You Can’t Evict a Movement: Strategies for Housing Justice in the United States

You Can't EvictIntroduction

This round­table on hous­ing strug­gles is Viewpoint’s inau­gu­ral “move­ment inquiry” fea­ture, in which we ask peo­ple across the United States to share orga­niz­ing expe­ri­ences so that local lessons can be bridged towards more regional, national, and inter­na­tional strate­gies. With this resource, we encour­age rad­i­cals to make time to reflect, regroup, and more widely cir­cu­late our work. We hope that as these sto­ries are shared, new con­nec­tions will be made, and that a larger strug­gle for our cities’ futures can be waged.

It seems that every week there are new, ever more dire, sta­tis­tics about how unaf­ford­able urban cen­ters in the United States have become for the multi-eth­nic work­ing and workless poor, and how quickly these cities are being forced to suit the whims of the wealthy. The vio­lence of these changes rever­ber­ates and affects edu­ca­tion, health, home­less­ness, police bru­tal­ity, and unem­ploy­ment. As neolib­eral gen­tri­fi­ca­tion accel­er­ates to out­ra­geous lev­els, we focus on three epi­cen­ters of hous­ing strug­gles – the Bay Area, Chicago, and New York City – as well as a national hous­ing rights alliance, to share emerg­ing and long-term strate­gies of resis­tance. In doing so, we intend to amplify a national con­ver­sa­tion about how to com­bat the dis­place­ment, inequal­ity, and vio­lence that con­sti­tute gen­tri­fi­ca­tion.

These seven orga­ni­za­tions shared reports with us:

In the Bay Area, the Anti-Evic­tion Map­ping Project and the San Fran­cisco Ten­ants Union have been cen­tral to strug­gles both recent and decades-long. The Anti-Evic­tion Map­ping Project uses rad­i­cal map­ping, data visu­al­iza­tions, and oral his­tory to doc­u­ment the dis­pos­ses­sion and polit­i­cal eco­nomic land­scape of Tech Boom 2.0 in the Bay Area. For over 45 years, the San Fran­cisco Ten­ants Union has pro­vided invalu­able ten­ant coun­sel­ing and orga­niz­ing, while help­ing to write and affect hous­ing pol­icy in San Fran­cisco, using a model that is entirely mem­ber-funded. Since the rise of neolib­eral urban poli­cies in the 1980s, the Bay Area has become a ground zero of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and resis­tance, where long­stand­ing claims to the right to trans­form pub­lic space have given rise to some of the most cre­ative direct actions.

In Chicago, Cen­tro Autónomo, linked with the Mex­ico Sol­i­dar­ity Net­work, opened a com­mu­nity cen­ter in Sep­tem­ber 2006 in the Albany Park neigh­bor­hood that “con­structs com­mu­nity, builds polit­i­cal con­scious­ness, and unites peo­ple in and around the Latin@ immi­grant strug­gle.” The Chicago Anti-Evic­tion Cam­paign, founded in 2009 by South Side Chicago res­i­dents and stu­dents, has trans­formed dozens of aban­doned prop­er­ties, in order to move “home­less peo­ple into peo­ple-less homes.” Both of these groups have helped shape a larger strug­gle over the future of Chicago amidst Rahm Emanuel’s con­tro­ver­sial 2-term may­oral tenure (2011-present), the 2012 Chicago Teach­ers Union momen­tous strike, and ram­pant police vio­lence that has endured for decades.

In New York City, the Crown Heights Ten­ant Union was founded in sum­mer 2013 by long­time neigh­bor­hood res­i­dents, Occupy Wall Street par­tic­i­pants, Urban Home­steading Assis­tance Board [UHAB] orga­niz­ers, and the Crown Heights gen­eral assem­bly to build ten­ant power and fight the cycle of dis­place­ment in Crown Heights, Brook­lyn. One year later, anar­chists at the Base in Bush­wick, Brook­lyn, cre­ated the mag­a­zine Rent is Theft to “chal­lenge con­ven­tional wis­dom about rent and hous­ing, and attack the prob­lem from a rad­i­cal per­spec­tive.” Steeped in his­to­ries of squat­ting, ten­e­ments’ reforms, and evic­tion resis­tance, New York City now suf­fers a rapid displacement/development cycle, and in June 2015 under­went changes in rent reg­u­la­tions that may sig­nal a slow ero­sion in ten­ants’ rights.

Nation­wide, Right to the City was formed in Jan­u­ary 2007 as an alliance of eco­nomic, racial, and envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice orga­ni­za­tions, and has devel­oped a net­work with 57 groups across 22 cities to “halt the dis­place­ment of low-income peo­ple, peo­ple of color, mar­gin­al­ized LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ties, and youths of color from their his­toric urban neigh­bor­hoods.” Through their work, we see the con­tours of what a national move­ment for hous­ing jus­tice can look like.

