Liberation photo

Liberation photo

It’s a story that the working folks of Long Beach know too well. A landlord, seeing an opportunity for greater profits, looks to drive out an existing community of renters and rent their apartments to new, more affluent tenants. Lacking the most basic renter protections in Long Beach, the easiest way of doing this is to simply raise rents beyond the ability of the tenants to pay.

Some buildings in Long Beach have seen slumlords demand over a 50 percent increase of all their tenants before evicting them. This would have been too subtle for the parasites at Beach Front Properties though, who had acquired the complex a year ago and simply served 60 day notices to vacate. As is often the case, the approach was classic divide and conquer with only a handful of tenants being expelled at a time so the victims would feel alone in their predicament. However, Long Beach tenants are growing wise to these underhanded approaches, and this time they have rallied together, in the shared understanding that being the last one left means only that there will be no one to help you when your time comes.

Decades of life, of history, of family, of home, and friendship gone in two months, so that the landlords could increase their unearned profits. It is not enough for them to steal the hard earned wages of working people, but they demand the right to dispose of those same communities they exploit the moment some greater opportunity for plunder presents itself. It is precisely this history, this sense of community, that led the tenants of 1019 and 1027 Cedar to organize themselves in the Long Beach Tenants Union, and as of this writing they have maintained a three month long rent strike. Beach Front has engaged in vicious retaliation during this struggle, including efforts to ruin the credit of even relatively compliant tenants. The courage required to undertake this strike is nothing short of inspiring, and indeed there are reports that tenants in several other buildings have organized and are preparing themselves to join in this same struggle. They have not, however, restrained themselves to only striking. In the words of tenant Kimberly Nava, “We already had that community, but the struggle made it stronger, brought us together- made the relationships stronger.”

Tenants continue building momentum

Members of the Tenants Union staged a demonstration at City Hall, symbolically serving the council with a 60 day notice to either defend Long Beach renters or resign their offices. Prominent among the demands were calls for rent control and just cause eviction. Notices were posted upstairs on the doors to the council offices, and on the front door of the hall, but it is clear that the city government is not on the side of tenants. Mayor Robert Garcia, in fact, managed to provoke even the usually deferential Press Telegram to set the record straight, when he tried to argue that new luxury condominiums and high-end apartments would lower Long Beach rents, and therefore construction of affordable units was pointless. We, the working people of Long Beach, cannot afford any illusions on this point. No one is coming to save us, except us. We cannot look to the bought and paid for politicians to help out of the goodness of their hearts, cannot expect a political system that has always been the servant of property to put people first. What we can do, and must do is come together, organize, and fight under our own independent working class leadership, as Nava said, of the union, “I think that it motivated us, knowing that we’re more powerful organized than individually.”

On May 15, dozens of Long Beach renters and supporters rallied outside a landlords’ meeting at the convention center, at an action called by the Long Beach Tenants Union, Housing Long Beach, Long Beach Residents Empowered, the Party for Socialism and Liberation and many others, taking the street at the intersection of Ocean and Pine, and denouncing the landlords for the campaign of intimidation they have waged against the tenants movement.

PSL was proud to celebrate the ongoing Cedar Resistance, under banners proclaiming “We Won’t Move!” “People over Profit,” and “The Rent is too Damn High” at two well attended community movie nights put on for the children of the tenants, projected on a screen in the courtyard. It served as a well deserved morale boost after the tenants confronted Beach Front Property at their office, to demand a meeting with the landlord. They were met at the office by the staff and CEO Kyle Kazan, who boasts on the Beach Front website of his close ties with public officials, and of owning properties “across the world.” They were also met by a mix of reactionary small time landlords and their paid supporters making up the so-called “Better Housing Long Beach” group, a well financed front organization for landlord interests, whose very name is a mockery of the pro-rent control tenants advocates of “Housing Long Beach.” These landlords and their flunkies have made a habit of picketing outside the church where the Long Beach Tenants Union meets. As usual, the picket was led by landlord Joani Weir, who confronted a tenant and demanded to know if she was a citizen. Incidentally, under California statute it is illegal for a landlord or their agent to question a tenant about their citizenship. Once again, those who insist there is nothing racist in gentrification are never far from showing their racist claws, even as long standing working class Black and Brown communities are displaced,

Gentrification is nothing new to Long Beach, where average rents have increased 55 percent in 6 years, nearly 5 percent in the past year alone, but it is possible that the Cedar resistance marks the beginning of tenant resistance on a new scale. Whether it does is, to a large degree up to us, the tenants and other working folks of Long Beach, and whether or not we are prepared to do our part, and join in this struggle. When asked where she saw the struggle going from here, Nava said, “What we’re looking for is something fair and just- people have lived here so many years- respect, something we haven’t got from them.”