Return to the Roots: Solidarity Networks and Housing Justice

On January 20, two Portland, Oregon women visited their former property managers with several dozen of their friends in tow.

Becky and Aubrey Cook were evicted from their apartments, run by Fox Management, after complaining about slum conditions including raw sewage spilling into their apartments. In a bizarre turn, Fox then charged the women $437.00 to “clean up” the apartment.

They were there to demand that the fee be reversed.
Their supporters were mobilized by the Portland Solidarity Network (PDXSol), an all- volunteer activist organization dedicated to fighting for economic justice through direct community pressure on employers and landlords. Solidarity Networks are a national phenomenon found in dozens of cities across the country including Oakland, Ca., Huntington, West Virginia, New York City, and Hartford, Ct.

Their formula is simple. Through outreach, activists find tenants who are being evicted, can’t get their deposits back, living in slum conditions, or are having trouble on the job. The network will agree to take action with the individual if the issue is winnable with the existing resources, and if he or she is willing to take action instead of having others do it on their behalf.

“The Solidarity Network model is a return to material, demand-based action. It connects directly with the conditions that people live under, and is easy to adapt in different cities,” explained Shane Burley, a PDXSol member.

Becky and Aubrey were successful in getting Fox to back off. Last year, PDXSol helped tenants get back withheld security deposits and workers receive stolen wages. An alternative to the staff-heavy nonprofit and trade union models, these networks are slowly returning the fight for economic justice to its radical roots.

(Photo credit: Portland Solidarity Network)

James Tracy is a Bay Area native and a community organizer. He is co-founder of the San Francisco Community Land Trust and is on staff at Community Housing Partnership. He is the author of, Dispatches Against Displacement: Field Notes From San Francisco’s Housing Wars, as well as co-author of Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times.


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