The rent’s too high in San Diego

May 26, 2016

Avery Wear reports on a rent strike that is raising larger issues about gentrification.

SOME 60 tenants of a large, run-down apartment complex in the Linda Vista neighborhood of San Diego marched alongside supporters on May 18. Carrying signs reading "No mas aumentos de renta" (No more rent increases), "Rent control now" and "No gentrification," the marchers kicked off the first day of their rent strike.

They called the strike because of dramatic rent increases. Tenant Rocio Rojas, who has lived at the complex for 26 years, said, "They raised the rents by $500 all at once...They want to kick us out because they don't like Latinos."

Rojas said that one-bedroom units went from approximately $1,500 a month to $2,000 a month, overnight. The large complex, which Rojas said has severe problems with a roach infestation as well, is exorbitantly priced in the local market. Another problem is that many tenants have been burdened with arbitrary and unfair fees.

The rent strikers have enlisted allies in Tenants Together, a grassroots group fighting against slumlords and for rent control, and the nonprofit Center for Social Advocacy. Many of the tenants are indigenous people from Southern Mexico with experience in self-organization. Rojas said she and others had successfully organized around neighborhood demands some years ago.

Residents of Concord, California, participate in a Tenants Together protest
Residents of Concord, California, participate in a Tenants Together protest (Tenants Together)

The strikers are demanding an end to rent increases. Their struggle comes amid years of soaring rents in San Diego, making it one of the most expensive U.S. cities to live in. Tenants Together aims to amplify the strikers' demands by connecting their struggle to other tenant struggles and the fledgling calls for rent control.

After snaking through the complex, the march entered the on-site management office. Tense arguments, captured by local Spanish television, ensued. Strike representatives then talked with management staff behind closed doors.

When Rafael Bautista announced to the group that management had agreed to "work out" individual complaints of unfair fees, one tenant shouted, "They're lying!" Marchers then insisted on speaking to management as a group. Ultimately, protesters pressed management to attend the next organizing meeting to move toward a collective and binding resolution--an important counter-move to management's attempt to steer the situation toward isolating one-on-one meetings.

Withholding rent as a group gives the strikers real leverage. If they stay unified, reach out to more tenants, and fearlessly call attention to the appalling housing conditions they live in, they can build power.

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