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SEPT 2020

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SEPT 2020 Issue
Field Notes

The Rent is Too Damn High

The Tenant Movement at the Precipice

TANC eviction defense, Oakland, CA. Photo: Nathan Eisenberg.
TANC eviction defense, Oakland, CA. Photo: Nathan Eisenberg.

Tenants in a large apartment complex in downtown San Francisco individually petition their management company to fulfill much-needed maintenance requests, in one case collecting enough documentation of code violations and legal research to fill a literal binder. The managers stonewall them, giving them each the runaround and little gets done. But they get the company to agree to a town hall meeting and meet ahead of time to plan exactly how to present their demands in a unified and disciplined fashion, thus flexing as a collective the power that the landlord refuses to recognize for individuals. The landlords panic and shut the meeting down after a few minutes; the tenants are pissed and begin to strategize about disrupting the company’s operations. In Oakland, another group of tenants faces their hedge fund-connected landlord who owns a sprawling portfolio of single units all across Oakland, all previously foreclosed homes located in Black working class neighborhoods that were bought at the bottom of the market in 2008 and resuscitated into a slumlord empire with profits in the millions. This landlord is also one of the worst serial evictors in gentrifying Oakland. Reaching out to and organizing these dispersed tenants is a daunting task, but a devoted core forms to coordinate the effort, and eventually begins to organize into neighborhoods and city blocks to manage the complexity.

A third East Bay tenant council faces a much smaller landlord, but one who is unrepentant about union-busting, for example, suddenly increasing rent by $400 to “soft evict” someone or even selling an entire building to get rid of tenants involved in organizing. The council issues demands to write off missed rent for those unable to pay and reduce it for the rest, but receive only silence in return. To escalate and let the landlord know they are serious, they orchestrate a massive car parade to her two mansions in an affluent white neighborhood, supported by their union, Tenant and Neighborhood Councils (TANC). A train of cars worms its way through the neighborhood, all honking incessantly, blasting “Bitch Better Have My Money” and “Let’s Lynch the Landlord,” causing a stir amongst neighbors; this ends in a rally in front of her mansion, demanding she do right by her tenants, leafleting the demands on her lawn and draping a red flag over her front door. The next evening, all her tenants receive an unhinged screed via an email sent at 3:00 a.m., talking in self-pitying circles about how she tries to be a good landlord and decrying the “Marxist” tenants at the source of all this mess. She has not yet moved on the demands but is cracking. Another tenant, a runaway queer youth, faces an attempted illegal eviction in Oakland’s Chinatown. TANC members and affiliates take shifts across a 24-hour window in front of their building, ready to confront the landlord, and canvass people in the neighborhood as they walk by. The landlord never shows, forestalling any confirmation about the efficacy of this formation. None of the other tenants in the building participate in this eviction defense.

These are all excerpts from real situations, all currently ongoing and unresolved, that tenant council affiliates and individual members of TANC are experiencing and using a union model of organizing to resolve. Though anecdotal, drawn from first-hand experience, they express a variety of lessons about both the potential and the immaturity of the current state of the organized tenant movement. Though autonomous tenant unions1 have sprung up in many cities, many are quite new and have not built many councils yet. Unions from 30 North American cities have formed the Autonomous Tenant Union Network, to begin the challenging work of strategically coordinating. Such unions are best understood as a hub, linking disparate efforts for the facilitation of tenants organizing themselves, who democratically control the unions. Experienced organizers attach themselves to campaigns and provide guidance, logistical support, and strategy for tenants to reach out to each other and form a council. Many of these experienced organizers came from their own tenant councils, learning in the trenches of their own situation. Such cross pollination is the explicit goal of this model of organizing, which seeks to fill every neighborhood with capable, self-assured organizers nodally supporting a culture of combativity. What is important is that such a model can be adopted by any group of tenants who develop a strategy2 to organize beyond the level of a single landlord. Though this infrastructure is still new and skeletal, it is based on a straightforward, mobile, and repeatable model, designed to pool leverage, one that is propagating more quickly than ever. Amassing the requisite forces to push across the threshold, particular to each landlord, that will allow tenants to extract concessions and weaken the landlord’s grip, in a reliably repeatable fashion, is an art and science that proletarians in the US are only starting to grapple with at any significant scale. But it will be fluency and overwhelming force that the coming crisis requires.

