Last month, on Sept. 22nd, renters took to the streets in 19 states and 52 cities for the national Renters Day of Action (RDA) to declare a national Renter State of Emergency. The uprising was the largest mobilization of renters for housing and economic justice in recent history. Thousands filled the streets, packed city halls, confronted landlord lobbying associations, marched on slumlords, and took the fight to the doorsteps of eviction courts.
“There is a national housing crisis facing renters,” says Dawn Phillips, executive director of Right to the City. “In nearly every state, evictions and rents are rising. One in four families pays 50 percent of their income on housing. In every community and at every level of government, the ability of renters and working families to thrive must be a central racial and economic justice issue of our time.”
The RDA was organized by the national Homes For All (HFA) campaign, a project initiated by the Right to the City Alliance and was conceived at the HFA #RenterPower2016 convening in Chicago in April.
“In Chicago, two things became clear,” explains Bárbara Suárez Galaeno of the Autonomous Tenants Union in Chicago. “First, organizing mass numbers of renters and people impacted by the housing crisis to defend against displacement must be central to our organizing. Second, the time is now to demand bold and transformative solutions to the crisis. The current system is failing our communities. Only a full overhaul of the system of land and housing will allow us to secure homes for all people.”
Building off of this call for mass organizing and bold demands, organizers of the RDA initiated a process to develop demands with renters and organizers across the country under the following criteria:
- Transformative. Our demands (and our actions) had be transformative and resonate with millions of people impacted by the crisis.
- Housing is a right, not a commodity. Our demands had to shift the discussion about housing from a market-based one to a human-rights based one that centers on the needs of children, families, individuals, and seniors. “We believe that we must challenge the idea that housing is a commodity that can be profited off of,” says Cynthia Fong of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco and part of the RDA planning team. “Housing is a non-negotiable human right. Plain and simple, every single person deserves a safe, affordable, quality, and secure home in order to survive and thrive.”
- Time for action. Our demands had to call for urgent action by elected officials and policymakers to address the crisis.
Out of this process, the national RDA planning team developed four demands we need now to advance the human right to housing:
1. We demand a national rent freeze, a livable rent, and a livable wage for all people. “People can't afford to keep being relocated, dislocated, and tossed around. You kick everybody out, you don't give them jobs, you don't raise the minimum wage, and they can't afford to take care of themselves. What do they do,” says Lynn Jones of Nashville, Tennessee, who led the Nashville Renters Day Of Action.
According to the U.S. census, 1 in 2 families pay unaffordable rent of more than 30 percent of their income on housing. For low-income families, the crisis of affordability is worse: 83 percent of families making $15,000 or less are paying more than 30 percent of income on rent and 70 percent of families are paying 50 percent of income on rent. The National Low Income Housing Coalition found that workers who make the minimum wage would have to work an average of 90 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom apartment in the United States.
According to the government's own studies, families who pay more than 30 percent of income toward housing “may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation, and medical care.”
Simply put, wages are too low and rents are rising too fast. We need solutions on both sides of this coin to address the crisis.
We call for a freeze on all rent increases that displace our families and communities, and for the adoption of a national livable rent standard that ensures no family pays more than 30 percent of their income on rent and a livable wage for all people.
The housing crisis demands widespread and urgent action. During World War II and again with the Economic Stabilization Act of 1970, rent freezes were put in place to stabilize families and the economy. We’ve done it before, we can do it again.
2. We demand and declare a freeze on ALL unjust evictions.
After decades of divestment from low-income communities and communities of color, landlords and Wall Street developers are targeting primarily Black and Latinx communities and historically working-class neighborhoods with unprecedented levels of unjust evictions. The primary motive: clear out lower-paying renters in order to make record profits off our communities.
In “Evicted,” Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond refers to the crisis as an ‘'eviction epidemic” that in some cities targets black women with evictions at three times the rate of the general population. He writes, “If parents throw kids out on the street in the wintertime, that’s called child abuse. But if big banks and landlords evict my family and kids it’s called eviction.”
Failure of our governments to end this abuse and protect families is unacceptable. We call for local, state, and federal governments to institute immediate moratoriums on unjust evictions. Until this happens, we call on our communities to fight unjust evictions with fierce resistance.
3. We demand community control over land and housing in our communities.
Gentrification is racial, gender, and economic violence being waged on our communities by developers and corporate landlords in conjunction with local governments. The development model of gentrification undervalues existing community assets and requires mass forced displacement of communities of color and low-income communities in favor of higher paying, and often whiter, communities. We reject this model of development. Gentrification is not inevitable and it must be resisted.
We believe in equitable development that puts human and collective needs before profit. We believe that existing communities must have power over development that happens in their own communities. Community Land Trusts and Cooperatives are one tool that promote democratic community control over land and can create long-term, truly affordable housing and community space in working class communities and communities of color. There is a track record of this model in the U.S. In Boston, nearly every neighborhood was ravaged by the foreclosure crisis except one—the Dudley neighborhood, where the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative Land Trust collectively owns and controls much of the land—saw zero families foreclosed on or displaced.
We demand that cities, states and the federal government take immediate action to transfer vacant, underutilized, and foreclosed upon land to the democratic control of communities through Community Land Trusts and Cooperatives, and provide fund equitable and democratic development across the nation.
4. We demand the right of all tenants to organize and bargain collectively with landlords without fear of discrimination, retaliation, or eviction.
Landlords use discrimination, retaliation and the threat of displacement (through eviction, rent increase or deportation) to disrupt and stop tenants’ attempts to organize. This behavior is often carried out with the support of law enforcement and government agencies and particularly targets migrant populations, people of color, families with children, formerly incarcerated individuals, and survivors of domestic violence.
We must protect the right of all people to organize, to have a voice, and to exercise renter power to fight for our communities.
The Renters Day of Action was a turning point for a resurgent renter-led movement for housing justice, and we’re just getting started. Where we have been defensive in the past, we call on supporters to be offensive in the future. Where we have been timid, we must to be bold. On November 16, Homes For All will be hosting a national call: “Building the 21st Century Movement For Housing As A Human right – Homes For All’s Strategy To Win.” We hope you'll register for the call today.
These demands are not exhaustive or everything we need, but together they would fundamentally change the system of housing in the U.S. We believe the time and conditions are ripe to build a movement of hundreds of thousands of renters to shift the balance of power and win homes for all.
Join us in building that movement by signing the Homes For All Pledge today.
(Image: Chicago Renters form a human chain around the eviction court at Daley Center on the Renters Day Of Action. Photo courtesy of Right to the City Alliance).