Labor groups are not the only ones organizing for collective action in Fresno. Nonprofit Faith in the Valley, a group of renters and housing advocates have started the Fresno Tenants Union – the first union of renters in the city.
The Fresno Tenants Union held a kickoff event Wednesday at the Downtown Fresno Cultural Arts District Park.
Tenant unions have been formed in cities across California, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento – and there is even a statewide tenant union called Tenants Together. They can be specific to renters of a particular building or, as in the case for the Fresno Tenants Union, to any renter in the city of Fresno.
“In a way, it’s similar to a labor union, in that it gives us bargaining power because we create, basically, a voting bloc,” Amber Crowell, researcher for Faith in the Valley, said.
Crowell said the union can “harness the power” of a collective in a way that interest groups like developers and landlords already make use of.
Alexandra Alvarado, a housing organizer with Faith in the Valley, said the nonprofit organization began opening up a space for renters to talk about the need for safe, affordable housing. Those meetings became the foundation for creating a collective of renters which advocates for tenants’ rights and seeks to hold officials accountable.
Alvarado and Crowell said many community members have shared their experiences and concerns with city council members and other elected leaders but feel that not enough is being done.
“We just want to make sure that every voice of the renters is being heard and is being represented by a base of people, because we know that, as one, it’s hard to be heard,” Alvarado said. “But as many, with a shared value and vision, we can help transform the city into a place where everyone can thrive.”
The Fresno Tenants Union is still in its early stages and has not created bylaws or developed a fee structure. Crowell said the organization is still working out how to charge for dues equitably.
“It needs to be something that’s equitable, because the whole reason we’re doing this is because folks can’t afford housing. So we’re not going to put another financial burden,” Crowell said.
Crowell and Alvarado said many housing advocates have already campaigned around policies like rent control, right to counsel and community land trusts and will continue to do so through the new union.
“It’s been a long time coming that we do something like this,” Crowell said. “And we just want to make sure that renters out there know, ‘You’re not alone. I know it feels lonely. You’re not alone.’”