North NJ DSA

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  nnj.housing@dsanj.org.