Not Now, But Soon
By Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal
The L.A. Tenants Union is three years old. Our first tee-shirt said “Universal Rent Control Now.” Most of our city and state representatives, the Housing Department, even most non-profit housing organizations called rent control impossible, called it a “third rail” policy, called us crazy. We said “Rent Control Now,” and they said “Never.”
Just three short years later, the L.A. Tenants Union has participated in a statewide sea change, by which the impossible was made possible. We got the right to expand rent control on the ballot for the first time since Costa-Hawkins stole that right from cities in 1995. We waged a citywide canvass effort powered by volunteers, while the landlord lobby and real estate corporations outspent our allies 4-to1, flooding the airwaves with deceptive ads.
Yesterday, millions of voters across California said “Now,” and though more said “No,” we recognize two things:
First, this defeat is only “Not yet.” We know the demand for rent control will grow with every year of skyrocketing rents, increases in the number of unhoused residents, and monopolization of real estate.We know there is a crisis of democracy in California: the majority of people in Los Angeles have voted for rent control, yet their desires are blocked by decades-old legislation invented elsewhere in the state. More, we know that the majority of Californians do support rent control, even if they did not understand — or were tricked into doubting — that Prop 10 was the first step to get it.
Second, we know that we must continue to grow as a movement, to build solidarities between every person suffering from an eviction, or displacement, or too-high rent, or insecure tenancy, or landlord harassment, or slum conditions, or the inability to find an affordable home. Together, we have recognized that the current for-profit housing market cannot and will not provide adequate and safe housing for poor, working, and, increasingly, middle-class people. Together, we have recognized that our cities are becoming places for money to accumulate, rather than for people to thrive.
Rent control is a simple agreement that safe and stable homes take priority over profits. Only by reversing decades of common-sense policy, has rent control come to be seen as impossible, “third rail,” or crazy. In this new, right-wing status quo, removing regulations on the market is claimed to help those who need what it provides. Instead, the policies enacted under this idea have brought us the financial crisis, the Trump administration, health care prices that bankrupt, and the highest rates of poverty and inequality America has seen since in a hundred years.
We need to refuse the premise of simply setting the private market loose on basic human needs. As housing policy, this idea — a refrain of the “No on 10” campaign — will continue to benefit the corporate landlords and large-scale real estate flippers — who spent $100 million to defend their ability to evict, extort, and exploit us. Only by teaching each other, by organizing our families, friends, and neighbors, can we break through tepid media “objectivity,” faux and bank-funded “expertise,” and outright lies, which attempt to hide the realities: greed is making us homeless; the market is making us broke; corporations would rather see a mausoleum to dead money than a living, breathing metropolis. Only by intervening in and replacing the profit motive will we win a city for all.
The L.A. Tenants Union started with the basic principle that we are the experts of our own lives, and that to win the world that we want, we need each other. The history of the fight for the right to housing tells us battles are not usually won the first time around. We will renew our fight for reforms of L.A.’s Housing Department, for a city-wide anti-harassment ordinance, and for the repeal of the Ellis Act. We will continue our fight against eviction, displacement, slum conditions, landlord harassment, and homelessness at the level of our our individual members, our locals, and our city, using direct action, rent strikes, and collective bargaining to win our demands, without waiting for politicians or policies. We invite everyone inspired by our campaign to join us in this daily work and lay the foundation for so much more. We have already proven so much with so little besides ourselves.
They say “No,” and we say, “Soon.”
Originally published on Novemeber 7, 2018.