Tenant organizing work during the pandemic
(First initials used for privacy reasons :)
Question: How did you respond to early challenges? How did your approach to organizing/service/work change and even relationship building? How did it impact your base and your community?
How COVID affected what Eastside Leads
- Rent control was about to start April 1
- Collision of local, county, state rules made organizing very confusing and tenants more vulnerable.
- technology, language gaps. Broadband and internet access made it difficult to engage.
J - Walk in clinic. If you got an attorney assigned to you, the org didn't have the infrastructure to do remote work and tenant representation. Take appointments and do things online. Moved intake to online. Direct services in person and option to do it online. Also organizing as a citizen.. Get into virtual hearings and meetings. Find ways to get the same excitement and engagement online.
L - mutual aid work. Many groups sprung up from BLM. A lot of people doing this organizing are really young (under 18). Con for young people organizing is that they're doing everything themselves and don't think about making space for people with other capacities, because doing things that require lots of capacity. Mothers have dropped out, older folks have dropped out. Making a lot of mistakes lots of young nonprofits make, like not knowing how to budget or effectiveness of actions.
M - trying to figure out what's next. Working with Faith in the Valley, had a lot of wins in the central valley. Narrative needs to change around housing. Immediate needs, not time for systemic institutional changes. Housing getting worse.
Organizing the lie vs. organizing the truth and getting better at the latter
C - came into tenant organizing before pandemic. Was doing "Know Your Rights" workshops prior to pandemic. Once pandemic hit, seeing folks facing harassment and eviction. Digital divide in our communities as to who gets to access certain programs. Shifted toward services clinics, like rental assistance. Getting help from coalitions. Collectively, training team on how to navigate documentation input, navigating program, etc. Shifted from educating tenants to service oriented work.
P - Share more insight on the moment: funding issues, inter-generational, we are a coalition made up of different nonprofits. rooted in movement from 20-30 years back. History of LA in the East Side organizing.
During this pandemic, it wasn't radical to hear from members or nonprofits, when they said "these are our needs". One of the ways we did shift is to do the clinics - now have done 30. We needed to respond beyond "Know Your Rights" - once build trust with tenants will go back with you. Needing to respond - "my landlord refuses to acknowledge these rights" "still raising rent" "not taking emergency funds" "to get the tenant to get evicted" forced us to rethink how we do emergency response; and the folks that have done this well but even them are at capacity;
- Our nugget knowledge: compare to ICE raids happening; "laws protect you to a point" How can we continue this emergency response?
- Youth - more youth were able to come into the movement in different ways. Now they are active with organizing. They were the lead breadwinners at times. They worked and they got COVID. A lot of youth engaging rather be in the streets protesting rather than their vulnerable families
- mutual aid - existing funding from state and county did support families on undocumented or some severely low income. Need to know tenant to sustain rent to re-house them (messed up). We have done fundraisers. "We do need unrestricted funds to house families." Opportunity for funders and nonprofits to do things differently with mutual aid.
J mentions Tenants Together - coalition of tenant rights groups in CA- Pam mentioned that Ryan Bell is the social regional representative. YES to connecting because historically TT has been more based in
Question 3: What practices did you adopt that must continue, should be changed? What should be let go of:
- Some mutual aid groups don't know how to listen. They have done what they think people need. Some groups refuse to state mutual aid because of the fear that conservative residents will react negatively or violently to the message.
- Common to see that un-housed people still have not received support. Thee
- C: Building base, trust and how to build off of that
- More political education. Constantly on our toes with harassment/tenant cases.
- What would that shift look like? How can we sustain that for over the year or a couple of months?
- What's on the horizon for your work in organizing, policy and systems change?
- We need laws that are not interim but permanent. Right to counsel to make sure that legal rights and attorneys are guaranteed in LA County and in LA City.
- On-the-ground need is there....
- Funding for “Acquisition for land for community hands”;
- No drop in need only a drop in donations.
- J :Landlords>tenant society is still feudalism. Homelessness is a land use policy, too.
In another session J talked about the SF-passed ballot initiative that guarantees and funded legal representation to people facing eviction: https://ballotpedia.org/San_Francisco,_California,_Proposition_F,_City-Funded_Legal_Representation_for_Tenants_Facing_Eviction_(June_2018) -- this seems like a truly amazing thing to push for in other cities/states! also see http://www.civilrighttocounsel.org/
K sharing lessons learned about New York: Establishing squatters rights. Language is important - mutual aid is being co-opted by non profits. lol @ this landlord site rounding-up a state-by-state guide to squatters rights: https://sparkrental.com/squatters-rights/