“What do we want? Rent control! When do we want it? Now!” echoed in the streets of downtown Atlanta in the early afternoon of April 2, as more than 100 protesters marched from Woodruff Park to the steps of the Georgia State Capitol.
The rally marks a new stage for the movement for housing justice in Atlanta. The demand for remand control — cap on rents — is emerging as the core demand among those building momentum in the fight for housing for all. Rent control has remained in the discourse of progressives fighting for affordable housing for many years now, but there is now a burgeoning movement in town that is raising it as an explicit demand.
The rally was organized by the Atlanta-based grassroots tenant rights organization Housing Justice League and was co-sponsored by a broad range of progressive organizations, such as the Cobb County Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Women on the Rise, American Friends Service Committee, Party for Socialism and Liberation, ANSWER Coalition and more.
Banners in the procession on the streets read, “Rents are rising like the tides — Atlanta needs relief,” “Not 1 More Eviction,” and “Rent Control Now!” Protesters held signs high that read, “Housing is a human right,” “Money for housing, not for endless war,” and “GA: repeal the ban on rent control.”
Alison Johnson, Executive Director of Housing Justice League, declared on the steps of the capitol building: “All people must have the fundamental right to housing. We are talking about the dignity of the people. We want our dignity, we want housing.” Speaking to the rule of housing developers and corporations over the politicians, she added, “There is a great imbalance of power in the state. We are here to change that.”
The rally was a call to action to all working-class organizations and people to unite and fight for specific demands in this moment. The demand for the Georgia state legislature to lift the the statewide ban on rent control is a logical next step for the housing movement to take in a city where rents are rising at an atrocious rate. In the previous weeks, the PSL chapter in Atlanta launched The People’s Resolution demanding the same.
Other demands being pushed by HJL include passing a Tenants Bill of Rights and for the city and state to adopt laws to curb corporations’ ability to buy large amounts of property.
Veteran tenant activist Bertha Darden of Atlanta Residents Intent on Stopping Eminent Domain was in attendance and led a protest song that all joined in chorus. Darden is a leader among residents of the Peoplestown neighborhood in Atlanta, who over the past decade have been resisting the use of eminent domain to gentrify and displace longtime Black residents.
The housing crisis in Atlanta is not unique to Atlanta. The whole country is seeing a housing crisis not because there is not enough housing, but because of a system that protects the interests of the big landlords and banks who own the majority of the housing in the country, control the housing market, and gamble daily with millions of housing units.
Nat Villasana, organizer with the PSL, was one of the speakers at the rally. She remarked, “Landlords can increase rent to whatever they want, but it shouldn’t be that way. Housing should be a human right. But in Atlanta, housing is treated as a means for the rich to get richer. We won’t let Atlanta get turned into a playground for the rich. People over profit!”
At the rally, antiwar sentiment was invoked among protestors by drawing a strong connection between the U.S. war machine and the housing crisis.
Leela Anand, an organizer with the ANSWER Coalition said to the crowd outside the capitol, “We have to ask the fundamental question: why in the richest country in the world, housing for all cannot be a reality?” She brought attention to the $1 trillion annual war budget of the U.S. government and questioned the swiftness with which politicians of both parties move when it comes to invading, bombing, and sanctioning other countries, but hypocritically declare that there is no money to spend on housing, education, or healthcare for the U.S. working class.
Workers in Atlanta are not alone in this fight for rent control and beyond. People across the country are mobilizing and organizing against evictions, rent-hikes, big landlords, gentrification, racist displacement and more. It will take nothing short of a militant mass movement for housing justice in Georgia to beat back those who stand in the way of the interests of everyday people.