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Announcement :: Environment
New Issue of 'The Angry Tenant' Out Now!
21 Apr 2004
The Angry Tenant is the newspaper of the Boston Angry Tenants Union (BATU), a grassroots, tenant-run organization whose mission is to organize tenants to act militantly and collectively in order to change the state of housing in Boston...
THE ANGRY TENANT:
"Your Landlords Worst Nightmare!"

Issue #2 is out now!

The Angry Tenant is the newspaper of the Boston Angry Tenants Union (BATU), a grassroots, tenant-run organization whose mission is to organize tenants to act militantly and collectively in order to change the state of housing in Boston...


***********************

CITY CRACKDOWN ON LANDLORDS: PLEASE...DON’T MAKE US LAUGH!

With colleges back in session, students have again descended upon our fair city looking for affordable housing for the year. Since affordable housing is a sad joke in Boston, most generally settle for the first halfway inhabitable apartment they can find. Unfortunately for them, even this seems to be asking too much from the profiteering slumlords of our fine city.

According to a recent article in the Boston Metro, college students returned to the city to find bed bugs, rotting walls, exposed wires and overall filthy conditions in their newly rented apartments. Numerous complaints apparently led to a "prompt crackdown on wayward landlords" by city inspectors, who slapped $300 fines on a few of the worst offenders in an effort to appease the students’ angry parents.

You are probably thinking to yourself, "Why the hell doesn't my landlord come and fix my problems!" These are the sorts of substandard living conditions Boston area tenants have been fighting against for years, and we have come to expect nothing less than complete indifference from city politicians (many of whom depend on the financial backing of these same slumlords!). College kids aren't the only tenants in Allston-Brighton. There are countless other tenants, working-class folks like you and me, who are not getting the same red-carpet treatment from their landlords. Now that the wealthy parents of college kids are complaining, apparently it is a real problem.

This was a poor excuse for a "crackdown" anyway. City officials slapped landlords with $300 fines? $300 wouldn't even pay many of our rents that we fork over to them every month. I'm sure they were really hurting after that one.

We certainly will not be holding our breath for the city to take any real action against Boston's slumlord menace. Other than trying to save face in the public eye, these recent token actions taken by city officials will not make the slightest difference in solving the deplorable conditions we tenants are faced with. Bed bugs, basic repairs and general rubbish removal are a landlord's responsibility and the only way to hold these slumlords accountable for the substandard living conditions they force us to live in is to take action against them ourselves!


***********************

DEALING WITH THE BED BUG MENACE

Last issue we reported on the growing bed bug menace in the Allston-Brighton area. Since then the problem has only gotten worse. In fact, it is now so bad that even the local politicians and mainstream newspapers are now apparently starting to take notice. September is when many leases are up, and when people move into new apartments. This year, official warnings were issued to anyone moving into Allston-Brighton to be wary of bed bugs when looking for furniture on the sides of the road.

A conservative estimate (based on formal reports) places over 80 units in the Allston-Brighton area affected by bed bugs, although the actual number of affected units is assumed to be much higher. Additionally, the bed bug epidemic has now spread to other parts of the city, including Brookline, Jamaica Plain and East Boston.

For anyone who has ever dealt with bed bugs, they know it is a nightmare beyond description: sleepless nights, painful itching, having to trash otherwise perfectly useful furniture, and worst of all, being looked down on as being "dirty" for a problem that is beyond your control.

Often landlords try to place the blame for infestation on tenants in an effort to avoid their responsibility to pay for extermination. This is illegal, and if you can stomach dealing with the housing authorities you have perfect grounds for withholding your rent until the landlord agrees to hire an exterminator and deal with the situation (or else just hire one yourself and take the difference out of your rent). If your landlord is particularly nasty and uncooperative you may want to consider more drastic methods of persuasion. Why not collect a jar full of the little blood suckers and then discretely introduce them into his office, or even better, his house, next time you drop off your rent check so he can experience first-hand what his tenants are forced to live with. Maybe then you will get the response you deserve.


***********************

FACTS AT A GLANCE...

* A minimum wage earner (earning $6.75 per hour) can afford monthly rent of no more than $351.