Each of the councils described has attempted different means of building solidarity and coherence. Different tactics have been experimented with, to see which application of pressure best forces a reversal of power. However, each runs up against limits, in buy-in from extant tenants; in capacity and overwork; in making stubborn landlords, accustomed to domination, budge against their self-interest. The eviction defense described demonstrates a high level of coordination and commitment to maintaining presence. But it still reflects an essentially activist posture, endemic to small movements composed entirely of already politicized people volunteering their time, which can only sustain sporadic effort in the long-term; the neighbors within the building have yet to be organized and brought within the fold of struggle. In a chicken and egg scenario, cultivating such ties requires broad capacity and lots of experienced organizers, which itself can only come from existing processes of tenant cultivation. It is clear that there are several thresholds of scale and depth within neighborhood communities before the movement really takes off the ground. What we can then hope to attain is a matter of rearguard stumbling towards proletarian militancy as the crushing machinations of the conjuncture push forth. In this process, self-composition will build at each site of struggle, feeling around for terrain on which to make a stand, while dissolving the fixtures of property and capital as our capacity to struggle gains fluency. It is possible that the coming confrontation will force a step across the threshold.

The eviction wave that we all fear is already underway. Its upswell has been long-building. The mass shedding of living labor from the circuit of the reproduction of capital that struck immediately at the outset of the pandemic, thrusting us into an historic abyss, made this a matter of time. Many people are now in a shared state of suspension, waiting for an unknown deus ex machina to enter the scene. What people dread about unemployment in a general crisis is not the supposed loss of meaning in work, but the fact that the loss of the wage is the loss of food, of shelter, of life. There is no such thing as guaranteed housing in the US, and so securing a home requires navigating a contradiction: rent must come from wages, but there is no necessary relationship between the wage level and the rental market. In fact, the ongoing restructuring of capital accumulation has forced the two factors intolerably out of joint, as real estate has absorbed massive amounts of surplus capital, dictating the composition of housing and driving up prices. Meanwhile, wage growth has been eroded to the point of stagnation. Now this mounting impasse threatens to resolve itself in a spree of state-enforced dispossession, a monumental demonstration of the rule of property. What we are facing is a profound class confrontation of unprecedented proportions, converging with a multifaceted political crisis as the US becomes a recurring coronavirus death-trap and a Black-led general revolt against the police continues to smolder.

What should we expect to happen? The exact scope of the eviction crisis has yet to be seen, but we can discern some of its shape. The Aspen Institute’s COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project3 estimates that with a 20 percent unemployment rate among renters, 20 million people would be vulnerable to eviction by Sept 30, if stimulus payments are not renewed.4 The Urban Institute estimates that 8.9 million renter households, which is around 20 percent of renters, had at least one member lose income,5 so it is likely that we are currently around this point. Furthermore, for those who kept their jobs, 41 percent of low-wage workers said they had to take some kind of pay cut due to reduced hours, indicating the renter underemployment rate is much higher. This erosion will probably persist. Over 50 percent of the decline in jobs in April were in the accommodation and food services, retail trade, and healthcare and social assistance sectors.6 These three broad sectors account for 47 percent of the jobs held by extremely low-income renters,7 pointing to long lasting turbulence and stagnation in the labor markets most available to renters. Whatever the estimate, we can safely say that tenants in the US are the most vulnerable we’ve ever been.

