Student-youth groups in Ireland have condemned the housing crisis in the country as they are about to return to their colleges and universities this September for the new academic year. On Wednesday, August 16, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), along with housing support groups including Threshold, launched a ‘Scam Watch’ campaign against the exploitation of students by landlords and rent sharks. The USI also demanded legislation to control rents and provide affordable housing for students. Political parties like Sinn Fein accuse the coalition government under Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, and the Greens of totally failing the student renters and abandoning them in the grip of the housing crisis.
Spurred in part by COVID and by a growing housing affordability crisis, tenant organizing is picking up, not just in 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 organizers are not just winning battles against landlords, but changing public policy. For instance, rent control was passed in Portland, Maine, last November. In this webinar cosponsored by NPQ and Shelterforce on July 12, moderated by Steve Dubb, NPQ economic justice senior editor, and Miriam Axel-Lute, Shelterforce’s editor in chief, four tenant activists shared their stories of direct tenant organizing and policy advocacy.
By law, the American Hotel in downtown Los Angeles is supposed to be reserved for residents who can’t afford to live anywhere else. For decades, the building was a haven in the city’s sky-high housing market, where artists, musicians and people down on their luck could rent rooms for about $500 a month. At the end of the day, longtime tenants would hang out at Al’s Bar, a legendary punk and alternative rock venue on the ground floor where bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers played long before they sold out stadiums. But amid the largest homelessness crisis in the nation, the American’s owner has turned the building into a boutique hotel where tourists can book rooms for as much as $209 a night.
As landlords continue their relentless pursuit of profits, and politicians allow pandemic-era eviction moratoriums to expire, the human toll of a fundamentally brutal housing system is arguably more visible than ever—particularly in America’s largest cities. Much of corporate media’s coverage of the deepening housing crisis, however, focuses on what are presented as three great evils: that landlords of supposedly modest means are being squeezed; that individuals and families living without homes destroy the aesthetics of cities; and that, in line with the most recent manufactured panic over violent crime, people without homes pose a threat to the lives and property of law-abiding citizens. By pushing these narratives, corporate media are engaging in a strategy of misdirection.
On a summer day last year, a group of real estate tech executives gathered at a conference hall in Nashville to boast about one of their company’s signature products: software that uses a mysterious algorithm to help landlords push the highest possible rents on tenants. “Never before have we seen these numbers,” said Jay Parsons, a vice president of RealPage, as conventiongoers wandered by. Apartment rents had recently shot up by as much as 14.5%, he said in a video touting the company’s services. Turning to his colleague, Parsons asked: What role had the software played? “I think it’s driving it, quite honestly,” answered Andrew Bowen, another RealPage executive. “As a property manager, very few of us would be willing to actually raise rents double digits within a single month by doing it manually.”
Apryl Lewis is in a housing fight — again. This time, she is pushing to keep dozens of families from being put out of a Charlotte extended-stay motel that is scheduled to be shut down in a matter of weeks. Such motels cost as much as $500 each week, expensive compared to long-term housing. But many of these families are living paycheck-to-paycheck or on fixed incomes, and have no other option. “They can’t afford the move-in costs for an apartment,” Lewis said. “Landlords want up-front rent and utilities and a security deposit. Now they are even making people pay for rental insurance.” Others stay at the motel because they are shut out of traditional housing due to a past eviction or criminal record. Some simply can’t find a suitable place to live in a time when rental vacancies are at historic lows.
Rhina Sorto, who has been filing complaints to Carabetta Management for months about mold, flooding and rodent infestation, was joined in a protest yesterday by other Malden Towers residents, as well as tenant advocates showing solidarity. Gathered in the parking lot of Malden Towers apartment complex at 99 Florence St., those present witnessed three Malden tenant associations come together. The event, which started at noon, was organized by the City Life/Vida Urbana (CLVU) housing nonprofit. The nonprofit brought together the Malden Towers Tenant Association, the United Properties Tenant Association and the Maplewood Square Tenant Association into a coalition with one mission: dignified housing.
