This past summer was been a roller-coaster ride for affordable housing activists in New York. Despite a fight over the renewal of state rent regulations that ended in an unsatisfying stalemate between landlords and renter advocates, activists won an unprecedented rent freeze for all rent-stabilized apartments with one-year leases in New York City from Mayor de Blasio’s Rental Guidelines Board just one week later, raising hopes for future victories.
But one group of organizers, based in the rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights, sees better prospects for change outside of the developer-friendly state capital. They›ve decided that the problem with affordable housing is not necessarily that tenant laws aren›t strong enough—New York has some of the strongest housing regulations in the country—it›s that tenants lack the power to ensure that the law is enforced. The Crown Heights Tenant Union (CHTU, crownheightstenantunion.org) is exactly what its name implies—a union in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights based around an organizing model adapted from the labor movement. Instead of depending on unreliable government officials to defend them, CHTU has decided to push for collective bargaining agreements between tenants and landlords that would write protections for tenants directly into the deeds of rented buildings.
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