The eviction moratoria that have originated from the federal, state, and municipal authorities who administer social life have been lackluster, to say the least. The CARES Act ban on evictions, which expired on July 25, was only applicable to housing financed by Fannie Mae and HUD-subsidized rental properties, thus not to properties holding privately-backed mortgages, which constitute the majority of tenant living situations in the United States. It remains to be seen if any extension will be successfully executed. Most state moratoria do not suspend eviction filings, but only court hearings for evictions and their immediate enforcement, meaning that a backlog of filings has already piled up in many jurisdictions. Many do not actually prohibit eviction at all.8 Already, 24 states have let the protections against eviction expire. Evictions will be able to resume by September in an additional 12 states.9 According to an analysis conducted by Zillow, with the inclusion of CARES Act benefits, the severely rent-burdened population dropped to three percent. Once these benefits disappear, as the current situation suggests will happen, this figure will skyrocket to 41 percent of renters.10 This web of orders and ordinances, largely passed in a haphazard, localized manner, are a mere delay of the sacred exercise of “recovering an unlawful detainer of property,” an expression of the underlying political impasse. They are the tentative actions of governments that lack the agency to discipline capital because of the crisis, but are not sure that they can withstand what might result with the subsequent disciplining of the proletariat.

Accounts of current court proceedings show how we can expect them to play out for tenants. On July 1 in Omaha, NE, tenants who had missed rent payments due to loss of employment, loss of a loved one whose income they relied on to help make ends meet, and even those with repair needs that still needed to be addressed by the landlord, had evictions granted against them. In Milwaukee, WI, a situation described as a “canary in the coalmine” by Eviction Lab, 1,447 eviction cases were filed in June after the moratorium expired in May, 17 percent above the usual monthly average, 67 percent of them in predominantly Black neighborhoods. Estimates from Legal Action Wisconsin are even higher, recording the spike as 26 percent in Milwaukee and 24 percent statewide. In Philadelphia, PA, the courts delayed reopening until September 2, prompting the local landlord association, Homeowners Association of Philadelphia (HAPCO), to sue the city. This snapshot of instances to date reveals just how merciless juridical mediations of the tenant-landlord relation in this crisis will continue to be.

Even before the pandemic, the US was an extremely housing insecure country. Renter households have lower incomes,11 higher debt-to-income ratios, lower overall net worth,12 and lower liquid savings than owner households. More than 40 percent of renters were rent-burdened (paying more than 30 percent of their income in rent) before this unemployment crisis; 25 percent were severely rent-burdened, spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing. For much of the American working class now, the barrier between living and destitution is moist drywall sodden with mildew and black mold, painted over by a slumlord who will steal your deposit. This lack of structural integrity has already resulted in the immiseration and social abjection of masses of people. America punishes the unhoused for their lack of shelter, while foreclosing the means of obtaining it. In 2018, the UN issued a report on slums around the globe that stated that the housing crisis in the Bay Area, and the municipal response of police harassment, constituted a human rights violation, demonstrating unprecedented cruelty. Researchers at Columbia University, using regression analysis to estimate the relation between unemployment rate and size of the homeless population, projects a 45 percent increase of the homeless population this year, as 250,000 people are newly dispossessed, the largest acceleration since the Great Depression.

Real estate “value” has long been a determinant in contemporary trends of political economy, conditioning the racial and class divides spatialized into urban cores and suburbs. This has stimulated a corresponding boom in construction and urban development, its rampant pace throughout the contemporary metropolis accelerating beyond any demand that it could meet. Given the backdrop of the general municipal fiscal crises endemic to our time, metropolitan governance is now marked by two recombinatory trends: gentrification and slummification. These are marked by the influx of capital to areas clustered around whatever sectors are still profitable and capital flight from regions that hold little promise. The entire country is undergoing a profound spatial reorganization as the countryside empties for lack of work, city centers receive facelifts, and exurban hinterlands fill with the scattershot of those priced out, a dynamic of motion that expels proletarians while rigidly enforcing spatial concentration of populations around potential access to a failing wage. This reorganization involves significant emigration and demographic shifts, engineered displacement, and dramatic rezoning of land to carve new vistas on the ruins of post-industrial cities and post-agricultural countrysides. With such upheaval, sporadic resistance cropped up in major cities, with a new anti-gentrification movement coalescing in the early 2010s, asserting the right to the city and the right to stay put. Though this is a precursor to the autonomous tenant movement, this earlier iteration was spearheaded by nonprofit advocacy groups and activism, focused heavily (with reason) on precarious homeownership, and did not specifically oppose the class of landlords as such, but rather separating out the largest investor-landlords and speculators. Over time, these struggles hit various limits and a tenant-focused movement began to emerge in recent years. This next iteration must operate in an environment in which the contest for urban space is a foregone conclusion in many neighborhoods, but with a more pointed strategy to undermine the gentrifiers. Amidst this flurry of investment, the housing stock in absolute terms has grown and in fact has the capacity to house every person residing within the country, with a decent remainder. The crushing weight of the present moment’s crisis is felt in the way we are able to look upon these real estate booms of the preceding decade with an even more profound disdain. The ever-expansive construction of dwellings—often looking like nothing more than shipping containers ravaging urban space—at exorbitant rental and purchase costs now invites more disdain than ever. There is more than enough room for us all, but we make space for capital instead.

