By SAMANTHA SMYLIE
Tenants United- Hyde Park and Woodlawn has started organizing tenants in the neighborhood to fight against rising rents that are displacing working-class people of color from the neighborhood and improve living conditions for all tenants
John Hieronymus, a 10-year Hyde Park resident, said that Tenants United is “a non-grant funded community tenant organization. What that means is that we don’t have any source of funding, We are completely operating off of people power, volunteers and regular working folks. We are not connected with any politicians. We are not beholden to any NGOs (Non-Governmental Organization) and certainly not to any developers or landlords.”
Tenants United have been organizing since the summer of 2018. Recently, they started to hold biweekly open meetings so that tenants from the south side can come together to discuss issues in their neighborhood, provide resources to tenants and plan actions.
Their first public meeting took place on Jan. 12 at Bret Harte Elementary school, 1556 E 56th St. That meeting started off as an introduction to Tenants United, organization that Tenants United work with, updates on tenant organizing in South Shore and efforts made by #LifttheBan Coalition
The #LifttheBan Coalition has been fighting for rent control to try to head off increasing rents have contributed to the rapid gentrification of neighborhoods, often leading to the displacement of working-class people. The Rent Control Preemption Act was passed in Illinois in 1997 to prevent rent control. On Feb. 26, during the mayoral and aldermanic race, Chicagoans will have the chance to vote for or against Rent Control.
Laurel Chen moved to Chicago from Vermont in Sept. 2018. Chen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago who is interested in equitable developments in neighborhoods. Chen joined Tenants United because, “Moving here to Hyde Park that is a place that is, historically, majority Black and working-class and going to the University of Chicago, that has been complicit in practices that disinvest in communities of color, I have a responsibility to create support for tenants so that they are not displaced, especially, with the coming of the Obama Presidential Center. Without action from neighbors and residents, prices in the area will rise. Tenants will be pushed out who have been here for a long time.”
On Jan. 26, Tenants United hosted another public meeting at Harte Elementary. The first half of the meeting focused on issues that tenants are having in their building and resources that can solve the problem. The second half of the meeting focused on canvassing training.
Canvassing is a tactic that tenant organizers use to gather information about problems that residents face in an apartment building. Organizers will go to a building, knock on doors on every apartment, ask residents a few questions and gain contact information to discuss how they can help later.
Living in an apartment building can be isolating, neighbors usually do not know each other. Landlords can ignore complaints from individual residents. Tenants United has seen through their work, and other Tenants organizations throughout the city, that an organized tenant group can pressure a landlord to listen to complaints from residents.
Tenants United hopes to see the organization grow in Hyde Park and Woodlawn to provide support to renters in the neighborhood. Even though they are based in Hyde Park, they hope that the organization grows to include the entire South Side of Chicago.
Tenants United will hold another public meeting the weekend of Feb. 9.