In 2014, organizers and volunteers from the Lyndale Neighborhood Association (LNA) convened a group of 20 Latinx renters [Latinx is an all-encompassing convention which embraces all genders and identities] in a small church in the Lyndale Neighborhood to discuss their housing problems. Renters spent hours sharing the daily abuses which their landlords and management companies were inflicting. At the end, the renters realized they needed and deserved more.
The LNA organizers started hosting weekly tenant meetings, which served a twofold purpose. First, they were an opportunity to tell and retell their stories. Over many weeks, the tenants refined the trauma they had suffered into a communal narrative, a story they all shared in which they had each struggled, alone, against an unfair housing system. Tenants were able to leave behind their fear and gain strength from the shared experience. Second, the meetings were a platform to organize their struggle, a place where tenants crafted solutions to their common problems. Through demonstrations of collective power (such as visiting the management office en-masse) the tenants executed their solutions.
Immediately, tenants and organizers began to see concrete victories: repairs were finished, the intimidation ended, city inspections were carried out more promptly, communal spaces in their buildings were opened to them, unjust evictions were stopped, and fear of the landlord disappeared. A year later in 2015, the group had organized a tenant association of 20 renters to sue their landlord, who had grossly violated the 1968 federal housing discrimination law by giving whites preferential treatment over latinxs. Because of the work they had done, the renters and organizers could prove the discrimination.
Tenants had built the power to determine how they lived, and they saw outside their own struggle: the costs and conditions of Minneapolis’ rental housing is not acceptable. Minneapolis chronically underfunds inspections which allows landlords to make huge profits from sub-standard housing conditions. The lack of state and federal funds for affordable housing has caused the market to be entirely determined by business demands. Additionally, there is little legal protection for tenants who advocate for their right to decent housing. While there are several tenant-aid programs in Minneapolis, they are heavily service-based. None of them build power, which tenants need to fight back against abuse. Unjust evictions, stolen security deposits, insect infestations, and neglected living spaces are everyday realities for thousands of families in our city. These problems are not individual, isolated cases, but larger, systemic issues that unite all Minneapolis renters. This is why Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia (United Renters for Justice) was born as an organization for renters by renters.
The urban obviously functions, then, as an important site of political action and revolt. The actual site characteristics are important, and the social re-engineering of territorial organization of these sites is a weapon in political struggles.