The backdrop for the spike in real estate investment is the historically stagnating rates of capital accumulation and profitability on a global scale. The overaccumulation of capital has led to the mass diversion of surplus money-capital investment into real estate, which is now the largest equity asset class. As most of this investment takes the form of mortgage debt, which is also the largest category of personal debt in the US, the securitization of this debt has produced a massive market in securities and derivatives backed by real estate. The continual flow of payments is vital to the maintenance of the credit apparatus of the world economy, in which securitized assets buttress the deposits of banking and financial institutions. The appropriation of wages to maintain the validity of any real estate asset’s valuation is therefore important to the liquidity of the global credit apparatus.13 Should the mass of rents never be paid, or actually be canceled through political intervention, the crisis we are experiencing now will pose a direct threat to this entire sphere at the core of global finance, the fragile threads holding together a system coming apart at the seams. The practical consequence of this for tenants is that we cannot expect any such political intervention to take place, as the rent crisis is structurally overdetermined.

Nor do tenants benefit much from the extraordinary focus housing real estate receives. Treated as investments, growth of the housing stock follows the desperate, speculative hopes for profitable return. While these fluctuations correspond to a cascade of construction booms, as cities attract capital, the pattern of building is delinked from any measure of social need, oriented instead towards profit. In California, the shortage of affordable housing relative to the extremely low-income population is nearing 1 million units.14 There are now, in 2020, 36 affordable rental homes for every 100 households with extremely low incomes.15 For every homeless person in America, there are 2.6 homes standing empty.16 Such a developmental trend reveals that housing is not scarce, but structurally unaffordable. The “housing stock” is a mass of bad investments and even worse architecture, expressions of the underlying crisis of overaccumulation. At the same time, these are physical shelters whose emptiness confronts us now as a demand to be fulfilled.

It is important to note that the housing struggle is not separate from the struggle for the dignity of Black lives, against the police and their reaction formations, or from the wave of labor unrest that is reverberating among “essential workers.” The explosion of street activity since May has had fits and starts but, despite confronting nearly every layer of the repressive state, has been channeled into a roiling subterranean reserve, which continues to surface through unforeseen pressure vents. We can loosely compare this moment to the mass strike wave in Russia in 1905 that Rosa Luxemburg described at the time: “[mass activity] flows now like a broad billow over the whole kingdom, and now divides into a gigantic network of narrow streams; now it bubbles forth from under the ground like a fresh spring and now is completely lost under the earth.”17 She detailed a variety of working class actions,18 each initially reflecting different circumstances, but which began to “run through one another, run side by side, cross one another, flow in and over one another…a ceaselessly moving sea of phenomena.”19 This kind of struggle is not something built up in a linear fashion through the diligent and minute escalations of force on the part of a party, but something that emerges rapidly from many sources with a self-reinforcing suddenness.

The problem fundamentally boils down to the fact that the confrontation we face in the coming months is the ambient and preexisting housing crisis at its most acute, reaching a new zenith as it scales up to unprecedented proportions and moves at unmatched speed. The existing tenant union infrastructure is too new and too skeletal to quickly engage in the kind of intensive base building that will produce a resilient and flexible mass capable of contending with such an emergency. But, as history has shown, sudden jumps in scale and intensity often hold surprises. No spontaneous phenomenon appears as a transcendent novelty, falling from heaven, but is an immanent outgrowth of what came before, building along filaments both visible and unseen. Since March, TANC has been flooded with tenants interested in organizing, most wanting to talk about rent strikes. With the decimation of people’s incomes, uncounted hundreds of thousands of tenants stopped paying their rent across the country. As of now, this means a series of disconnected people in precarious conditions, like any group of tenants at the early stages of forming a council. With the application of some organizing and linking efforts, this mass can come to form a more coherent force, internally structured by clusters of tenant councils. The crisis is here, but there is momentum into the breach.

