Renters vs. Slumlords: Activists Nationwide Rally for Renter’s Rights
Organizers in Minneapolis say it’s about more than just rents increasing: affordable housing is basically disappearing, and the city’s policies leave the door wide open for predatory landlords
Eze Jackson: It’s the Real News. I’m Eze Jackson. Renters across the nation are taking part in a week of action to highlight their plate. So far, actions were held in Boston on Saturday and Long Beach on Monday. There are actions planned at the homes and headquarters of major corporate landlords in Minneapolis and Seattle and a march in Nashville. A new study is found, renters makeup a majority of households in most major cities and most pay more than they can afford for rent. The study also found “If every renter in the country was guaranteed that they only had to pay 30% or less on rent, renter households would have $124 billion per year or $6,200 per family.”
Now, joining me to discuss this are two guests, Monique Quantane Carrillo is a tenant union organizer with United Tenants for Justice who is actively organizing tenants of The Apartment Shop Equity Residential LLC owned by corporate landlord, Steven Frenz. [Chelsea Hanvey 01:07] is a renter who lives in Apartment Shop housing and building captain for her tenant union. She was at the action Tuesday night and actively involved in growing campaign for renters, rights, and rent control. Welcome you all. Thanks for talking to us today.
Monique C.: Glad to be here.
Chelsea Hanvey: Thank you.
Eze Jackson: Monique, I want to talk about the actions you took part in this week. What has happened and what’s been the response?
Monique C.: The actions I took part in this week was our kick off, which was nice to get to be involved with other organizations to support the actions that we’ve been taking throughout the week. Another action that I took part in was going to the Nexus Office and finding out that this is so insane. They’re increasing some of the rents on some of these units that they’ve taken over $700. I was so infuriated when I walked into the office to find that there’s a tanning salon and an exercise room when you walk in the door. These rents are being increased, I feel like, to contribute to their luxuries. They’re not taking into consideration that they’re displacing other people. That’s been my personal response to the action at Nexus. Also, the action at Steve Frenz’ house that’s actually the owner of The Apartment Shop. I consider myself in a partner shop survivor. I did rent an apartment from Steve Frenz. It was awful experience. It had me in a state where I would’ve rather lived in my car than in his apartment.
Eze Jackson: Oh, man.
Monique C.: We had the action at his house on Tuesday to walk into his yard and to see his home. The way that he’s living and the way that he is treating his tenant is just appalling. While we were there doing our actions, the sprinklers came on. The first thing that came to my mind was, “This is nothing new. Living at one of your units, you never know what’s going to happen.” There were going to be [inaudible 03:33]. Just him turning the sprinklers on, it just really sparked my fire even more because that was actually a scenario that I had to deal with living in his unit. My response and what I see are a lot of people are starting to recognize that this is bigger than just rent increasing. This is involving displacement for children and they’re having to move schools. A lot of people that are privileged and have more than some of us people that are struggling, don’t realize that a solid foundation starts at home.
Somebody has the power to shake that foundation and doesn’t care that they can shape somebody’s whole family’s foundation for a profit is just really heart-wrenching. Like I said, it just makes me more compassionate. It fires me up even more to take action to stay involved to try to get this changed.
Eze Jackson: Chelsea, what are some of the challenges you’re facing as a renter?
Chelsea Hanvey: Well, probably the rapid city development is one of the biggest problems right now. City of Minneapolis is trying to bring in wealthy renters, wealthy condo owners to develop the economy in our city. With this rapid rate of development, they’re displacing, basically, their entire workforce. The affordable housing, both government subsidized housing and just housing that has reasonably priced, is pretty much disappearing in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Metro area. We have a 1%, I think it’s a less than 1%, vacancy rate right now. We have a complete lack of housing no matter what your income bracket is. To have housing that’s affordable, it’s going nowhere. I make a decent wage. I make a fair wage. I’m cost burdened by my rent. I think I pay about 45% of my income after taxes on rent and entire system that is crippling people of our income bracket.
Eze Jackson: Right.
Chelsea Hanvey: It’s been a struggle.
Eze Jackson: Chelsea, you said that you were forced to come back. How were you forced to come back?
Chelsea Hanvey: Through income limitations. There’s not very much available to me in my income range that I can afford. At the time, I didn’t have a vehicle and I needed to be close to work. The apartment shop owns buildings in major transit areas. I can access all the major buses from my neighborhood. That’s how it works for most of his buildings. It’s almost like they swooped out buildings in low income areas where people needed access. It feeds into that whole predatory thing. I didn’t have a choice. I have bad credit. I don’t make a lot of money. They would accept me as a tenant again and so I had to go back because that was the only option that I had.
Eze Jackson: Right. Clearly, this sounds like part of a bigger pattern. Of course, you’re not alone in this. I’m in Baltimore. We are seeing the same thing where it’s raising and working folks being pushed out. Monique, what are the demands, locally, right now?
Monique C.: The demands, locally, I would have to say two out of every three women of color in Minneapolis are cost-burdened. I know I personally make a decent income to live off of, but after paying rent, I’m paying over 48% of my income. The demands, I would have to say, are affordable housing like you have all these people coming in and putting in these condos and high-end apartments. I think that it needs to be some limitation. I am from Minneapolis. I’m born and raised here. I’ve seen the process changed where people that weren’t struggling as hard moved out to the suburbs and met the struggling people in the city. Now that everything is a little more fast-paced and about convenience, now, they’re raising the rents up and trying to push everybody out not taking into consideration that public transportation is a lot of way that people get around. The school systems, the kids, and for the parents that actually do public transportation, public transportation in the suburbs isn’t as convenient and it’s easy to get around on. For parents that are having to transport through public transportation, moving to the suburbs, it’s not an option.
