Rent Hike or Strike

The housing crisis in the Bay Area has reached a new plateau of desperation, with rents doubling or more in recent years. Tiny studios go for $1,500, if you can even find one. Hordes of tenants, renter\’s resumes in hand, jockey for each vacancy. If things keep going like they\’re going, San Francisco, Berkeley and maybe even Oakland will lose their diverse, vibrant quality. Each will be exclusive playgrounds for the rich, \”cleansed\” of most blacks, Latinos, and Asians┬żof most of the middle and working class. The only artists or young people will be trustfunders, heirs to oil fortunes, or nouveau riche dot.comers. It\’s increasingly common for people-close friends, family members, neighbors, even this issue a Slingshot writer-to just give up on the whole Bay Area housing mess and move to another state. The more \”undesirables\” that move out, the more this area forever loses its unique character and the few who remain begin to wonder, \”is it worth it to hang on?\” Meanwhile, greedy landlords are chortling in delight-replacing single moms, taxi drivers, musicians and young people with khaki-wearing stock option millionaires, at triple the rent. Their units haven\’t improved, they\’ve spent nothing to fix up the dump, but suddenly they reap riches.

All of us tenants who hate this grim future scramble to figure out some kind of solution before its too late. Rent control laws have been weakened at the state level, and Oakland\’s attempt to pass a just-cause eviction statute failed. Some hope bans on new high rent housing will help, but this just intensifies price pressure on older, cheaper units. Building more dense urban housing helps, but takes years and most new units are built for the rich. No one is considering building enough new housing to change the market and bring prices down. Government subsidized new housing is a drop in the bucket.

Are there any other options? What have others done in similar situations? And how does class struggle over housing fit into the general struggle for revolution? In certain ways, the situation was similar in Barcelona in 1931. Their solution: a massive rent strike with direct actions to re-house anyone evicted. How many people have to get individually evicted before we realize that this isn\’t just bad luck, but a system acting simultaneously on thousands of people, and that together, it can be fought!