* A Social Security recipient (receiving $666 monthly) can afford monthly rent of no more than $200, while the Fair Market Rent for a one-bedroom unit is $934.

* In Massachusetts, a worker earning the Minimum Wage ($6.75 per hour) must work 133 hours per week in order to afford a two-bedroom unit at the area's Fair Market rent.

* The Housing Wage in Massachusetts is $22.40. This is the amount a full time (40 hours per week) worker must earn per hour in order to afford a two-bedroom unit at the area's Fair Market rent. This is 332% of the minimum wage ($6.75 per hour). Between 2002 and 2003 the two bedroom housing wage increased by 5.92%.


***********************

IN THE WORKPLACE AND THE COMMUNITY: DIRECT ACTION GETS THE GOODS

I write this article not only as member of BATU, but also as a projectionist who recently participated in a successful campaign of unionizing the Somerville Theatre is Davis Square. Like most tenants, I not only had to deal with a blood sucking landlord, but also an exploitive boss, who was just a vicious. This kind of boss also doubles as a landlord (go figure!).

At the time we began to organize, projectionists at the Somerville Theatre were making minimum wage, were not offered benefits, and had little-to-no power in the workplace. After unsuccessful attempts at asking for raises, equipment repairs, or control over scheduling, it became apparent that, as individuals, we did not posses the power to make change. Much like an isolated tenant making demands of the landlord, we were easily brushed aside. It was time to organize!

After a hard-fought three month campaign we emerged victorious with union recognition and a 2-year union contract which included a living wage (41% increase), health benefits, increased control in the workplace, and greater job protection. The process of change from isolated individuals to a powerful unit capable of bringing about change not only required a unified front, but also a tactical strategy capable of directly impacting day-to-day operations of the business, and most importantly, the boss's profit margin.

At the Somerville Theatre, our struggle was won by withdrawing our labor (strike!) and creating an onslaught of economic, community, media, and public pressure which crystalized into an extremely effective boycott. Since we had no faith in state mediation (only 40% of NLRB elections result in a victory) we simultaneously began a campaign of direct action. Only by direct participation in the disruption of ‘business as usual' did we really begin to grasp the power that we held as an organized workforce.

Throughout the campaign, tactical decisions were made by the majority of the workforce and carried out without mediation by union officials, politicians, lawyers, or governmental bodies. Whether we were turning away would-be customers, convincing artists not to perform at the theatre, flyering the boss’ neighborhood, or using the media to create bad publicity for the theatre, each one of us felt empowered and motivated to step up the struggle. In the end, the boss caved into our demands because it was easier to appease us than to risk increased and sustained disruption to business.

When carried out successfully, direct action changes the power dynamics in a struggle, tipping the scales from the boss or landlord's side to our side. Although victories are possible through legal channels, they do not change the balance of power in the way that direct action does. Instead, this route essentially removes the struggle from the hands of those directly affected by it and causes us to rely on the power of someone outside of our struggle. As workers and tenants we should utilize tactics that empower us and set us up for future victories as our primary means of change.

Many parallels can be drawn between the labor movement and the tenants movement. Direct action tactics take similar forms in both movements. Our power lies in the fact that we create all the wealth that these bastards hoard. As tenants our greatest power lies in the potential for us to withold rent money and provoke others to do the same. We need to organize our campaigns in way that makes it clear to the landlords, and to ourselves, that we hold this power. Whether it's a rent strike, civil disobediance, or a media blitz to bring our issues into public focus, each action can take back a little piece of the pie we baked and make us hungry for seconds.

Although we should not neglect other channels of action, direct action should be the focal point of any tenants union intent on having an active membership, building upon each victory, and seriously building a dual power that is stronger than that of the parasitic landlords.


***********************

FAMILIES FEEL THE HOUSING PINCH

There is a housing crisis in the U.S.; millions of families are being forced out onto the streets, are living in deplorable conditions or are forced to spend all their money on housing in lieu of other basic necessities.

Despite claims made in a February 2003 press release that President Bush is proposing a 2004 fiscal year budget of $31.3 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to "increase homeownership, promote affordable housing and create stronger communities," his budget proposal falls $1.2 billion short of the amount that would ensure people with existing Section 8 (so-called "low-income") can remain in their homes. It also fails to restore $250 million lost from the Public Housing operating funds (a 15% cut in basic maintenance for public housing tenants) due to an "accounting error" by HUD, and eliminates a $300 million grant program for privately-owned, HUD subsidized homes.

