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How To Organize

You may want to ask the staff of a local community/tenant association if they have any time to work with you. (a good place to start would be your local NAHT affiliate). Organizing staff can provide training on how to run meetings, recruit new members, raise money, get people to come to meetings, or research the problems and goals of your efforts.

To get your neighbors involved, try asking them personally to help. It is also good if the person doing the asking is someone well known and trustworthy. When you ask for help, remember to remind residents that you are a fellow tenant.

When you ask someone to do something, be very specific about what you ask. if you are asking someone to come to a meeting, tell them where the meeting is, when it is, what will happen at the meeting, who is likely to be there and how long it will last. This way, they will know what to expect.

Figure out what you think someone would be good at and what they would enjoy doing and then ask them to do it. Make people feel they are part of the group by welcoming them and by making sure they understand how their part fits in with what everyone else is doing.

Most of these things need to be done in person, a simple flyer under their door is usually not enough. There is no substitute for direct contact.

To keep people involved, be sure to hold regular meetings to make decisions, share information and progress reports, identify issues, and set goals. Contact people before meetings to make sure that they are planning to come. Let them know how important their participation is. Make sure members are included in shaping decisions about what needs to be done and who is going to do it. Keep detailed records or minutes of each meeting that derails what decisions were made and what jobs need to be done and who volunteered to do them. Distribute the minutes to all tenants so they can follow what the group is doing and hold each other accountable.

It is important for you to know that landlords and others may try to divide you. Your landlord or other people who make decisions that affect you may feel threatened by your tenant association. They may therefore try to undermine or destroy the association. Your landlord could try to destroy your tenant association by singling out a tenant leader to pick on, by trying to be friendly to some tenants and not to others, or by trying to intimidate a few of the tenants into being afraid to participate. In all cases, they hope that fear will spread among the tenant association members. Always insist on open discussions with the whole membership. when management presses you or other individuals to make a particular decision, tell them that you have to bring the question to the whole group.

Your landlord may also try to discredit your association by claiming that it does not represent the residents. Some landlords have been known to send around notices asking tenants to sign something saying that the association does not represent them.

Your landlord may threaten you, perhaps even with eviction. Make sure you consult a legal services attorney to help you counter these threats. Landlords cannot legally retaliate against your efforts to organize by issuing threats.

Sometimes the landlords’ representatives are friendly and charming. This can confuse and divide tenant members. Use that friendliness to your advantage, but never forget that those representatives are employed by the landlord and their first allegiance is to your landlord.

Finally, the landlord may try to set up its own tenant association claiming that your association doesn’t really represent the residents. HUD has issued regulations against such interference. If this problem occurs, you may want to write a letter of complaint to HUD and inform the other residents of your development that the rival association is landlord-controlled.

For tenants that live in privately-owned HUD subsidized housing developments, NAHT has won enforceable Right to Organize regulations and protections for residents.  Generally, HUD tenants have the right to organize independently of owners and management agents, and without retaliation.  Please see our tab on “Your Rights” to learn more about your rights as a HUD tenant.

If you live in Public Housing, HUD has also issued regulations addressing your rights to organize.  Please see HUD’s website for more information about the right to organize in Public and Indian Housing.

Resources for successful tenant organizing:

The Organizer’s Cookbook

Building a Tenant Group, MassLegalServices

A Short and Simple Guide to Door-Knocking

Sample Door-Knocking Rap

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