Building and Strengthening Tenant Action
Buscando Acción y Solidaridad Que Transforme el Arrendamiento
“We want to take Fairway back. We want to make it into a community where people are proud of it.”
Jose, Tenant Leader
Jose is a leader for the Fairway Village Tenants Association. We're sending him to the upcoming National Alliance of HUD Tenants Conference where he can connect with other tenant leaders across the nation and gain resources to further advocate for his community.
In 2014, Jose moved into the Fairway Village Apartments for the second time. His family was one of the apartments first tenants when they opened in 1970, and although they moved into another home sometime after, Jose has called Montopolis home ever since.
Jose first began organizing with the Fairway Village TA because he felt a duty to his community and wanted to help change the many problems at Fairway. “I said I live here, I need to get involved.” The front gate of the property does not close. To Jose, this had led to safety hazards, like non-tenants who loiter, park dead cars in the parking lot, and leave old furniture stacked around the garbage every weekend. Not to mention the lack of both handicapped parking signs and communication from management. He says the Fairway TA is focused on getting everyone’s issues to the table so they can be heard, “We try to keep everybody updates to what’s going on...If you have a problem and they [mgmt] don’t want to take care of it, let us know and we’ll go in with you and try to talk to them.”
In the last year, however, Jose has stepped up in addressing the displacement of many renters. Due to miscalculations, some tenants have been receiving Notices to Vacate from the management office. “Somebody has something wrong with their apartment for six months, but if they’re two days late with rent they get an eviction notice.”Jose has been receiving notices like this since early 2015, and constantly had to prove to management that he does not owe them money through his meticulously kept records- as a former accountant, he knew the value of keeping a paper trail, “All these years I’ve been going into the office like eight or ten times a year to try and explain, ‘ I don’t owe you.’” Jose sought legal counsel from TRLA when things escalated, and decided to step up when he considered the magnitude of management’s error on the Fairway community, “I’m gonna get more involved with them [the TA] because if it happens to me, I know it’s happening to everyone."
Now, Jose is planning for the future of the Fairway Village TA by preparing to expand the steering committee and develop other tenant leaders. “We have a chance for the tenants association to get bigger.” In addition, the Fairway TA is advocating for after school and community programs to keep the many families on property engaged.
“We’re basically trying to get it to where we can work mutually, together. We want to work with Travis Park to get them to have a healthy community where people are respected.”
Athanasia, Tenant Leader
The Heroes of Travis Park Apartments Tenants Association (TA) represent the concerns of the diverse body of tenants who call Travis Park home. Athanasia is a steering committee member and a Hero to the many neighbors whose rights she stands up for.
When the Heroes began organizing with BASTA in the fall of 2017, Athanasia and her neighbors were focused on getting overdue repairs to their homes. “We would send in these maintenance requests over and over and over again. For like three years I tried to get my cabinets removed, and they were like all rotted out and moldy inside, I couldn't put any dishes in there. There’s no way to clean a rotten cabinet.” In their first major action as a TA, the Heroes collected more than 30 written repair requests from neighbors to be submitted to management. Athanasia's hazardous cabinets were finally removed! “Within the first month of joining BASTA they took the cabinets out.”
“It's important to be active and support your community - everybody deserves to have a healthy place for their families.”
Many of her neighbors have not been so lucky. Although the Heroes sent their repair requests in writing via certified mail, the management has ignored and disregarded some of the tenant’s requests. Furthermore, they have been unwilling to meet with the Heroes as a group or recognize them as a TA, “Anytime we’ve tried to approach them to get a dialogue going, it’s been met with hostility. Just when we think, ‘maybe they’re changing and they’re gonna try to work with us,’ then they do something hostile again.”
Despite the challenges with management, Athanasia is doing her part to keep her neighbors engaged and fighting for their rights. As a resident of Travis Park, she faces the same anxieties that keep other tenants from organizing for better homes, “I can understand why there’s a lot of fear for tenants who are afraid to rock the boat and basically exercise their rights. When someone has control over a situation in your life that you would be homeless otherwise, you would tend to back down when someone comes for you in such a cruel and demeaning way.” Still, this tenant leader is focused on the bigger picture, even as issues in her own apartment have subsided, “Whether or not I have issues that need to be fixed, I still know that someone has to be there to attend the meetings for the people who are not getting stuff fixed in their apartments."
The Heroes have a full plate of issues to address, but their top priority is creating a cooperative and respectful relationship with management. They believe that opening a dialogue about their concerns will give way to collaborative solutions that benefit everyone at Travis Park. Until management opens the door for this relationship, the tenants will continue to be their own Heroes. “I think that management should get used to us, we’re really a benefit to them and we’re not gonna go away. We live here.”
We're sending Heroes like Athanasia to upcoming conferences so they can continue advocating for the rights of renters across Austin- but we need your help! Donate at youcaring.org/BASTA and help create real change.
“We’ve invested a lot of work to try and make changes. Fighting for people’s rights and letting people know what their rights are.”
Nicci, Tenant Leader
Nicci is a tenant leader at Fairway Village Apartments and has lived on the property for over 15 years. She is a leader in her community, organizing for healthier and decent homes.
Residents argue that there isn’t anything fair about Fairway Village, and leaders like Nicci are stepping up to change that. To Nicci, it all starts with knowing your rights, because many tenants aren’t aware of the protections extended to them. She’s built a wealth of renters' rights knowledge, and now her neighbors look to her as a resource. “They’ll come up to me and say, ‘Hey, you’re a part of the tenant association. This is what I’ve got going on, what can I do about it?”