One can see openings for this moment of mass activity to continue to establish itself in the development of housing struggles. The ubiquity of the problem holds unknown potential, as so many people are placed into similar situations and we are seeing that the average threshold for participation is lowered. The usual work of overcoming self-blame, ideological opposition to solidarity, and fear of rocking the boat is simply less of an obstacle when the hardship is so arbitrarily inflicted,20 the callousness of landlords is so overt, and political solutions are nowhere to be seen. People are able to identify more easily with each other; they are more open to taking matters into their own hands. In the early stages of organizing a tenant council, tenants build their capacity to act, without yet having the numbers or intensive relationships for protracted struggle. Though tenants of a particular landlord might be isolated at first, by linking up with others they can engage in a variety of preliminary actions and organizing drives. Tenants share experiences, including hard-learned lessons, show up and promote each other’s actions, knock on doors for each other’s organizing efforts. At any moment the landlords, still confident in their positions, can move to eviction. But as the council builds momentum and gains more adherents, unity affords more radical actions, building towards the possibility of a rent strike. At this point the power of the tenants derives from their intransigence and the actual occupation of their homes.

The nature of this moment then poses a stress test to a nascent, but intensifying, front in the ongoing struggle of proletarian life in capitalism. The tenant movement immediately points beyond itself to other areas where the working class is ground in the gears; in learning how to successfully come together and advance collective interests against the opposed interests of the owner class. The construction of a tenant movement can be seen as a moment of “self-education” for the working class. In the past, tenant struggles have largely made demands on landlords with the intention of establishing a basis for conflict mediation, resolving issues around costs or quality of living. Rent strikes, for instance, have the goal of gaining ground without questioning continuity of the tenant-landlord relation in the same way a typical union strike leverages the eventual return to work. At the current scale of evictions we can go beyond such limits, but it will require overcoming the aversion to confrontation.

Within tenant unions and other tenant rights organizations, we are challenging ourselves to come up with a more robust approach to eviction defense that takes advantage of the fact that it is a process taking place over time. Some legal clinics that provide pro bono representation are deploying a strategy called “participatory eviction defense,”21 in which each tenant facing eviction is connected to organizers and, crucially, to others going through the process. “Hub meetings” bring this group together to provide mutual aid, emotional support, and concrete problem-solving for each other’s cases. The community that develops from this is one capable of mediating a traumatic and isolating experience and developing a shared wisdom about cases that draw from community memory and experience. While empowering, this approach as described does not necessarily build up the power of leverage. As the period between issuing a summons and the actual trial allows for a chance at settling, many landlords may prefer to settle rather than pay legal expenses, especially if they are trying to evict many tenants. Regardless, it is a point where pressure can be applied to compel them to settle or drop the case rather than going forward to the trial. Building off of and extending the participatory community model, tenant unions are preparing to connect tenants experiencing eviction to other tenants which share the same landlord, as the council form is the most effective way to impact landlords. Such tenants may be on the verge of eviction themselves or could plausibly see the landlord turning on them eventually; the case can be made to go on the offensive while defending the evictee. In addition, the tenant’s neighbors can be canvassed and cultivated as a base of support, to respond in real time to illegal lockouts or utility shut-offs. This model has the potential to raise the cost and risk of eviction, with the more intensively organized councils wielding rent strikes to repel harassment and demand rent cancelation rather than eviction.

