by Nate H.
While the class struggles of the early twentieth century helped to create the (albeit racially exclusive) mass homeownership enjoyed by much of the Baby Boomer generation, the reality for today’s working class is one of mass tenancy. More U.S. households are renting than at any point in the last 50 years, and the median rent has increased nearly 50 percent since 2008. In North Jersey, where developer and landlord interests exert significant control over the political landscape, almost 40% of households are tenants and residents spend a median of 31.8% of their monthly income on rent (according to federal guidelines, paying more than 30 percent of household income on rent is considered ‘overburdened’). Any serious socialist movement needs to be involved in the tenant struggle, and North Jersey DSA has committed to do just that.
In late 2020, a tenant from the Ivy Hill apartment complex in Newark’s west ward contacted NNJ DSA’s housing justice working group after noticing some illegal evictions taking place, as well as a general deteriora tion in living conditions. Ivy Hill is the largest private residential complex in the state, comprising 10 high-rise apartment buildings. It is owned by Argo Real Estate, a large corporate landlord based in New York City that owns over 5,000 properties in the greater New York City area.
After meeting with a few more ten ants, a group led by NNJ DSA’s hous ing justice working group (along with members from Brick City Mutual Aid and Homes for All Newark) began canvassing the buildings in January 2021. We spoke to tenants about their experiences in the building, and quickly learned that they had a lot in common: pests, packages getting stolen, poorly maintained facilities, illegal rent increases and eviction attempts, and unresponsive building management. We began facilitating Zoom calls so that tenants could speak to each other about their common struggle and see that they were not alone. We also invited the tenants we met to join us on our future canvasses and helped them draft a petition and collected signatures while canvassing the complex, which lasted through the summer of 2021.
The petition was delivered to the landlord as well as the Mayor and City Council, Governor, Lt. Governor, and State Senator and Assembly People on September 14, 2021. We collected a total of 121 signatures, with tenants demanding pest control, consistent heat in the winter, a permanent fix to persistent plumbing issues which were causing leaks and black mold, better building security to prevent packages being stolen, and an end to eviction pressure that kept up even during the eviction moratorium.
In addition to getting the attention of the landlord and city government, the petition helped identify the initial members of a tenant committee, which formed to keep the momentum going. The tenants are now running the cam paign themselves, with DSA supporting however we can. The committee has met with Mayor Ras Baraka on two separate occasions. At the first meeting, residents articulated their challenges and the mayor committed to instituting a code enforcement sweep of the building. At a follow up meeting, the results of the sweep confirmed the infestation of the building with rats and roaches. Tenants are now working to ensure the code enforcement issues are resolved.
The code enforcement sweep was a tangible victory for the tenants, but the fight is far from over. NNJ DSA is working to help the tenants formalize their committee into a formal tenant union, and social events are being planned to build community in the apartment complex to ensure the ten ants’ organization is stronger for the next fight.
To get involved in tenant organizing in your community, email us at email@example.com.