Renters for Justice organize low-income tenants

Photo by Michah McKinney United Renters for Justice protest housing inequalities

According to its mission statement, Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia (United Renters for Justice) was organized “to bring together groups of tenants in Minneapolis’ most neglected housing to analyze problems occurring in their living situations, to strategize and organize around those problems, and to create affordable, dignified living spaces in Minneapolis.”

When Chloe Jackson moved into her present apartment, she said, “The carpet needed to be laid down. [There were] leaks in the ceiling. The rooms flooded.” She also mentioned pests such as squirrels, mice and cockroaches.

Jackson said she complained to her landlord, Stephen Frenz, right away. “He did fix things at first. But at some point he stopped answering calls.”

Jackson is the board president of Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia, which was started in 2014 with volunteers from Lyndale Neighborhood Association (LNA) and 20 Latin renters. She joined the organization in 2016. Jackson started at Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia as a volunteer. She said, “I was fighting for my own purpose, my own cause.”

However, she said when she saw the issues she faced as a renter were part of “a bigger problem,” she started full time at her current position as board president. I asked her to compare being a volunteer and working full time for the organization and she responded, “I definitely prefer it,” meaning she preferred working full time.

Jackson went on to tell me about the diversity of their coalition. “We are very diverse. More [members] are Spanish [Latinx], but some are East African, Black, and there are two White families.” The diversity was not just in ethnicity—Jackson said members also span a wide range of ages. Some, she said, are of advanced age, and she noted that “the children also count.

 “As far as housing goes, this is a national issue,” said Jackson. “But I want to say this affects People of Color more… [It] affects single mothers and children the most. If the child’s house isn’t functioning, they can’t concentrate at school. I think housing plays a huge role when it comes to children growing up. I witness this firsthand.”

According to the Center for American Progress, “Homeownership and high-quality affordable rental housing are critical tools for wealth building and financial well-being in the United States. But these efforts have almost exclusively benefited White households; often, they have removed People of Color from their homes, denied them access to wealth-building opportunities, and relocated them to isolated communities.”

The organization tackles lots of issues related to renting, even housing court. Members attend housing court to support other renters and have held occasional protests.

 “We’re challenging how housing court looks,” said Jackson”. We bring food to court to make it more welcoming for renters, less intimidating. We have a right to be there as well.”

Jackson said that the organizing has challenges within. “There is a huge language barrier. I speak a little Spanish. We’re breaking it down. We’re learning each other’s culture, like what is okay to say. Now we’re like a family, and we go through everything together.”

 “I saw the situation here and wanted to get people organized,” said Roberto de la Riva, the co-director for Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia. He began working with the group over four years ago after moving from Chicago. He brought with him experience from community actions against the foreclosure crisis.

“There’s a lot of isolation when you’re being abused by your landlord,” he said. Recognizing the need to get tenants organized around their common concerns to bring pressure on landlords, de la Riva organized protests “to get accountability started.”

Latinx renters were told “if they fought for their rights, the immigration police would be called.” Like Jackson, de la Riva became full time, as he put it, “to make a real effort.” Using a model from his work in Chicago, he has worked with the organization to help 69 buildings and 5,000 families.

“Despite the difficulties, de la Riva said, “I will always put all my faith in organizing people.”