In the United States, there are 2 million units of Project Based Section 8 (PBS8) Housing. Over 55% of units are made up of BIPOC families, a majority are homes led by women, and over 90% are very low income. Their homes should be safe and decent as a result of HUD’s investment and oversight but often aren’t, severely risking tenants’ health and safety. In 2018, ProPublica declared HUD’s inspection process “pretty much a failure,” allowing “dangerous apartments filled with rats, roaches, and toxic mold” to pass. 7% of Illinois PBS8 properties failed their last HUD Inspection outright, and 28% scored 80 or less, which HUD considers an “exigent [risk] to health and safety”. Tenants may complain, but management often denies the problem, or ignores tenants outright. The state of PBS8 reflects the endemic racism in our country: in homes that are occupied predominantly by BIPOC residents, the lives of the tenants do not matter.
The Solution: TEN
In response to the ongoing harm within Project Based Section 8 Buildings, Tenant Education Network seeks to provide an antidote. Tenant Education Network (TEN) is a power building 501c3 that supports the leadership of Project Based Section 8 tenants, primarily low income women of color, to transform their housing and communities. By combining union organizing tools with innovative technology, TEN assists tenants in demystifying the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), organizing their neighbors, and holding power brokers accountable. Ultimately, these tenant associations will be able to win union contracts with their building’s owner that give them agency and create sustainable material improvements in their housing and lives. Through building tenant power, TEN brings tenants to the bargaining table to win big, legally binding changes for the long term.
With the knowledge that PBS8 HUD buildings produce many of the same problems, but also follow the same rules and regulations, we want to use this understanding to create widespread, substantial changes in these buildings. Organized tenants can successfully hold HUD officials accountable by presenting them with clear documentation of problems from as many tenants as possible. Our organizing model understands the power in clear documentation, showing numbers, and bringing as many tenants as possible to the organizing table to put pressure on the correct HUD systems.
Building relationships with tenants Tenant unions can ensure that private landlords provide safe, decent, and affordable housing. TEN fights for and wins tangible changes, such as extermination, abated mold, fixed elevators, and respectful management.
TEN’s organizing model can be replicated in local communities nationwide by scaling the infrastructure through human and technological resources–and ultimately serve as a powerful force in statewide and national elections.
The relationships and infrastructure of the tenant association can be used to organize voters around local policy issues and elections and give them a collective voice whose strength demands attention.
Most tenants lack the legal skills and resources to do so, but the process is standardized and can be automated. We are developing an app to do this.