Democratic Socialists of America works to create tenants’ union

The Iowa City Chapter of Democratic Socialists of America organized a fundraiser on Sunday in support of the creation of a tenants’ union, saying that such a group would protect Iowa City renters’ housing rights.


Grace Colton

Co-chairs of the Iowa City Tennant’s Union have a bite to eat during their Fundraiser Concert at Public Space One on Sunday February 10, 2019.

Kate Pixley, News Reporter

Iowa City locals gathered on Sunday night at Public Space One to raise funds for the creation of a tenants’ union.

Tenant unions seek to find agreements between landlords and tenants to determine the obligations of both parties. The event, “Socializing with Socialists: a Fundraiser for Housing Justice,” which ran from 5-11 p.m., featured four local bands, food from Oasis, and arts and crafts. Attendees were asked to donate money toward the tenants’ union fund.

UI senior Ryan Hall, a former City Council candidate and co-chair of the Iowa City Chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, said that while there are successful Democratic Socialists of America renters’ groups in Dubuque and Ames, there’s a void to be filled in Iowa City.

“[Tenants’ unions are] important, particularly in Johnson County, because we have the highest cost of living in the state,” Hall said. “There’s a sort of power imbalance between those who own property and those who rent property.”

After the event tonight, Hall said, the organization will continue to knock on doors and use the funds and awareness raised to continue its mission of creating a tenants’ union for Iowa City residents.

“A union is used to organized us into a unit, so we can demand better conditions,” Hall said. “It’s a really grassroots organization to build community by getting to know your neighbors.”

The local democratic socialists contend on their website that rent is increasing at 10 percent per year in Iowa City.

“The power to build and house people in our city in the hands of the few, not the many,” the website says. “This leads to countless tenant abuses, gentrification, and homelessness to many people in our city.”

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Group member Ryan Spurgetis said he hopes a local  tenants’ union would protect renters from stolen deposits, building-maintenance problems, and repairs by allowing them to come together to express concerns.

“A tenants’ union allows renters to join together in a common struggle for a better right to living conditions,” Spurgetis said.

A renters’ group would be similar to any sort of professional union in that it would allow members to communicate about common concerns, Spurgetis said.

“Renters can come together and advocate for each other,” Spurgetis said.

Housing affordability has been a topic of conversation at recent City Council meetings, and city councilors have added a $650,000 fund for affordable housing, The Daily Iowan has previously reported.

“We’ve significantly expanded affordable-housing efforts,” City Manager Geoff Fruin said at a recent City Council work session. “It’s now to the point where we’re not even using one-time funds. It’s actually embedded in our budget. That’s a huge accomplishment for this City Council.”

The organizing meeting was open to all members of the Iowa City community, including students, who Denise Cheeseman, a UI senior and co-chair of Young Democratic Socialists of America at Iowa, said are equally important.

According to UI data from 2017, 95 percent of first-year students live on campus, while 72 percent of students overall live off-campus. Many of these students are first-time renters.

“To me, it was that regular people can come together and remove the power dynamic that comes from a landlord,” Cheeseman said.