It has never been clearer how important housing is to our collective well-being. We have won some important protections to ensure that people are housed and not evicted during this state of emergency, but we also know that many of these protections will only defer the crisis for our communities.
We are calling for a full cancellation of rents and mortgages because we refuse to let this recovery be on our backs. Big real estate has already begun ensuring its bailout, but renters are looking at unprecedented debt when emergency protections are lifted. Many of us will still be out of work or making less, but we will owe thousands of dollars on top of our ongoing expenses.
The rents were already too high. Nearly 1 in 4 San Francisco renters already was paying over 50% of their income to rent before the crisis. This is a marker of deeply unaffordable housing, and people of color disproportionately bear the burden of prices artificially driven up by Wall Street speculators.
• The Right to Council NYC Coalition, KC Tenants in Kansas City, the Philadelphia Tenants Union and the Autonomous Tenants Union of Chicago all have helpful guides that offer tips on the basics of organizing and leadership building with your neighbors right now. While some of the information is area-specific, much isn’t, and they also have helpful sample letters for many steps of the process, including your first contact with neighbors.
• Right To The City and Homes For All have recordings and materials from the recent Renter Nation Training Series here. Topics include: Power to the People: Organizing 101; The Politics of Housing: Past & Present Struggles & Victories; Why Do We Pay Rent? Land and Housing under Capitalism; The Great Land Robbery: Land and Housing under Racial Capitalism; and How to Build a Tenant Union.
• Housing Justice Platform has lots of reports and information outlining a plan to address the housing crisis at a federal scale.
You are not alone!
Join with others who are organizing to win at the local, state and national levels:
• Share Your Story! Your story is powerful! Other people need to know they are not alone and decision-makers need to know the depth of the problem. Click here to submit your story on how Coronavirus is affecting you.
• If you live in one of these neighborhoods reach out to connect to others and for help organizing with your neighbors:
• If you live in a Veritas building, join the Veritas Tenants Association! Reach out to brad(at)hrcsf.org.
• If you live in a building owned by another big corporate landlord like Ballast Investments, Brick + Timber, Flynn, or Mosser in San Francisco, you can also contact brad(at)hrcsf.org. If you live in a Mosser-owned building in Oakland, contact (510) 269-4692 or Oakland[at]calorganize.org.
• If you live on the Westside of San Francisco (incl. Richmond, Sunset) reach out to an organizer at Housing Rights Committee at 415-947-9085 if you would like help organizing with your neighbors.
• If you are a Spanish speaker and live in the South East (Mission, Excelsior, etc.) and would like help organizing your building, call 415-703-8634.
• If you live in the Excelsior, join Communities United for Health and Justice’s Housing Action team. Call Jessie at 415-832-0386 or email jfernandez[at]caasf.org to get involved.
What is a Rent Strike?
A rent strike is a type of protest where tenants as a group refuse to pay rent until specific demands are met. Right now, there are many calls around the country for rent strikes until the #DebtFreeFuture demands are won. Tenants in San Francisco can delay their rent payment without participating in a rent strike, and one person alone deciding not to pay rent is not a rent strike. Organizing with your whole building to not pay rent together is a rent strike. All strikes come with a degree of risk. Any non-payment action you take is safer and more effective if you do it with a clear majority of your neighbors and you are connected to a broader movement.
Some tips on autonomous rent strikes:
From the Veritas Tenants Association, who have been organizing to win rent rollbacks and more in buildings owned by San Francisco’s largest landlord: rent strikes should be public, collective, and well organized!
1. Get Organized!
• Make a list of existing tenants in the building and/or other properties your landlord owns.
• Talk with neighbors about an organized rent strike that at least a majority of tenants would participate in. Slide notes under doors, ask neighbors to connect with the people they already know—reach out to everyone! (Here are some tips from the ATU in Chicago on door knocking during the pandemic).
• If you have neighbors who don’t speak English, contact a tenants’ rights organization for translation and interpretation resources! Everyone should be able to fully participate.
• Get commitments from a majority of tenants in your building to not pay rent on the 1st of the month. The list mentioned above helps you measure how much unity you have!
• Set up a way to communicate with each other -- Facebook group, group text thread, group email thread, phone tree.
2. Write a letter to your landlord!
• Follow the guidelines here to write individual letters from each striking household.
• Some buildings are trying a strategy of sending a joint letter. We do not know if the joint letter will hold up in court, but it may be a method of demonstrating solidarity and unity.
• Figure out at least one person who will speak to reporters.
4. On the first stay of the strike:
• Put signs in all the windows saying, “On Strike” or, “On Strike to Cancel Rents.”
• Make a post on social media -- ideally with a group photo! -- indicating that your building is not paying rent and has notified your landlord. Tag SFTU (@SFTenantsUnion), HRCSF (@HousingRightsSF), CJJC (@CausaJusta), and Tenants Together (@TenantsTogether). Use the hashtag #CancelRent.
• Add your strike to the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project’s Rent Strike Map