Saturday morning, March 1st, some of us with the Seattle Solidarity Network got together a delegation to present a list of demands to a large property owner in north Seattle. Several of her tenants were living with problems such as large holes in the walls and floors, lack of running water, and broken heating systems throughout the winter. Some had complained. One of the most outspoken, a young family with a three-year-old daughter, had recently been threatened with eviction.
In late January, some neighbors began organizing with the Solidarity Network. They drew up a letter with a list of specific demands, and that morning one of them led the delegation to the landlord’s office at another of her properties, a motel just down the street. This was meant to be just an initial action. We all hoped, but did not expect, that it would be enough. A group of supporters came out to back up the tenants, to boost their courage, show that they were not alone, and show the landlord that she would not be wise to try to evict these people or otherwise retaliate against them.
23 people suddenly packed into the small office, much to the surprise of several motel customers. The landlord’s representative started yelling and said she would not accept the letter. We made her take two. She immediately picked up the phone to tell her boss, and then called the police. As our group was leaving, she pointed at a tenant and told her, “you’re out!”
Police arrived an hour later to make a report, but didn’t pursue any charges. That afternoon, we got word that someone’s broken heater had just been fixed. They now had proper heating for the first time in several months. At the same time, the manager began refusing to accept rent money from one of the ‘troublemakers’, and there were more signs that the landlord was looking for a way to get rid of them. We started gathering phone numbers and preparing to respond quickly in case of any such attempt.
Despite the danger, residents kept insisting on their rights, and more of them started asking for repairs. The landlord and manager visited one of the more ‘troublesome’ tenants and scolded him, saying “You shouldn’t be talking to those people, they’re Communists!” Then they proceed to get to work fixing his toilet.
Since then, almost all of the problems listed in the demands have been fixed. Floors with holes have been repaired or replaced, heating has been restored, rotten wood has been replaced, smoke detectors have been installed, and broken sinks and showers have been fixed. A few remaining repairs are now getting underway. There have been, so far, no more threats of eviction.
How did this happen? All we can say is, it happened because some people showed they were ready to support each other. People got over their fear, started talking, and started to build up a little power. We stood together, and it looks like we scared them.
If someone you know would like a hand (or twenty or thirty) standing up to an employer or landlord, have them get in touch!