Tenants campaign scares slumlord into fixing things up

Read this in Spanish.

SeaSol members and supporters might be interested in learning about a recent campaign that just ended (for the moment at least). Although it didn’t end up including any dramatic mass actions, it’s still an inspiring example of working-class people getting together and getting results, and how we as a solidarity network can help make that happen.

In November, SeaSol members doing routine door-to-door outreach had some very interesting conversations with tenants at Burien’s “Startree” Apartments (not its real name). Some tenants had been living for months, even years, without a working refrigerator. Others described cockroach infestations that the landlord was ignoring, despite complaints. The elevator had been out of service for months. Tenants’ assigned parking spots, which had been part of the deal that was included in their monthly rent, had been taken away for no apparent cause, and the owner was charging hefty extra fees for guaranteed parking at another of his nearby properties. Some units had been flooded with water coming down through the ceiling, and one victim, a recently evicted working mother of two, was being sued by the landlord for the damages caused by the flood, which she clearly had not caused.

We gathered contacts and set up individual meetings with the tenants who seemed most interested in taking action. They described in emotional detail how the substandard living conditions were affecting their lives and their families. We explained how SeaSol fights work and discussed how a group organizing effort could fit in with that, and how they and their neighbors might be able to get organized so that no one tenant could easily be singled out for retaliation.

We organized a series of group meetings where tenants met each other, often for the first time, made a list of grievances, and discussed how we could fight the landlord together if they weren’t resolved. By the end of January, about half of the building’s tenants had added their names to the demands.

These efforts were no secret from the manager and the owner. More and more, they felt the heat. We prepared for a mass action in mid-February, but we never even had to go through with it. By the weekend of the 9th, almost all of the tenants’ demands had been met. Several long-broken appliances were finally fixed or replaced. Cockroaches were finally exterminated. The elevator was finally repaired. And residents finally got assigned parking spots again.

Putting the campaign on hold brought mixed feelings. Sure, we won most of it, and won enough to (at least temporarily) satisfy most of the tenants, but by granting our wishes, the slumlord deprived us of the eagerly-awaited chance to launch an economic war against his sleazy business. But given the way he operates, with any luck he’ll give us another chance. Meanwhile, another handful of militant working people have joined the SeaSol phone tree.