According to a joint survey prepared by the National Alliance of HUD tenants and ENPHRONT (National Public Housing Tenants Organization), an average of 40,890 HUD subsidized affordable housing units have been lost every year since 1998. Should Bush's budget pass, it would not only be the first time in Section 8's 30-year history that Congress would fail to renew existing monies allocated for housing, but it would also mark an all-time low in federal public housing funding.

Here in the Bay state, the situation is exacerbated by the fact that rent rates, according to a report issued in early September 2003 by the National Low Income Housing Coalition in Washington, D.C., are the most expensive in the country. To make matters worse, a report done by HUD found that a full-time worker hoping to pay no more than 30% of their total income in rent would need to earn $22.40 per hour. Too bad minimum wage is at $6.75. To further emphasize how hard it is to afford to live in a metro region like Boston, when a household income drops to 30% or less of the median income of an area, the family is considered "extremely low-income" or ELI; currently there is no metropolitan area in the country where an ELI family can afford a "fair market" rent for a two-bedroom home.

So rents are too high and workers make too little, we all know that too well. But what if a worker saved some money and wanted to buy a home, what would the situation look like then? Well, according to statistics released by the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, housing prices continue to climb, hitting a average selling price of $414,517 for a single-family home.

How can everyday working class people afford to live in Massachusetts? First, the federal government cuts public housing assistance, then the city government declares it will not give any new money for housing in the next 3 years, despite the fact that 56% of Boston is considered low-income. We should not have to slave our lives away just to be able to afford a dilapidated shack, all the while not even seeing our families that we are working so hard to house. Together we need to stand up for our lives-we need to fight the rich landlords and demand fair treatment.

Join other angry tenants in BATU in that fight!


***********************

S.P.O.A. IS AT IT AGAIN: MANDATORY RENT ESCROW

One of the few powers that we, as tenants, have is the right to withhold rent from our landlords. This is used in order to force them to repair our housing units and keep them up to code. Not surprisingly, the usual scumbag front-groups like the Small Property Owners Association and the Massachusetts Association of Realtors are trying to quietly push a bill through Congress that will severely undermine this important right.

The bill would instate mandatory escrowing while we are withholding rent. This means that we will be required to put our rent into a third party account while our claims are under investigation. This sort of state mandated financial babysitting is just another way that the rich are attempting to diminish our autonomy and power. The landlords claim that this will protect them from bad renters. The reality is that this bill will leave tenants with even less protection from the social parasites we are forced to pay every month. This bill must be stopped and (more importantly) we must band together as tenants to change a system where we are vulnerable to the whims of greedy landlords and power-hungry politicians. So please talk to your neighbors about rent escrowing and act in any way you see fit.


***********************

SUBWAY FARE HIKE

As if cost and quality of housing in this city weren't offensive enough, we're being screwed on another front. Beginning January 1st 2004, fares will increase by 25 cents on subways and 15 cents on buses, without improving service. This is happening despite prevailing laws (that magically disappear when they get in the way) and public dissent. Coming on the heels of cuts to various programs and services we depend on, this is yet another attack on working class folks in the Boston area. Despite our protests, it is clear that as of this past New Year's Day, the MBTA will move forward with their agenda.

How was this decision made? Without us of course! The T scheduled a series of public hearings. According to Jodi Sugerman-Brozan of On the Move, a local organization working for transportation justice, "all they have done so far is scheduled some bogus public hearings during the busiest time of year for a majority of their ridership." These token events do nothing to empower people.

Since the announcement in March 2003, the MBTA has yet to release any reports on the projected impact or necessity of a fare increase. "Public hearings do not make a public process," says Sugerman-Brozan. If the MBTA was truly public transportation, decisions would be made by the ridership, not officials or politicians whose pampered asses have probably never felt the scorching heat of the backseat of an MBTA bus.

