Tenant organizing, affordable housing are linked

September 7, 2007
By

I want to thank David Taber and the Gazette for your balanced coverage of the Boston City Council’s rejection of tenant collective bargaining [JP Gazette, Aug. 24]. Unfortunately, this terrible vote will embolden large real estate corporations at the expense of ordinary residents.

City Councilor John Tobin falsely seeks to counter-pose “affordable housing” to “collective bargaining.” They are complementary. Anyone involved in constructing or preserving affordable housing will agree that it must be linked to anti-displacement efforts. Otherwise, you work for two years to build 100 units while 1,000 families are displaced.

Anti-displacement organizing seeks to keep people in the homes they have now. In particular, tenants want to work to improve their neighborhood without corporations raising their rent and evicting them as a result. That requires some balance between real estate profit and human need. Rent regulation seeks to do that through city rent-setting or eviction oversight. Collective bargaining seeks to do it through direct negotiations between the parties.

Tenant collective bargaining has a successful track record in preventing displacement. Hundreds of households have been protected. Tenant bargaining has a direct parallel to similar efforts for labor, or consumers of pharmaceuticals, or homeowners confronting predatory lenders. Given this history, of which Councilor Tobin is aware, it’s sad he would not require corporations to even meet with us.

Boston’s tenant movement is largely composed of people of color. It’s shameful that only one of nine white councilors voted to back tenant associations. All four councilors of color, plus Mike Ross, did support us.

Councilor Tobin also suggests he would not meet with City Life because I protested a Council decision in 2004. Of course, he could have met with any of us, but that’s not really the point.

When employers cut wages, and workers strike, the employers blame unions for “disruption.” When corporate owners raise rents in already profitable buildings and residents protest, the owners blame tenant associations for being “adversarial.” And when councilors consistently vote with powerful real estate interests and citizens get mad, Tobin accuses us of “poor behavior.”

Injustice is the problem, not the reaction to injustice.

Steve Meacham
City Life/Vida Urbana
Jamaica Plain

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