The courts themselves serve as chokepoints, as the eviction process will be all the more drawn out, as they work towards developing a new process to manage the deluge of cases once moratoriums are lifted. The Kansas City Tenants union managed to shut down the courthouse as it was opening up for eviction cases. We have yet to see this tactic deployed widely, but this could become a very important site for the convergence of mass activity, as tenants and anyone interested in militantly opposing the criminal justice system can cause significant disruption. Depending on the actual volume of cases that are being pushed through, if successful, such actions could prove to be far reaching. Perhaps most challenging, but posing the furthest advance in militancy, would be defending tenants at the point of enforcement, whether by the landlord or the sheriff’s department. Surrounding and blockading the house, with the tenants locked down inside, a sufficiently large crowd, with internally differentiated roles and coordination, can ward off the enforcers for quite a while.

Such actions have succeeded in the past, though it is not necessarily the usual case. Such an undertaking would require extensive layers of organization, with the tenant union or cluster of organizers ideally bringing together the community of evictees, neighbors, volunteer partisans and, especially, the other members of the tenant council. What the current conjuncture makes possible, with the massive scale, is a strategy of disruption and delay that raises the costs and complexity of successfully carrying the eviction out. Besides organizing tenant councils and connecting with tenants facing eviction, one thing TANC, specifically, is preparing is a rapid response network22 in order to mobilize as extensive a network as possible on a moment’s notice; this method is tried and true and a similar infrastructure probably exists in most cities. If an entire neighborhood can become effectively unenforceable, then this could be the basis for demanding more substantial concessions. Given the explosion, in recent months, of mass street activity that was able to immobilize entire police departments through exhaustion and attrition, we know that such disorganized and instinctive crowds can pull off what seemed impossible. One that is significantly more composed, with intentionality and tactical purpose, could develop confrontational capabilities that go even farther. The current threshold which the tenant movement sits at could be crossed, opening a new terrain of struggle.

Many such confrontations taking place simultaneously throughout the country could threaten to suspend the very conditions of the landlord-tenant relationship. The unprecedented contraction in the economy has eliminated hundreds of millions of dollars a month that would have gone to rent. The institution of commodified housing is going to have to make an adjustment, one way or another. With their marshalling of the repressive state and the imposition of the rule of property, landlords are currently in a position to force the entirety of this adjustment onto tenants: evicting the rebellious and the destitute, yoking the desperate to predatory rent-debt schemes, and eventually raising rents or imposing fees on the rest to recover the costs incurred. This is the official plan right now, one reflecting an overwhelming imbalance of class forces. But as tenants strategically pool their leverage, this balance will begin to shift and the forces of change can be directed back the other way. The crisis in the reproduction of the tenant-landlord relation, in its sheer scope and magnitude, presents the tenant front with a situation in which its disruption becomes a matter of bare necessity. The continuity of the relation is now directly at odds with the tenants’ survival, an intolerable situation that demands a resolution.

To exceed past limits, struggles must last beyond the initial confrontation. Tenant unions will have to adapt to the pressures that landlords and the state will bring against them, including armed evictions. Activists will have a role to play, but the foundation for a continuing struggle can only be the community of tenants sharing the same situation and interests. This struggle is a matter of survival—not just in the immediate situation but in the longer term necessity of abolishing the tenant-landlord relation as a condition of existence. This may only be realized through the struggle within and against it. To “Cancel Rent,” as the rallying cry is raised around the country at this moment, must not be a demand, but an act that can only be realized by the action of the tenants themselves.

A Plea for Support

To all those who know and love the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper, now in its 44th year of Liberation Journalism, and to those who don’t yet know what you’re missing, we make a strong call for your help to invest in and save the Bay View.

The dynamic duo of Mary Ratcliff as editor and Willie Ratcliff as publisher is in peril.

The current situation cannot, and should not, be sugarcoated. Mary Ratcliff, now in her 80s has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Willie, at 87 years old, also has serious health issues and Mary has been his caregiver. Her greatest fear is that the print version of the newspaper will go down due to lack of funding while she takes time to attend to her medical needs. Mary, and the Bay View’s many loyal readers, feels the Bay View is more crucial than ever to bring intelligent, truthful, and hard-hitting coverage to the calls for prison abolition, defunding the police, and Black Lives Matter, and to provide a rare platform for voices from community organizers, activists, and our incarcerated communities

While simultaneously funding the Bay View, understand that you’re investing in the successful return of a soon-to-be formerly incarcerated person to take over this legacy newspaper upon his return on September 3, 2020. Keith Malik Washington has been diligently and masterfully acting as assistant editor for Behind Enemy Lines. Affectionately known as Comrade Malik, he is part of an elite group of imprisoned journalists, activists, organizers, and jailhouse lawyers who find a platform in the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper. The symbiotic relationship between this newspaper and the communities on both sides of the wall cannot be overstated in its importance. 

