Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Organizing Tenants: Housing Long Beach

In 2015 Housing Long Beach joined as a new member organization of Tenants Together. In 2002, with a growing population and shrinking resources, a group of concerned Long Beach residents and advocates got together to respond to the housing crisis in our city. With 58% of Long Beach residents as renters, and three-quarters of the housing stock greater than 30 years in age and in deteriorated conditions, working families in Long Beach needed safe and affordable places to live. The coalition continued to organize and advocate for equitable housing policies, and in 2009 formed a board, hired staff and became Housing Long Beach. The organization was incorporated in 2011. Read more...

What do you think is the #1 issue facing renters in your community?
The answer to this question is very simple = retaliation. In the City of Long Beach we do not benefit from any local protections for renters. Over the years, the lack of protections has created a heavy blanket of fear for most renters we have met and worked with. People are just scared to report any safety or habitability issues to their landlords because of the fear of retaliation in the form of eviction or rent increases. So, many folks just keep quiet and try to remedy the situations themselves to no avail.

Rally at MLK Day 2015

How does your organization help?
One way we support our renters is by informing and educating them on their rights (usually state level). At the same time, we are obliged to inform and educate them of the risks in upholding those rights. We educate them on the Code Enforcement system set in place in our city and how they may access these city services. Once again, informing them of what it entails and what may ensue.

As organizers, we engage those interested in joining the movement for more renters rights in our city. We provide them with education, training, workshops and outreach opportunities to take action and raise their voices. We prepare them to speak at City Council meetings, to meet their council members and demand changes.

We provide whatever support we can and connect our residents to whatever services we can to help them defend themselves and take recourse for their injustices.

What are some priority campaigns for this year?
We are at the tail end of a very important campaign to bring more tenant protections to our renters. We have been working for the last 2.5 years on a campaign to bring the Rent Escrow Account Program (REAP) to Long Beach. At the end of last year’s campaign, we were able to have City Council request an investigation of the viability of the REAP policy in Long Beach. The city staff has just reported their findings, which were unfavorable. However, we are working with our community and city leaders to bring this report forth in the public eye, so we can have a healthy discussion and deliberation about the need for a program which protects our residents from retaliatory slumlords.

Therefore, the results of the REAP campaign will dictate the next steps for the organization. In the meantime, we are beginning our outreach and research on incorporating more tenant organizing to our work.

Why do you think it’s important to support a statewide movement for renters’ rights?
Our housing crisis, be it with the lack of affordable housing, tenant rights, or habitability is a state wide issue, if not a nationwide issue. Housing and the quality of which, is directly tied to educational, health, and economic outcomes. The housing crisis will effect all of our surrounding communities and cities across the state. Therefore, our residents believe we should be involved in regional and statewide movements, because our issues are our neighbor’s issues and vice versa.

Our residents firmly believe we need not only organizer and build power within our own communities. They also believe it is important we all help one another for well-being of everyone in the county and state. Our residents are excited to learn and grow around tackling statewide work, as they lay in faith in that what happens on the state level, will benefit them as well.

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