I feel like the demand here in Minneapolis that they need to have more affordable housing and they need to open up the zoning for some of these multi [inaudible 09:26]. Some of these single homes that can be converted into multi units, they’re not allowing that. I just think that some of that needs to change a lot. I don’t think that, I know that that needs to change. I know that a lot of the laws need to be changed. That’s the development that needs to be made and a lot need to be changed.
Eze Jackson: Yeah. It sounds like, you said earlier, they’re not taking in consideration the convenience of public transportation, but it sounds like they all take it into consideration just not for you …
Chelsea Hanvey: Yeah. Exactly.
Eze Jackson: … for working class people. Chelsea, tell me about what you’re doing to get accountability for your management company. What’s been the response from the company and what’s been the response from other renters?
Chelsea Hanvey: I think one of the biggest challenges that we face speaking to, first and foremost, other renters is apathy in some cases and fear. What we’re doing with this movement is challenging a societal norm. Nobody really thinks about renting as a good that we’re paying for. They don’t think about the fact that you have these business owners that come in. We are paying their rent. We are paying their mortgage on their building. We are paying for the repairs. We are paying their workers through the rent that we pay to the company. They are accountable to us. A lot of renters kind of just, “Oh, well, I’ll just move” or “Oh, well, I just have to accept that this is what it is because this is what I can afford.” There is this fear that if you push back that you’ll lose your home. There’s nothing more frightening than losing your home. I’ve been in that situation. The response from friends is, it’s always the renter’s fault.
It’s the renter’s fault that we have infestations because we don’t keep our apartment clean enough. Not that they don’t treat the problems systemically rather than chasing them from unit to unit to unit or fixing plumbing problems. “The mold is our problem. The security with our doors. I’ve been attacked.” Other members that organize with [inquilinos 11:54] have been attacked in their buildings because the doors are broken. His response is that, “It’s our fault.” It’s not his fault. It’s our fault. He blames us and he continues to abuse us. He is basically just trying to get out of everything that’s going on with the class action suit that we filed, with the city revocation of his license. We recently found out that supposedly, he has sold about 40 to 45 of his buildings. No, he hasn’t sold them. They’ve essentially created shell organizations that have just popped up in the state registry and their parent company are Steve Frenz’s companies. He’s trying to get the blame shifted off of himself. It’s never his fault. It’s never his responsibility.
Eze Jackson: Yeah. We’ve definitely seen that thing happened before. Monique, can you discuss the upcoming actions happening across the country and the national domains from the movement? It seems like organizing an awareness is two major obstacles to getting changed. What’s your plan to achieve that?
Monique C.: Well, I know that, right now, we’re laying the path. We got to lay the path before we can actually walk it. We know there’s going to be a challenge, but we are trying to get it to a level where it’s being recognized that there needs to be rent control because right now, there’s no law. They can charge you any amount at any time that they feel. I use the example. It doesn’t always have to be a slumlord. It doesn’t have to be somebody that does bad business. You can have a great landlord, but if that landlord or that property owner hits a financial situation that you’re unaware of, how do you think he’s going to fix that? I can hit this tenant with any amount that I want at any time. It doesn’t just have to be abused.
In the apartments, [Wisty 14:17] Frenz units, to me he’s a landlord because the people that are in his units are prisoners of the environment that they’re in and the way that he takes care of things. As a landlord, he don’t care what we’re going through in our daily lives. This is something that really needs to be addressed. Let’s not just push these buildings off to other people. The accountability still needs to be held, for these repairs to be made for the rent to stay reasonable, and for displacement to stop with unjust evictions. Getting a rent freeze into play and getting, I would say, a ladder as to how often an amount that it can be increased, the economy changes. That’s understandable that there may be an increase here or there, but just because that’s what you want to do, because it creates a bigger profit for you, rather than stable housing for other people, that needs to be addressed, just bottom line. It needs to be put into action that this isn’t just an option for people. Housing is a necessity. It’s not a luxury. It’s a necessity.
Eze Jackson: Let me ask you, either one of you can answer this. Are you getting any support from policy makers, city council or state legislators? Is there any move to try to draft legislation to not only stop this but prevent it from happening in the future?
Chelsea Hanvey: My understanding of what we’re seeing is, there are some interests. The things that we’re talking about changing, getting rent control, just cost protection for eviction, rent caps, rent freezes, changing city policy, it is equally as intimidating to politicians just to forward you that because it would be an entire paradigm shift.
Eze Jackson: Right.
Chelsea Hanvey: It would be forcing the city to put the people first as opposed putting developers first. There has been some tentative interest. We’ve been to a lot of city council forums for candidate election. I’ve sat in a few of those. The council members and the candidates don’t always seem to quite know what we’re talking about, but they’re listening. I think the important part of that is that we’re forcing to listen. We have a less than 1% occupancy or they can see in our city right now. We can’t just move. We can’t just go somewhere else.
Eze Jackson: Right.
Chelsea Hanvey: We have to stand up for ourselves now.
Eze Jackson: Right. Well, we hope you continue to get the supports you need and appreciate you joining us today to talk about this.
Monique C.: Absolutely. Thank you for having us.
Chelsea Hanvey: Yeah. Thank you very much for having us.
Eze Jackson: All right. Thanks for joining us on The Real News Network. I’m Eze Jackson.