Why NYC-DSA is Organizing Tenants

By Jennifer L. and Cea W.

New York City is overwhelmingly made up of tenants. It’s no surprise, then, that New York has been the epicenter of tenant struggles for a century. We have the strongest renter protections in the country. But at the same time, our city is also the international center of real estate power, gentrification, and unaffordable housing.

Over the next year, NYC-DSA is developing a strong tenant organizing program that aims to win material improvements in our buildings, fight rising rents, displacement, and eviction, and pass laws that strengthen and expand renters’ rights across the state.

What are we fighting for?

Universal rent control. This means tenant power over where we live and an end to evictions and displacement. We can win it by expanding rent stabilization, NYC’s framework of renters’ rights, to the entire state. Currently, rent stabilization affects 2.5 million renters (about 40%) of New York City. It guarantees (with some exceptions) leaseholders the right to renew lease at a rent increase set by a local rent guidelines board.

This system of rent controls was won by a militant, diverse, and socialist tenant movement in 1969, but it has been gradually weakened as landlords have gained more and more political power. In the last 10 years, we have lost over 100,000 rent stabilized apartment units. The system is designed to disappear, and is filled with loopholes that cause major rent increases even in rent-stabilized apartments.

What’s our target?

Cuomo. The state rent laws are decided in Albany – a notoriously corrupt place. Our campaign for universal rent control targets both the neoliberal state government (Andrew Cuomo) and the landlords who enable and benefit from it. Just as Cuomo relies on the real estate industry that put him in office, the real estate industry depends on (along with our rent checks!) Cuomo’s corporate subsidies to profit. They are the biggest lobby state and city-wide.

A militant tenant movement can break this power by weakening the real estate industry’s bottom line, and loosening its iron grip on New York politics. By doing so, a successful push for universal rent control would upend the very foundations of New York's political establishment.

How will we win?

Talking to our neighbors. In 2019, the state legislature will debate whether to continue rent regulation. This is a crucial moment of leverage, where both tenants and landlords will fight for their self-interest in Albany. It is critical that NYC-DSA join the fight – as tenants, neighbors, and socialists.

In order to campaign effectively, NYC-DSA is engaging in a broad tenant organizing program in our existing buildings, deeply connected to our demands to end eviction, harassment, and for a human right to housing.

Half of NYC-DSA members live in rent-stabilized buildings. (That number is even higher depending on your branch!) If we are serious about fighting gentrification and fighting for affordable housing, the most natural place to start organizing is where you are now: alongside your neighbors in your building. The material and political conditions that we share with our neighbors as tenants are a powerful basis for building relationships and solidarity with longer-term tenants rooted in working-class communities of color.

Tenant organizing is personally and politically transformative. It will allow us to test some of our strategic and tactical debates and adjust to the results. For example, in your tenant association, you can test mutual aid tactics, such as going with your neighbors to Housing Court to demand basic repairs. We can powermap our neighborhoods, identify the worst landlords to focus on, and hone our strategic and campaigning skills. In the process, we will build power for NYC-DSA, for our neighbors, and for New York’s renters.

Read about our campaign, check out our Tenant Organizing Manual, and join the Housing Working Group. Email tenants@socialists.nyc to learn more and get involved.