Daniel Cooper could barely afford a tiny apartment at the 13-story Olume building in downtown San Francisco. But the expansive view from the roof deck captivated him. Raised in a small city in Kentucky, Cooper was struck by the grandeur of the skyline before him, from the soaring heights of Salesforce tower, San Francisco’s largest skyscraper, to the gleaming gold cupolas atop St. Joseph’s Church, one of the city’s historic landmarks. The sense of opportunity he felt when looking out on his new hometown helped convince the software engineer to become one of the glassy new building’s first tenants in 2016. He joined Mévis Mousbé, a driver for a ride-sharing service who had been the first to move in.
Was it the space heater on the third floor? The open door on the 15th floor? The faulty fire alarms that went off frequently? The nonexistent sprinkler system? Colonel Mustard with the candlestick in the library? As local and national corporate media covered the devastating fire in the Bronx that killed 17 people on January 9, two culprits were somehow never on the list of what and who was responsible: the landlord and the city’s Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD) department, which is responsible for making sure landlords comply with housing codes. Always under suspicion were the tenants themselves, who were implicitly blamed throughout the coverage.
From 26 December 1907 to 9 January 1908, 10,000 tenants, predominantly Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe living in New York City’s Lower East Side, took part in a historic rent strike. During an economic depression causing mass unemployment and grinding poverty, landlords tried to hike rents by thirty-three percent. With their cry to ‘fight the landlord as they had the Czar’, the tenants won a partial victory, with rents significantly reduced for 2,000 households. The movement established a tradition of militant working-class housing campaigns that eventually contributed to winning vital rent controls that still protect millions of the city’s tenants today. But as the Covid crisis continues, New York City renters are again organising against rapacious landlordism.
Most international coverage of the German elections is focused on who will replace Angela Merkel after her 16-year term as chancellor ends, but for everyday Berliners, just having the resources to pay the rent is a bigger concern. Berlin’s efforts to lower the fast-rising rents in Germany’s capital city have led to a referendum which could expropriate and socialize almost a quarter of a million apartments primarily from Deutsche Wohnen, the largest real estate company in Europe and one of the largest companies in Germany. After years of rising rent forcing many Berliners out of the city, activists led by Deutsche Wohnen & Co Enteignen (Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen, or DWE) received nearly 350,000 signatures from Berliners and managed to force a vote on whether to allow the expropriation of housing owned by landlords with over 3,000 units on the Sept. 26 election ballot.
Like many cities around the world, rents in the German capital of Berlin have soared in recent years, doubling in the last decade alone. But unlike many other cities, the people of Berlin are actually doing something about it. First residents persuaded the local authorities to bring in a rent cap that instructed landlords to freeze rents at 2019 levels. However, that was overturned by Germany's federal court in April, which ruled the measures unconstitutional. Now local campaigners are planning something even more radical: a bid to nationalize thousands of privately owned apartments in the city. Specifically, campaigners want the government to take apartments from real estate firms that own more than 3,000 apartments, place them into public ownership, and rent them out at more affordable rates.
It’s been six years since Dionne Mont first saw her apartment at Fontana Village, a rental housing complex just east of Baltimore. She was aghast that day to find the front door coming off its hinges, the kitchen cabinet doors stuck to their frames, mouse droppings under the kitchen sink, mold in the refrigerator, the toilet barely functioning and water stains on every upstairs ceiling, among other problems. But she had already signed the lease and paid the deposit. Mont insisted that management make repairs, but that took several months, during which time she paid her $865 monthly rent and lived elsewhere. She was hit with constant late fees and so-called “court” fees, because the management company required tenants to pay rent at a Walmart or a check-cashing outlet, and she often couldn’t get there from her job as a bus driver before the 4:30 p.m. cutoff.
Washington, DC - “Raise your hand if you can’t pay rent,” she yelled sharply and resolutely into a microphone. A Spanish translation echoed her words as hands shot up across the crowd. “Now make that into a fist. Because we gotta fight! It’s only when we fight that we can win!” Cheers and hollers muffled by face masks reverberated off the brick facades. Cars honked as they drove by, throwing solidarity fists at the “Cancel Rent” posters lined up along the sidewalk. A woman with a “Food not Rent” banner waved back with encouragement. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “some 22 million adults reported that their household didn’t have enough to eat,” with Black and Latino households more than twice as likely as white residents to go hungry.