rhino!UP News December 2020

What tenant advocates can learn from the 2020 Elections December 6, 2020

Building power to make systemic change starts at the grassroots. Where housing activists were mobilizing in the months leading up to the election, progressive advocates won. At the City Level, Progressives Flex New Power observes: "These political newcomers...reflect a generation that grew up watching Democratic leaders from Bill Clinton’s “big government is over” school of politics try to solve massive social problems with small fixes and slight shifts; now, they are loudly asking why government can’t do more."

  • Oakland’s Moms 4 Housing activist beats incumbent for city council seat."When activist Carroll Fife choreographed homeless mothers and their kids taking over an empty house in West Oakland to spotlight the city’s housing crisis, it drew international coverage."

  • Cori Bush brought a lifetime of activism to overcome entrenched politicians and head to Congress. When asked by a reporter what comment sticks in her mind from the campaign, she said "Oh, wow. Well, someone said to me, 'I see me in you.' And this was someone I had never met. A young Black woman. And that meant everything to me. Because that’s what this is supposed to be. Because I’m taking St. Louis to Congress, not Cori."

  • Stacey Abrams, after loosing her fight for Governor in Georgia, didn't seek a different elected position or a cushy political appointment. Instead she built an interracial network of groups seeking electoral reform that brought the state to President-elect Biden and put Georgia in "control" of the US Senate through the run off process. The conservative Washington Times says: "The sting of her loss, and her refusal to concede, kept activists locked in, and, in turn, not only helped Mr. Biden win the state but also helped force a pair of Senate runoff races early next year that will shape national politics for years to come."

That's the power of organizing.

Alas, it seems like Ohio politicians and advocates have foresaken the grass-routes to electoral success in favor of the "inside game." Too many pols have succumbed to voter management rather than citizen empowerment.

In the article Why Democrats Keep Losing Rural Counties Like Mine, Bill Hogseth says "...I’ve come to believe it is because the national Democratic Party has not offered rural voters a clear vision that speaks to their lived experiences. The pain and struggle in my community is real, yet rural people do not feel it is taken seriously by the Democratic Party." And British pundit, Paul Mason observes "By waging war against the grassroots, the Democratic National Committee reduced itself to a vote-management machine." Even more here.

Here are some lessons for housing advocates.

1. Advocates need to support organizers. On a recent webinar sponsored by Housing Justice Networks, the legal service presenters told their peers that tenants organizations make group advocacy possible. Every social service agency, legal service program, and policy think-tank should have a paid organizer "on tap" to support their core mission with grassroots populism.

2. Organizers will find and promote leaders who can speak with an authentic voice to the real life of ordinary citizens. Today's new leaders like Carroll, Cori and Stacey honed their skills in small groups in church basements and in confrontations with establishment powers. Grassroots people always know what they want, but don't always know how to get it.

3. "Voter management" is just another form of voter suppression. When non-voters hear you speaking about their lives in their voices, they will vote for a change.


  • December 22, 2020. Shelterforce. How Radical Housing Activism Becomes Lasting Change. "Moms 4 Housing and LA Reclaimers have proven that successful grassroots organizing can turn headline-grabbing occupations into long-term affordable housing."

  • Remember Moms4Housing? December 8, 2021. Attorney General Bonta Announces Judgment Against Real Estate Investment Company for Unlawfully Evicting Tenants from Foreclosed Properties. "California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced a $3.5 million judgment against Wedgewood, a Los Angeles county-based real estate investment company, resolving allegations that Wedgewood unlawfully evicted tenants from properties purchased at foreclosure sales. Wedgewood is a prominent player in residential foreclosures in California, buying, refurbishing, and selling foreclosed properties at a profit. In order to resell the properties quickly, Wedgewood removes any existing tenants and is alleged to have used a variety of unlawful and harassing tactics to accomplish this goal. Today's judgment will substantially reform Wedgewood's business model to ensure that tenants of Wedgewood-purchased properties are afforded full rights and protections under federal, state, and local laws."

Climate change-housing is part of the problem and the solution. December 13, 2020.

For the last (scheduled) issue of the momentous year 2020, rhino!UP examines how climate change will increasingly affect Ohio renters over the next decade. For many of us, a 20-20 vision has meant waking up to the harsh reality that our climate is changing rapidly.

Fire. Ohio's been lucky that our forests are mostly gone, but the state is increasingly at risk of uncontrolled brush fires in dry weather. Did you know there's a statewide ban on open burning?

