Local nonprofit launches Tenants Union in latest organizing effort for renters

As the forces fueling gentrification in the Bay Area continue to spread into the North Bay, some of the tactics of renters’ resistance are moving northward as well.

The North Bay Organizing Project has launched a group to organize around tenants’ rights continuing the group’s track recorder of organizing political campaigns to win additional protections for tenants and local demonstrations reprimanding landlords who mistreat tenants.

In May, the group will host a series of educational events intended to educate Sonoma County residents about the history of tenants’ struggles and invite attendees to join the Sonoma County Tenants Union, NBOP’s latest effort to organize renters.

As rents in the North Bay continue to increase, tenants are put in an increasingly difficult situation – especially when they don’t have enough money to put a deposit on a new apartment. Put under pressure by their landlord, renters can feel powerless and lonely, says Beatrice Camacho, a tenant organizer with NBOP.

That’s where the Sonoma County Tenants Union comes in.

“The goal is to give renters agency and the ability to say, ‘No, I know my rights,’” Camacho says.

The recently formed group is the latest in a long line of tenants’ struggles for solidarity and greater legal protections for renters across the country, Camacho says.

Bay Area cities, including San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley all have their own tenants’ organizations, but the concept is relatively new for the North Bay, where tenants have fewer legal protections. In Sonoma County, approximately 40 percent of housing units are occupied by renters, according to 2017 American Community Survey data.

The Tenants Union is still in an early phase, but Camacho hopes that the group and a number of tenant associations – smaller groups consisting of residents of the same apartment complexes - will help tenants feel solidarity, build communal knowledge about their rights and, possibly, put pressure on local leaders to pass legislation.

For the past several years as California has become increasingly unaffordable, activists in cities across the state have pushed for rent control and tenant protections with mixed success. Last year, the battle came to a head over Proposition 10, a statewide ballot measure that would have allowed rent control laws to cover a wider range of properties than is currently possible.

NBOP and other groups have tried to pass rent control and eviction protection laws in Santa Rosa several times in the past several years but the attempts have failed at different stages.

The primary adversary of tenant organizing campaigns are corporate landlords, not local mom and pop owners, Camacho says. For instance, after the foreclosure crisis in 2008, companies began buying up thousands of single-family homes across the country, bundling the properties into funds with high returns, according to a 2018 study by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment.

Some of the companies with large financial stakes in the California housing market spent millions of dollars to defeat Proposition 10, the measure on the November 2018 ballot.

At a series of free events in May, organizers will educate attendees about the history of renters’ struggles in the United States, offer advice to tenants and suggest steps for organizing their neighbors.

The events are meant to remind attendants that similar struggles have been going on for a long time across the country, Camacho says.

“We want to reach people who think nothing can change,” Camacho says.

Both workshops are free and will be translated into Spanish.

Tuesday, May 14 from 6pm to 8pm at Petaluma Library, 100 Fairgrounds Dr., Petaluma, 94952.

Wednesday, May 22, 6 to 8pm in Room 44 of Cook Middle School, 2480 Sebastopol Rd, Santa Rosa, CA 95407.

To register for an event or to join the Sonoma County Tenants Union, contact Beatrice Camacho at 707-479-5475 or bcamacho@northbayop.org.

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