What about legal protections? According to the Forward Funding Law, there were prerequisites for a fare increase. As usual, we're not just shut out of the process; we're ignored by our "representatives" in Congress. Days before a rally against the increases, Massachusetts legislature added a provision to the supplemental budget, allowing the increases to pass despite declining ridership. Should we shoulder another burden from people who really don't care if we get where we're going? No way! Some of us are not accepting the increases without a fight.

Folks have been organizing resistance through the Beat the Fare Increase campaign, a coalition of forty to fifty community organizations. On August 21st, about 150 angry T riders hit the streets for a 'March on Washington' from Dudley Square to a rally outside the State House. People were calling for public process, service improvements and most importantly, to cancel the increases. "Forty years later the struggle continues," said Khalida Smalls, coordinator of the T Riders Union and one of the organizers of the event, which fell close to the 1963 March on Washington for Civil Rights. "We know that the fare increases will hit lower-income, transit-dependent riders the hardest, and that's not fair." True indeed, the folks most deeply affected by the increases are overwhelmingly poor folks and people of color. How can we allow this racist and classist attack?!

Enough of people making harmful decisions for us -- The T belongs to us! We need to get together and defy the increases. Not a cent more!


***********************

YUPPIFICATION IN THE SOUTH END

The oldest drag bar in the city is under attack, another step in the process of ridding the South End of "undesirables.” Jacques is one of the last places left in the South End that hasn't been transformed into a sterile Starbucks or upscale condo by real estate mongers and money hungry landlords trying to turn a buck on the backs of working class residents. This effort can be seen in the context of a forty plus year process in the South End whereby property value and rents have tripled, forcing out the rest of us, who can't afford to give all our paychecks to rent.

The Bay Village Neighborhood Association, spearheaded by ex-district attorney and certifiable-scumbag John Shope, seems intent on shutting this bar down, using every excuse possible. But this small, local bar, with no code violations, butts up against the much noisier, much higher traffic theatre district and can't possibly be causing all this trouble, can
it?! Jacques is an extremely valuable piece of property in the constantly inflating real estate market of the South End. Rich landlords and developers can barely keep their tongues in their mouths and the dollar signs out of their eyes at the opportunity of transforming the property into more luxury condominiums or upscale restaurants and shops, unaffordable to almost everyone. As a result, the neighborhood surrounding Jacques has changed over the years in both culture and wealth.

The South End has seen many waves of gentrification in the last 40 years. After economic neglect turned it into slums, the first wave of investment came in the late 60's. This wave introduced a large artist community, attracted to the cheap rents and large studios. As usual, these "starving artists" aided the gentrification process, coming into the neighborhoods in droves and driving up the cost of living as their art started selling and they became young professionals. Artists served as shock troops as they move into poor neighborhoods and over time created "safe" places for middle to upper class folks to come into neighborhoods with their expensive cars and fat wallets.

In the 80's, the twenty something artists became forty something property owners, bringing in more revenue than the South End had seen since before WWII. They began opening restaurants and stores in boarded up shop fronts.

This attracted rich folks from all over the city and they went from visiting the South End to moving there. The yuppie plague spread even further. With these even richer professionals, came even more upscale restaurants and stores pushing out the original gentrifiers! Some rents and property values have tripled, displacing many working class residents further and further outside of the city. In the belly of the beast around Washington Street, yuppies are spending $800,000 to $1 million on luxury condominiums.

But, the layers to the Jacques story run deep. The waves of gentrification must be viewed in the context of Boston's GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) history. As Boston's queer community gained visibility, investment flowed into the South End and rich gay men rode the wave.

Rich gay men are hijacking Boston's queer community, and they have hijacked the progress the gay community has made in the last 20 years. Because of their privilege, they are visible and prosperous and they want to assimilate in every way possible. Jacques is being accused of being "unsafe and unruly" because it is for working class and trans people. When they say "safe", they mean yuppified.

Not only has Jacques survived through yuppie invasions, it is also faced with the stigmatization that comes along with being a drag bar in straight culture and faces scrutiny from within the gay community itself. Recently, the upper class has begun opening up ritzy nightclubs like Club Cafe, which cater to the richy-rich gay men in the neighborhood. These same men sit on "important committees", with pearl and fur laden ladies, making important decisions about how to "develop and preserve" the neighborhood. Jacques is one of the only remaining connections to the South End's past, and they are winning the fight. Enough is enough! These are our neighborhoods, and we have to fight back against these yuppie invasions!


