California is home to over 16 million renters, 45% of the population, and the majority of us are low-income people of color. A disproportionate number of women with children and people of color are targeted for eviction and displacement and that number has increased with the foreclosure crisis and today as speculation on land and housing intensifies. We are demanding an end to evictions and rent increases, and the investment in deeply affordable housing. Last year we passed three new rent control and just cause for eviction laws for the first time in decades and plan to build on these wins.
Last week’s statewide tenant organizer convening in Los Angeles hosted by Tenants Together, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Homes for All California, Right to the City, and Homes for All national brought together 125 tenant leaders and organizers from over 35 organizations across the state fighting for renters' rights. This strategic statewide convening represents the historic growth of the power of renters to push for broad economic, racial and gender justice and advance a vision of an economy that works for families, communities and the environment, not billionaire real-estate tycoons, corporate landlords and Wall Street bankers.
We convened to align our visions of housing justice, share strategies to build power, and move together across networks, across organizations, and across issues for a powerful response to the housing crisis. At the end of the convening, attendees voted to hold an even bigger assembly early fall in the Bay Area to continue to develop and ratify a shared platform for housing justice.
We started the day by grounding our tenant organizing work in our core values. We are leading now by advancing tenants’ rights, but organizing tenants is part of a broader movement to win greater housing, racial, gender, social and economic justice. We looked for alignment, divergence, and anything missing in existing platforms for tenants’ rights and housing justice. We challenged ourselves to think of ways to build a movement that is inclusive and intersectional.
Roberta Ryan from R.I.S.E. Coalition in Fremont, a housing justice organization, reflected at the convening: “To me, housing justice means that everyone has a place to live, that is safe, affordable, quality and unconditional, meaning that people aren’t living in fear or feel threatened that their homes will be taken away from them, and that people are thriving in their communities.”
We examined a history of tenant organizing in response to housing crises starting in the 1930s, including the role that redlining and redevelopment have in shaping the nature of injustice today. We stand on the shoulders of those who have worked for justice before us. We remembered that tenant organizing in the 60s and 70s happened alongside broader left movements. We noted that it took the landlord lobby 10 years to pass the Costa Hawkins rental housing act, which deregulated rent control in California.
Woodrow Curry of UpLIft Inglewood has recently started organizing around renters’ rights: “The city of Inglewood is a city southwest of Los Angeles of about 115,000 residents mainly people of color and we’re organizing through Uplift Inglewood to change the balance of power and shift the narrative towards our communities and our residents staying in their homes rather than focusing on the developers. So our interest is rent control, affordable housing, development and just cause evictions. We are figuring out how we can build power to shift the focus of our cities towards its residents rather than towards the developers. So we’re organizing in various neighborhoods around Inglewood so that our families can stay.”
We recognized that we have much to do to build statewide power. While there has been incredible success at passing new rent control and just cause at the local level, we are not yet challenging the power that the real estate and landlord industries hold in our state Capitol. Most of our organizations do not regularly visit our State Senate and Assembly district offices or have relationships with these representatives. We must start by organizing and pressuring representatives in safe Democratic districts who do not reflect our values and interests to carry our vision of housing justice
We took the time to learn from each other. Tenant organizers from rent control campaigns in 2015 and 2016 in Santa Rosa, Richmond, city of Alameda, and San Mateo, shared with us about what they learned in these recent campaigns. This is especially important as tenants in LA county, Sacramento, and San Diego start to organize their own campaigns. They reflected on the following questions:
- What is the political/organizational/movement context and how did it inform your campaign?
- What were opportunities to build power and how did you go about doing it?
- What were major challenges in the campaign and how did you work to overcome them?
- What would your campaign have done differently if they did it again?
Finally, we discussed where we want to go together. We discussed our policy priorities but we also challenged ourselves to think about aligning the ways we go about the work. How do we build power locally/translocally/statewide? How do we link our work to build power with other justice oriented movements? Our communities are threatened on many fronts in this political moment, including deportations, gender violence, and police violence. Landlords regularly target vulnerable communities for abuse and the work of tenants’ rights is very important in building a defense for our people in this moment.
Araceli from SACReD - Santa Ana Collaborative for Responsible Development reflected: “Housing justice for me is when all families can live with dignity, without fear, where all members of a family can live together without fear that they will be evicted. Housing is a human right -- not just for those with power and money or have grand businesses leaving the community to the side. There is displacement around the world precisely because of this capitalist system that disregards our communities. For this reason, we unite to work and fight for our housing and dignity and so that families can live without fear.”
This is just the beginning. At the end of the convening, we voted to hold a similar, much larger assembly in late September 2017 in the Bay Area to continue to build and align our work. Why? Because Housing is a human right!
Photos by Mike Dennis of East LA Community Corporation