View­point envi­sions this round­table as a begin­ning, not an end. We wel­come your ideas, feed­back, cri­tiques, as well as your sup­port in shar­ing this resource with friends and neigh­bors, in work­places and orga­niz­ing meet­ings, at ral­lies and direct actions, and beyond. We are eager to work with orga­niz­ers to col­lec­tively cre­ate future round­ta­bles on the strug­gles unfold­ing today – Black and Brown lib­er­a­tion, cli­mate jus­tice, edu­ca­tion, fem­i­nism, LGBT power, youth-led migrant strug­gles, and in trans­porta­tion, logis­tics, and the work­places of retail and ser­vice work­ers, to name just a few. To get involved, please email us at

- Conor and Man­issa 

(Bay Area, Cal­i­for­nia)

by Erin McEl­roy and Karyn Smoot
BANNER1“Not only do we gather sto­ries of those who have been evicted, but we also include sto­ries of those impacted by gen­tri­fi­ca­tion in other ways, such as through police vio­lence, increased racial pro­fil­ing, and immi­gra­tion strug­gles.”

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SAN FRANCISCO TENANTS UNION (San Fran­cisco, Cal­i­for­nia)
by Andrew Szeto
sftu-logo-with-fist-2“San Fran­cisco, long cham­pi­oned for its ‘diver­sity’ and ‘mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism,’ is fac­ing height­ened class war­fare, within which the right to hous­ing has been at the front. And it is the city’s Black and Latina/o pop­u­la­tion that is most directly affected by racial capitalism’s destruc­tion.”

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CENTRO AUTÓNOMO (Chicago, Illi­nois)
by Bar­bara Suárez Galeano, Anto­nio Gutier­rez, Ale­jan­dro Monzón
screen-shot-2012-03-16-at-12-45-37-pm“We see land as some­thing that should not be a com­mod­ity. Hav­ing a dig­ni­fied home is a human right that needs to be rec­og­nized and enforced so as to ensure that we do not con­tinue to vic­tim­ize and bru­tal­ize the lives and liveli­hood of many in defense of a lim­ited few. The goal is to take land and hous­ing off the mar­ket.”

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75974_388082704614281_428973136_n“Direct action is at the core of our focus on enforc­ing human rights. We rely on the power of being based in the com­mu­nity. If the bank puts a fam­ily out, we rally the neigh­bors to put them back in their home. If a bank leaves a home vacant, we work with the neigh­bors to turn it into a home for a home­less fam­ily.”

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(Brook­lyn, New York)

by Nather­lene Bolden, Joel Fein­gold, Este­ban Girón, & Donna Moss­man, for the CHTU Orga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee
tumblr_inline_nmytdseuGy1ragngr_500“The cycle of dis­place­ment and over­charge is a cycle of exploita­tion: land­lords and bro­kers force out the Black and work­ing-class com­mu­ni­ties that have built up this neigh­bor­hood for gen­er­a­tions. The same land­lords and bro­kers then bring in new ten­ants, who they ille­gally over­charge.”

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RENT IS THEFT (Brook­lyn, New York)
rent-is-theft“The goal was to provide a con­tem­po­rary, rev­o­lu­tion­ary anar­chist per­spec­tive on gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and resis­tance against it. Our core mes­sage was that the cause of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion was not the indi­vid­ual con­sumers in the mar­ket (hip­sters, trans­plants, yup­pies, etc.), but cap­i­tal­ism itself, and those who hold power in the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem.”

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by Lenina Nadal
rttc_logo.jpglhn8ep“Often­times, orga­ni­za­tions put polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion last. The pri­or­ity is mobi­liz­ing the base around the pol­icy fight… And because we are so busy try­ing to fig­ure out how to get abuelita to the meet­ing, we may not have time to think through the role of neolib­eral urban devel­op­ment in the plan­ning of cities.”

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Thanks to the hard work of Alma Shep­pard-Mat­suo, we have two pam­phlet ver­sions of this round­table that you can down­load. The first is a PDF designed for your read­ing on an elec­tronic device. The sec­ond is for­mat­ted to print dou­ble-sided on 11in x 8.5in paper, then folded in half as a book­let

Authors of the article

is an archivist, doctoral student, educator, and organizer at the City University of New York, a collective member of Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative, and a co-founding participant in the Free University of New York City. Conor researches twentieth and twenty first-century literatures of social movements and urban freedom schools, and will be a 2016-2017 Scholar-in-Residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

is a doctoral candidate in the Anthropology Department at the City University of New York, Graduate Center. Her research focuses on struggles over urban space, gentrification and contemporary social movements in the United States. She has organized with a few of the groups featured here and was the co-director of the Narratives of Displacement Project.

is an illustrator, teacher, and community artist based in Brooklyn, NY. She has created visual art and puppetry with groups like Bread & Puppet Theater, Great Small Works, Free University-NYC, and the War Resisters League. You can find her work and contact info on her website or tumblr.