Severe storms and flash flooding. Unseasonal tornados, derechos, and microbursts have been frequent guests in Ohio communities lately. Flash flooding puts many low income housing options in jeopardy. Manufactured home parks and HUD assisted units are often sited in the least desirable locations.

Extreme heat. Rising air temperatures not only raise cooling costs, heat can contribute to social unrest. The expression "long hot summer" referring to urban unrest isn't just a metaphor. Urban heat islands are directly related to historic discrimination. If you are a Clevelander, just drive down East 105 from University Circle to St. Clair Avenue. As you pass the VA hospital, the temperature around you goes up by 10F. In the summer, that's around 100F on a "normal" day.

When most people think of carbon emissions, they think of gas-guzzlers. Look again. Housing is a big part of the climate change problem. An article in Curbed identifies buildings as contributing 28% of all greenhouse emissions from heating and cooling and another 11% of total greenhouse emissions in the manufacturing of building materials and the process of construction

Reducing housing's carbon footprint could be part of the climate solution. The Green New Deal for Public Housing (GNDFPH), sponsored by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Bernie Sanders, is a blueprint for using Federally assisted housing to reduce housing's carbon footprint. President-elect Biden is unlikely to have the votes to enact this kind of sweeping reform, but elements of the big plan could be enacted in bite-sized portions beginning immediately.

Former President Obama's Green Retrofit Program in 2019 is an "off the shelf" example of a successful program. Maybe a version of Green Retrofit and new requirements for new construction could be a part of a bi-partisan infrastructure stimulus program early next year.

A gap in the GNDFPH is housing vouchers. President-elect Biden has pledged to expand the housing voucher program for all eligible households. But putting new energy requirements on prospective landlords will provoke Congressional resistance. Using incentives instead of a mandate could provide a solution that will improve tenant health and reduce housing's impact on climate without provoking so much resistance.

Another part of the GNDFPH is jobs for tenants. Contractors who are retrofitting HUD properties can be required to offer jobs and training to existing residents of public housing units. That's already the law, but local advocacy can make sure that is a reality.

Tenants can also participate in fighting climate change by being smart homeseekers.

  • Ask for utility information and energy saving features before signing a lease.

  • Seek a location near public transit and away from heat islands.

Learn how simple energy conservation techniques can save money...and the planet.

Footnotes to rhino!UP on Climate Change

  • 01.07.2021 Wired. Climate Change Is Turning Cities Into Ovens. "His team’s model suggests that hotter cities could be catastrophic for urban public health, which is already suffering from the effects of increasing heat. Between 2000 and 2016, according to the World Health Organization, the number of people exposed to heat waves jumped by 125 million, and extreme heat claimed more than 166,000 lives between 1998 and 2017. And while at the moment half the world’s population lives in urban areas, that proportion is expected to rise to 70 percent by 2050, according to the authors of this new paper. People in search of economic opportunity are unknowingly rushing into peril."

  • JANUARY 21, 2021. Next City. A Florida Study Showed How to Save Energy at Home. Why Aren’t More Cities and States Following Suit? " "'In the early 1990s, myself and another researcher had this idea,” Parker recalls. “The goal of this program was to measure how much energy homes could save by investing in shallow or deep retrofits. By encouraging homeowners to invest in energy retrofits, FSEC hoped to demonstrate that not only could energy retrofits save money and energy, but that they could be done affordably at scale. While more affluent homeowners could always afford energy retrofits, those with less means would often be left without the benefit of energy savings. The scale of FSEC’s experiment — still yet to be replicated — could demonstrate the accessibility of energy retrofits for all Floridians." Which RHINO members will take the energy savings initiative in their communities.

  • January 29, 2021. Belt Magazine. How Racism Makes the Weather in Cleveland (and Elsewhere) "A 2020 study found that formerly redlined neighborhoods are hotter than other areas in the same city. Here’s why." Thanks to PhilS for sharing.

  • February 22, 2021. NPR. A Looming Disaster: New Data Reveal Where Flood Damage Is An Existential Threat. "More than 4 million houses and small apartment buildings across the contiguous U.S. have substantial risk of expensive flood damage, according to data released by the First Street Foundation, a non-profit research organization that studies flood risk and housing. The cost of flood damage to homes nationwide will increase by more than 50% in the next 30 years, the First Street Foundation estimates."