***********************

ARE YOU AN ANGRY TENANT??

WANT TO HEAR ABOUT LOCAL HOUSING NEWS, COMMUNICATE WITH OTHER TENANTS OR HAVE YOUR STORY TOLD IN THE NEXT ANGRY TENANT?

WELL, WRITE TO US! TELL US YOUR STORY (ANYNOMOUSLY IF YOU CHOOSE) AND WE CAN SHARE IT WITH OTHER ANGRY TENANTS OUT THERE.

ALSO CONTACT US TO SIGN UP FOR A LOCAL BOSTON HOUSING E-MAIL LIST, WHERE YOU WILL GET
PERIODIC E-MAILS ABOUT HOUSING ISSUES IN OUR AREA.

CONTACT BATU AT: ANGRYTENANTS (at) JUNO.COM


***********************

Boston Angry Tenants Union: The Eight Points

1. We Are Angry Tenants!
We’re angry because of rats, leaky faucets, increasing rents, no heat, roaches, and to top it all off, scumbag landlords. Our rents are too high, there’s not enough housing for everyone, and landlords are getting rich while we’re getting evicted. We refuse to take it anymore!

2. What are we going to do about it? Direct Action!
We can’t count on those dirty politicians and crooked cops to get the job done. We, the angry tenants, make no polite appeals to those who are screwing us over (building supers, landlords, property speculators, and the housing authority). We will take action however we see fit, on our own terms, and without any intermediaries... This is direct action!

3. Direct Democracy!
All angry tenants deserve a voice, all angry tenants derserve a vote! Who’s been affected more by the housing crisis than us? Let’s take control of our own lives and make decisions for ourselves.

4. What do we need to do? Organize!
Who should organize angry tenants? Angry tenants should organize angry tenants! We

think that those who live in our communities should make the decisions about our communities, and that we should organize ourselves

5. Everybody deserves a home, everybody deserves a community!
Those money hungry capitalists who are in control don’t allow our communities to do what’s best for us. They’re not going to give us housing and community control, we need to take it!

6. Solidarity in our struggles!
In our struggles for power in our own communities, we must also support our neighboring communities in their struggles. WIth solidarity and mutual aid comes victory!

7. No landlords! No Evictions!
Let’s face it, everytime we pay rent, we are being robbed! Housing is not a privilege, and it’s not something to be owned by a few rich scumbags. We don’t need or want landlords to evict us and make decisions that could ruin our lives. Eviction is a crime! Rent is theft!

8. We will not allow our city to be overrun by the wealthy!
We don’t need more stores that we can’t afford, and we don’t need expensive condos pushing our families out and destroying our communities.


***********************

If you like what you are reading, get in touch with us by writing, by phone or email. Also, if you are interested in distributing copies of 'The Angry Tenant' in your neighborhood, let us know!

BATU
P.O. Box 146
Boston, MA 02133
(617) 499-1921
angrytenants (at) juno.com

This work is in the public domain
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Comments

Re: New Issue of 'The Angry Tenant' Out Now!
22 Apr 2004
I know that this was a NEFAC originated project. I'm wondering how much success you've had reaching out beyond that original base. It seems like NEFAC's community organizing efforts are going well in Vermont but, other than the projectionists' strike, I don't have a sense of how much of an impact you've had in Boston.
Re: New Issue of 'The Angry Tenant' Out Now!
30 Aug 2004
What about the tenants' responsibility in dealing with the bed bug situation? We've had a well-known exterminator company spray our property several times in the past two months. Yet the bed bugs still exist. Is this still a landlord issue or could the tenants also be responsible for not ridding the pests? Should the landlord pay for laundry services to encourage their tenants to wash their bedsheets? Should the landlord pay for cleaning services to wipe down the bottom of all the furniture in the property? Should the landlord vacuum all the carpets and mop all the floors? Well, we've actually done all of the above and yet our tenants STILL have refused rent payment. Where do we draw the line between the landlord and the tenant responsibilities? I think people are too quick to deem their landlord as a money-hungry business person. What about the 70+ woman renting out her two family home to provide an income for her retirement?

Signed,
The ANGRY landlord!