Thursday, November 12, 2015

San Leandro Tenants Demand Rent Control Now

This is about local events in San Leandro CA. It might be of interest to readers nationally and outside the country.
You can download a PDF of this here

By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired
Member Green Party of USA

At the last Rent Board Meeting I spoke of how these boards are dominated and controlled by moneyed interests. We can see how well organized the landlords are from the information in the included graphic. Thomas Silva a member of the board and one of the two “official” representatives of the landlords according to City Council documents, Daniel Johnson being the other one, is a member of the Rental Housing Association, an organization created to defend and advance the economic interests of landlords.

John Sullivan a major landlord is a regular at the Rent Board tenants have told this writer. Sullivan is the “Chairman” of the RHA Mediation Committee. His actual function in this role is to ensure that his income from his investments, which in this case is human shelter, is not disturbed.

We only have to take a glimpse at parts of their agenda to see why it’s so important for tenants, like workers in unions, to have independent organizations. Organizations that do not confine themselves to electoral activity but use direct action tactics like rent strikes, turning up at their fancy dinners like this one in the included announcement and other tactics.  It is a strategy session is what it is.

On the agenda at their luncheon in July was:

(1) Addressing political threats facing the rent control and the rental housing industry
(2) Importance of the upcoming election
(3) Opportunities for property owners/managers to unite and take action to prevent new regulations

By “political threats” they are referring to legislation that hinders their income revenue, the rent tenants fork over to them every month. They use some of that money to elect “industry” friendly politicians. We should ask: why is housing a for profit industry?  How we house society should not be in the hands of hedge fund managers and real estate speculators.

They concern themselves with elections in order to get their representatives in to political positions, to ensure their rental income is safe and legal and political power over the renter is maintained.

And # 3 is clear.  They are aware of the power of association or combination as it has been called and how division weakens their ranks.  They want to speak as a group.  They want to be able to use this combination of moneyed power to keep tenants in a permanent state of insecurity and fear. Despite whatever individual views they may have, these people recognize that racism, ageism, gender discrimination and other such divisions within their organization hurts their collective self interest and we as workers and middle class people should recognize that it hurts ours just as much.

James Kilpatrick is another San Leandro Landlord. He is president of NAI Global that is the “…single largest, most powerful global network of owner-operated commercial real estate brokerage firmsIt is a organization of investors, landlords and others engaged in speculative and socially damaging activity.

When you are speaking to rent boards, city councils or other municipal bodies this is who you are addressing. These are the people, the forces, behind the elected officials.

Here in San Leandro we have no rent control. At the next meeting on Tuesday 17th the Rent Board will present some changes to an already toothless ordinance as far as tenants are concerned. Despite the board having two members that are described as “tenants” on its official website, Sandra Johnson Simon and Maria Luisa Penaranda, along with one listed as “homeowner”, Mia Ousley, a landlord friendly proposal is before the board. Hopefully the two tenants representatives and Ms Ousley will vote against it and present a resolution demanding that the San Leandro City Council immediately introduce rent control legislation  We can be sure that significant discussions between the landlords’ representatives both on and off these boards occur behind the scenes at gatherings like the luncheon described in the graphic above.

In the end tenants, just like workers in unions, can only rely on their own strength, their numbers and their ability to stop economic activity. Tenants in San Leandro have potential power if they organize.  The landlords have the money but they have to get it off the tenants.  The US has a history of renters’ strikes against landlordism, especially in NYC for example.  But there are many strategies and tactics that can be used to fight for your rights, direct action tactics that are legal and within one’s rights as an American. The landlords (who normally like to operate through third parties so they don’t have to look their victims in the eye) have no conscience when it comes to taking hard earned money off tenants.

But it is not just high rents that must be fought, but the power the landlord has over a tenant’s life.  It is not unlike the workplace where, despite rules and regulations, workers face discrimination and harassment every day if they speak up for their rights. Only a strong union with an active membership on the job can defend workers’ rights, not officials in an office in Washington DC.

So building a permanent tenants’ organization must be part of any campaign like this and homeowners (we have landlords too, the banks) should support this. And as we can see, the landlords belong to numerous organizations that are statewide and national in nature. A strong organization will empower tenants to get involved and speak up as retaliation by landlords and their agents can be met with some retaliation (legal activity of course) from tenants. If activity is confined to acceptable norms (it’s called going through channels) the “channels” are designed so the landlords can’t lose.

In the last analysis housing is a human right; it is human shelter. Landlords or real estate speculators like Kilpatrick, Sullivan, Thomas Silva and Morton Friedkin a SL Landlord and land speculator who owns some 2000 or more units in Chicago, see a home as a commodity to be bought and sold as if it were pork bellies on the Chicago exchange or shares in a tech firm. Their activities are destructive to our communities including community based small business.  Security in housing can only be guaranteed through publicly funded affordable housing, the right of every human being in a civilized society.

Tenants, their families and supporters should turn up on Tuesday.  The tenants that have been meeting so far have demanded that the proposal be rejected.  They have also stated that their goal is a strong rent control provision be introduced in San Leandro. They should be supported in this campaign. But we must not have any illusions in the Rent Board, City Council, the courts or other institutions where moneyed interests dictate policy.

Here's a flier the tenants put out with the information on the rent board meeting.  Share it with your neighbors and if you can with tenants in your building.   How the rent increases in San Leandro Will Affect you.

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