Worried about rent?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 and betting on their coming profits, 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 un-affordable housing, and people of color disproportionately bear the burden of prices artificially driven up by Wall Street speculators.
Note for the November 3, 2020 Election
More than six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, San Franciscans collectively owe an estimated $200 million in back rent. Unemployment remains high, and tens of thousands of San Francisco tenants still cannot pay their rent.
Big real estate and Wall Street investors are already planning for their next big buy-up, counting on small property owners to go broke. We are fighting for longer-term solutions, and we hope you will join us!
One concrete thing you can do is help us to passProposition I on the November ballot.
What is Prop I (the Real Estate Transfer Tax)?
A tax on big real estate to fund debt relief and long-term affordable housing, Proposition I is the most significant proposal for how to address the immense amount of rent debt that has accrued during the COVID-19 crisis. The measure would increase the tax on the sale of properties worth over $10 million and is estimated to raise $100-150 million per year.
How would the funds be used?
Half of the money raised would help to cancel the rent debt accrued during the pandemic. The Emergency Rent Resolution and Relief Fund will be made available to landlords who waive back rent for their tenants. The other half of the money would finance the creation and acquisition of permanently affordable housing. Proposition I funds would help to stabilize tenants and small landlords in the immediate crisis through the rent relief fund. The money would also help keep housing out of the hands of speculators by funding non-profit and city purchases of at-risk properties and building new housing that is stable and affordable for the long-term. Together, these funds address the short-term crisis and build a path towards our long-term visions for a just housing system.
How can I help?
Big real estate has raised a lot of money to fight this measure, but we know this common-sense tool for a just recovery can win! You can help by volunteering with or donating to the campaign. We are excited to join Jobs with Justice in trying out a new tool where you can reach out to your networks directly by text to spread the word! Download the Empower App here (getempower.com/jwjsf) to get started!
Tenants are stronger when we organize together, whether organizing as a building, across all the buildings a landlord owns, organizing tenants on our block, or joining a bigger tenant’s organization. There are some helpful resource guides being created right now to help you get started building power with your neighbors:
• Homes for All has created the Beyond Recovery Organizing Toolkit (in English and Spanish) with lots of detailed materials to get you started organizing in your building or with your neighbors.
• 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 captioned recordings of the 6-part Renter Nation Training Series here and all of the accompanying curriculum materials here. Topics include: 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. Materials from their Rooted and Ready: Eviction Defense for the Renter Nation Training Series should be available soon.
• 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:
• Join Homes For All/ Right to the City’s Beyond Recovery campaign to connect with strikers and organizers from all over the country.
• Tenants Together is organizing calls every other week for organizers, advocates, lawyers and renters across the state, and has this petition to the governor for real state-level solutions to the crisis.
• 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.
A NOTE ON RENT STRIKES
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