To find out about contributing, go to:

  1. This refers to a volunteer organization run by member tenants themselves, operating with dues not donor networks as nonprofits do. What is important is that these aren’t advocacy organizations, attempting to stand up for tenants, but genuine instances of tenants standing up for themselves.They have varying organizational styles, but it is a model which is being increasingly adopted.
  2. Here are some resources on getting started: collection of organizing resources from ATUN; a form to get connected through ATUN to other tenants in the same city and a list of affiliated tenant unions; Pandemic Organizing Guide and Solidarity Is Our Weapon campaign strategy guide written by TANC organizers; Philly Tenants’ Union organizing guide; L.A. Tenants Union handbook; resources compiled by Autonomous Tenants’ Union in Chicago; resources compiled by Crown Heights Tenant Union; and resources compiled by Vancouver Tenants’ Union. It is important to note that much of the information within each of these guides and resource compilations are generally applicable best practices; you do not have to live in one of these cites to implement this model or these strategies in your immediate surroundings.
  4. They also reported that at 25 percent renter unemployment, 19 million people would be vulnerable to eviction, and at 30 percent, 23 million people.
  5. Strochak et al, “How much rental assistance is needed to support renters through the COVID-19 crisis?”, June 2020,
  6. And this was still roughly the case in June, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report, despite the attempts at reopening.
  7. National Low Income Housing Coalition, Out of Reach: The High Cost of Housing, June 2020,, p. 6
  8. Thirteen states have no protections against eviction, just vague directives to the courts or a focus on other things, like utility shut-offs, which are important but not an eviction ban.
  9. According to data on all the state, county and municipal ordinances and executive actions around the country compiled Emily Benfer of the Lake Forest School of Law and the Health Justice Clinic.
  10. The same study estimated that even with a $400 per week supplement, which is the current proposal under negotiation between the parties, 20.7 percent of renters would be rent-burdened and 6.7 percent severely rent-burdened.
  11. Median household income in 2020 ($41k/yr) is 66.5 percent of the median income for all households, and 53.5 percent of the median income for homeowners. Calculated from data collected by the National Multifamily housing Council.
  12. The median net worth of homeowners is 80 times larger than the median net worth of renters.
  13. The intensity of wage capture to provide financial capitalists with credit liquidity is even deeper than this. A substantial percentage of retirement pension funds invest in Mortgage-Backed Securities and Real Estate Investment Trusts.
  15. National Low Income Housing Coalition, Out of Reach: The High Cost of Housing, June 2020,, p. 8
  16. We derived this by taking the current empty housing stock as of Q2 2020, from, and dividing it by the current homeless population, from
  17. Rosa Luxemburg, “The Mass Strike”, Reform or Revolution and Other Writings, 2006, p. 134
  18. “Political and economic strikes, mass strikes and partial strikes, demonstrative strikes and fighting strikes, general strikes of individual branches of industry and general strikes of individual towns, peaceful wage struggles and street massacres, barricade fighting.” ibid
  19. ibid
  20. The precarity obviously affects primarily poor working class people, but the typical stance of victim blaming is less applicable when no one could help losing their job from an unpredictable global catastrophe.
  21. This model is applicable, and effective, for any kind of defendant in any trial, but is increasingly being applied to eviction suits. For a particularly moving example of success, albeit in a criminal appeals case, read here.
  22. This is a phone tree structure to contact hundreds of people at once.


Nathan Eisenberg

Nathan Eisenberg is a former organizer with TANC and is currently pursuing an MA in International Political Economies.

Richard Hunsinger

Richard Hunsinger is a contributor to the Brooklyn Rail.


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