Days before Christmas in 2016, Karen Harvey was making plans for the holiday with her daughter when a piece of paper slid under her apartment door. It was an eviction notice.
Harvey and 200 other tenants in Philadelphia’s Penn Wynn apartment complex were told they would have to be out by March. “I was crushed. I felt like I’d been kicked in the face. The prospect of having to move in three months was overwhelming,” Harvey said. “Where was I going to get $2,400 to move?”
The owner, Cross Properties, didn’t realize that their business strategy would be a catalyst for the city’s tenant movement. While some renters found new apartments and others fought to stay, many joined the Philadelphia Tenant Union. A year later, Harvey spearheaded a successful campaign for the city’s first “good cause” eviction bill. Now, organizers and socialists show no signs of stopping, as they canvass neighborhoods in small teams to build support for rent control.
“From February to June we’re going to bang down City Council’s doors, just like we did with ‘good cause,’ until we get a rent control bill passed,” Harvey said.
There isn’t a single, organized rent control movement across America. Instead, a loose network of groups like Harvey’s are winning key fights in some of America’s biggest cities and states. They’ve won “good cause” eviction requirements for New York mobile home communities and successfully fought for rent caps in Oregon and California. Groups across the U.S. and Canada are also sharing notes. One regular monthly conference call brings together 30 different tenant unions, including groups from British Columbia, Los Angeles, Iowa and Suffolk County. And they’re pushing for major reforms in Seattle, Colorado and Illinois.