likely become another statistic; another person forced to live on the streets.

As she explains, “If it wasn’t for [ATL] and the job opportunity there, I wouldn’t have the ability to earn enough money to eat.” However, “If it wasn’t for sex work, I would not be here today; working while at the same time helping others in my community.”

Policymakers have failed to protect us from abusive rent prices. California adopted the Tenant Protection Act (AB 1482) to protect tenants from recurrent rent spikes, but it failed to protect some of our poorest communities by adding exemptions for thousands of units.

People like Rachel and organizations serving low income tenants, such as ATL, believe this terrible situation will only worsen.

In OC, the Housing Stability is Health Coalition composed of several nonprofits is focusing on increasing housing stability and housing opportunities for low income residents. Together, these organizations bring years of experience organizing alongside impacted communities to help create systems change that improves the health outcomes of OC residents.

Policymakers have the responsibility to protect us from housing instability! We need to demand policymakers enact strong local, state, and national policies that: limit rental prices without exemptions, increase truly affordable housing options, remove barriers from rental approval processes, and increase tenant protections.

All people have the right to stable housing; to go to work without wondering whether they will have a place to sleep at night or whether their credit score will ever be high enough to qualify for an apartment lease.