Backbeat: Abolish rent
Tenants in Oakland and San Francisco have more rights and protections under the law than in most cities in the country. Yet landlords retain the power to set prices on all newly-constructed and newly-emptied housing at rates aimed at only the most affluent segment of renters, as well as the power to use sheriff’s deputies to enforce evictions whenever a tenant can’t or won’t pay. Not to mention the power to withhold housing pending fulfillment of their desired rate of return.
This balance of class forces between tenants and landlords was front of mind as I joined with friends from the Organizing Committee of the Tenant and Neighborhood Councils (TANC) to analyze legislation passed recently establishing a “right to organize” for tenants in San Francisco. Our criticisms run along two tracks: The legislation’s internal limits to its nominal goal, and the general maintenance of the landlord-tenant relation through the legal system.
We intended the statement primarily for consideration by what we call the autonomous tendency of the tenant movement, to try to articulate differences from liberal nonprofit organizing. I encourage readers in the Bay Area to check out TANC, or find a tenant union affiliated with the Autonomous Tenant Union Network in your area. Because the problem for the tenant isn’t “effective communications,” as the San Francisco legislation puts it. “The problem for the tenant,” as we wrote, “is the existence of rent; it’s the commodification of life-sustaining shelter.”