Organize, Organize, Organize! Why and How

City Life supports and encourages the formation of “tenant unions” and“resident associations” wherever possible! Simply put, when ordinary people, like ourselves, face the power of real estate money, we need to be organized. Our cooperation and solidarity, our willingness to work together toward common goals – in other words, our organizing – is the only thing that gives us power.

There are many kinds of tenant organizations. Some are made up of tenants who all live in one building or complex owned by the same landlord. Others are made up of tenants from many different buildings (with different landlords) who come together to support each other in fighting eviction or rent increase. Some tenant groups are more formal, with by-laws and elected leadership. Others are informal, operating by consensus with volunteer leadership.

In Jamaica Plain and Egleston Sq., the Campaign of Conscience for an Affordable and Diverse Community, supported by City Life and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation, has promoted all of these forms of organizing. Some buildings have their own tenant associations. In other buildings, only individuals are active. These individuals as well as some of the tenant associations come together every 3-4 weeks in neighborhood meetings. In these meetings, we talk about legal rights and we plan actions about how, together, we can protect all of our homes.

You don’t have to have any legal documentation (of residency or anything else) to form a tenant organization. You just start acting like one. The important thing is that residents support each other.

Your right to organize is protected under the law! It is illegal for your landlord or anyone else to act in retaliation (by threatening you, trying to evict you or anything else) for joining a tenant association.

What are the benefits of Tenant Associations?

  • Know Your Rights – In tenant meetings you can learn about the legal rights you have as a tenant
  • Social Support – It’s hard to face eviction or rent increases alone. When you are organized, you get the social support you need to use your legal rights
  • Collective Bargaining – This phrase is commonly associated with labor unions. Tenants should know what labor unions have long known – “don’t bargain individually!” When you bargain collectively (as a group) you are stronger.
  • Getting Public Support – The movement to protect our homes is a fight for justice. It isn’t just a legal struggle. That’s why we need public support. It is easier to get that – including media attention – when you’re organized.
  • Developing Common Strategy – Sometimes, we need to hold rallies or demonstrations to defend our homes. Obviously, this cannot be done alone.
  • Influencing Government – Government policies, regulations, and money often have a big impact on what we are able to do and how far we are able to get in the struggle to defend our homes. Pooling our resources and our energy in tenant organizations and coalitions, we are able to better access these resources.


City Life and other grassroots organizations have seen, over and over again, how tenant organizing can produce victories that many people thought were impossible. And in every case, organizing produces results that are always better than going-it-alone!