Spurred in part by COVID and by a growing housing affordability crisis, tenant organizing is picking up in not just expected places like New York, but in mid-sized cities like Austin and Baltimore, and even smaller cities like Louisville, Kentucky, and Portland, Maine. Increasingly, tenant organizing is not just winning battles against landlords, but changing public policy. For instance, rent control was passed in Portland, Maine, last November.
In this 90-minute webinar, cosponsored and co-moderated by NPQ and Shelterforce, tenant activists shared their stories, both in direct tenant organizing and policy advocacy.
Moderated by NPQ Economic Justice Senior Editor Steve Dubb and Shelterforce Editor in Chief Miriam Axel-Lute, the participants in this wide-ranging conversation are:
- Anneke Dunbar-Gronke, who works at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. They live and work in Baltimore, representing tenants, supporting tenant organizing, and developing community land trusts and housing cooperatives.
- Gabriela Garcia, who is Project Coordinator at BASTA (Building and Strengthening Tenant Action) based in Austin, Texas.
- Wes Pelletier, who is a tenant organizer with the Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, which has run campaigns establishing and expanding tenant protections in Portland. He helped establish the Trelawny Tenants Union, which represents hundreds of renters in Portland.
- Josh Poe, who is a tenant organizer with the Louisville Tenants Union and a co-founder and Co-Principal Investigator at the Root Cause Research Center.
Among the themes explored are the following:
- What is tenant organizing and what is the work that tenant organizers do?
- How do tenant unions build power?
- How do location and political context affect tenant organizing?
- What role can tenant organizing play in changing city and state housing policy?
- What would be the best advice to give to anyone facing the threat of eviction?
- How are tenant organizations pursuing community ownership of real estate as a longer-term strategy?
- How can other sectors connect with tenant organizing?
- Miriam Axel-Lute, editor, “Tenant Power Returns” (multi-article series), Shelterforce, November 14, 2022 (through May 4, 2023).
- Anneke Dunbar-Gronke, “Building Tenant Power: A Growing Movement Rises in Baltimore,” NPQ, May 25, 2022.
- Audrey McGlinchy, “Landlords Are Using a Texas Law to End Leases on Homes Damaged by The Freeze. Some Tenants Get a Week to Leave,” KUT (radio), May 12, 2021
- Luz Moreno-Lozano, “East Austin residents at freeze-damaged Mount Carmel Village reach deal with property owners,” Austin-American Statesman, April 13, 2021.
- Bailey Loosemore, “‘We don’t deserve to be priced out’: Law aims to end gentrification in Black neighborhoods.” Louisville Courier Journal, March 20, 2023.
- Emma Ockerman, “A Notorious Trailer Park Mogul Once Roasted by John Oliver Just Got Owned by His Tenants,” Vice, May 30, 2020.
- Julian Frances Park, “Tenant Organizing When Rising Rent Isn’t the (Main) Issue,” Shelterforce, January 22, 2020.
- Evan Popp, “‘We can make history:’ Lawmakers hope to end chronic homelessness by investing in housing first,” Beacon, April 5, 2023.
- Fran Quigley, “Louisville’s Multiracial Tenant Union Is At The Forefront Of A Growing National Movement,” Next City, March 23, 2023.
- Lucy Tomkins and Evan L’Roy, “They saved to buy their own mobile homes. Then the land beneath them was sold to an investor,” Texas Tribune, September 27, 2022.