"Since we've formed the tenant association, I feel like more people are actually seeking help."
When the tenant association formed in late 2016, Nicci stood up to protect her and the tenants association's right to organize after the property manager called the police and had criminal trespassing notices issued on BASTA organizers. Nicci and other leaders acted fast and circulated a petition demanding the trespass notices be dropped and the community room be opened up for tenants, "We literally got them [over 100 signatures] in one weekend and we were able to show that it was more than just us who wanted the criminal trespassing notices dropped." As a result, the trespass notices were dropped, the community room was opened up and their rights to organize were protected. ”It was a good feeling- you feel accomplished."
One of the biggest issues the tenants association has tackled was that tenants were receiving notices to vacate for back rent that many tenants did not actually owe. Nicci and the tenants association connected tenants with legal services to help them keep their housing. The tenants association successfully helped over a dozen tenants fight unjust notices to vacate.
When the TA learned that Fairway would be sold, the tenants met with the prospective buyer to ensure that their concerns would be addressed. ”We covered a lof of ground, but there is so much more that needs to be done... We’re looking to get a hold of the new owners and get a timeline of what they plan on doing and when they start.“
Nicci wants to take things one step further. She has the opportunity to attend upcoming conferences, like the tenant-led National Allianance of HUD Tenants (NAHT) conference this summer! In addition to networking and building national renter-solidarity, Nicci is focused on two things: 1. Gaining knowledge and 2. Giving knowledge to better her community!
Support BASTA Tenant Leaders like Nicci by donating to our conference fundraiser!
Check out youcaring.org/BASTA to donate today!
“We will keep working to improve our community and are excited to build an open and
productive relationship with the new owner.”
Dao, Tenant Leader
Dao is a tenant leader of the Santa Maria Village Tenants Association (TA) and helps with outreach to the Vietnamese Community.
“Santa Maria Village Apartments is a large diverse community of 176 households. Residents speak English, Spanish, and Vietnamese and our meetings are conducted in all three languages.”
is what makes us strong"
“Most of my vietnamese community don’t speak English and they ask me to represent them.” Dao notes that even management recognized the need for support, “The current manager whenever they come into the office, she says,’ Go to Dao’s apartment and get her to come translate.” Although she is more than happy to step up for her neighbors, Dao believes that management should take responsibility for making themselves language accessible - and Texas Housing Foundation agrees! Thanks to the petition that Dao helped circulate, THF has promised to provide written request documents in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese and endeavor to hire staff that can communicate with tenants in three languages!
"Im glad to be
Until the tenant association began organizing, neighbors who spoke different languages had little interaction. Despite facing similar problems, linguistic barriers keps tenants separate. Dao has been key in involving the Vietnamese community into the TA so that it may better represent the concerns of the tenant body at Santa Maria Village (SMV).
Ahead of the sale of SMV to Texas Housing Foundation (THF), the TA organized a petition to request that THF make long-standing and overdue repairs and maintenance updates. With Dao’s help, the TA collected over 110 signatures at SMV!
In any language, Dao says the tenants agree that their homes need serious attention. “Everybody knows that there are problems on the property. I don’t have to convince them and push them, because it’s the truth.”
Tenant Leaders like Dao support tenant justice and sustain inclusive spaces across Austin. Find out how you can support renters like Dao at youcaring.org/basta
"Two months ago, if I needed something fixed, I'd send in a request but mostly just grin and bear it."
Lanell, Tenant Leader
Lanell is a leader of the Santa Maria Village Tenants Association (TA) which began organizing with BASTA to campaign for overdue repairs and property mainttenance issues. Lanell talked with us
about life before organizing, working with her neighbors, and the next steps for the Santa Maria Village Tenants Association in our first BASTA Tenant Profile.
Intro to Organizing
Lanell has lived at Santa Maria Village Apartments for over 40 years, but before organizing, she says not much had changed. “Before, no repairs getting done and if there was repairs, they weren’t done right. Just all Kinds of problems, heating, air-condition, bad management.”
Fear of retaliation from management and a lack of resources kept many tenants from pushing for overdue repairs that continue to affect their health and safety. Now, the tenants are organized and Lanell is excited about their potential. "We’re really doing a lot of things that we didn't think we could do.”
“I’m really shy. I’m getting out there now because I was afraid to do anything, I didn’t want to rock the boat basically.” As a tenant leader on the TA Steering Committee, once-shy Lanell isn’t just rocking the boat, she’s helping steer the ship. Now, Lanell and other tenant leaders help develop strategy based on the tenant associations common concerns, represent the TA to external groups, and keep the tenants updated on the associations actions, “They’ll stop me like during the day when I’m going to get my mail, and they’ll stop me and ask questions about BASTA.”
Moving Forward Together
"We all got together and everyone spoke of their concerns and what they wanted. That's how we got started.
Lanell and other tenant leaders recently spoke in support of the sale of Santa Maria Village to new owner Texas Housing Foundation (THF) after securing committments from THF to make overdue repairs and property maintenance updates. These committments were a major win for the tenants, but Lanell notes that they need to continue organizing to see the promises through, “I think the priority would be mold. There's mold everywhere, I've got it in my house."
We're raising funds to send tenant leaders like Lanell to upcoming national conferences where they can network and develop their skills. Donate today at youcaring.org/BASTA to contribute to the Austin renter movement.
BASTA is a non-profit project dedicated to helping Austin renters work together to improve the conditions of their homes and communities.