As high demand and low supply pushes rental prices higher and higher, a Pittsburgh community development organization is launching a citywide tenants union, Newsworks reports.
“For the last 15 years, I’ve been trying to organize residents to stand up and have a voice in this city. The city of Pittsburgh is in a complete housing crisis,” says Ronell Guy, executive director of The Northside Coalition for Fair Housing.
Tenants can wait years for affordable housing units, she continued. While construction and rental rates are booming, the majority are out of reach to the average American renter. Half of renters nationwide make less than $34,000, making fewer than 10 percent of new units affordable.
The Pittsburgh Tenants Union will work to educate renters about their rights, both advocating for individuals and supporting smaller tenants unions. “We want to really build power in these local properties and then come together,” says Guy.
Informing renters of their rights isn’t always easy. “They don’t seem to think they have a stake,” Allentown Tenant Association Vice President Ken Heffentrager told Newsworks. His union has shied away from the term “transient” in recent years, recognizing that it can make renters feel like they are not a vital part of the city.
And according to Guy, they absolutely are. “We get the properties into the hands of people that want them to thrive … which stabilizes neighborhoods,” she says. The Pittsburgh Tenants Union has approximately 100 new members, and is in the process of identifying goals for the organization moving forward.
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.