What is the Burlington Tenants Union?

We are a leftist, non-hierarchical group dedicated to organizing all tenants and tenant allies in the City of Burlington in order to shift the balance of power away from real estate, development and financial interests toward the people who actually live in and make up our community. Our goal is to decommodify housing so that everyone can have a safe and affordable place to live.

What do you mean by ‘decommodify housing’?

In other cities around the world, particularly Vienna and Berlin, there are large portions of the housing market that are owned by the community, democratically controlled by tenants, and are often truly mixed-income. This model is known as “social housing”. Unlike public housing, social housing is fully-funded, permanently affordable and locally controlled, and unlike non-profit housing, there are no landlords and no board of directors to take power away from you. When we say that we want to decommodify housing, we mean that we want all housing to be controlled by the tenants who live in our city, not by a class of people who make profit off of our need to have a roof over our heads.

Why decommodify housing?

We live in a world where homelessness, evictions of the poor, and degrading housing conditions are common. At the same time, we see too many homes used as vacation properties, empty for most of the year while people are left to live on the streets. Our housing problems are not due to a lack of resources, but are caused by a poor distribution of those resources. As is the problem with many facets of our lives, housing is organized for profit and not for people’s common needs. The only way for us to change this problem is to organize together and fight to have quality housing for everyone.

What are your short term goals?

First and foremost, we are seeking to organize tenants and allies, agitate and advocate for stronger renter rights, rent control, rent protections, and more. We plan to put collective pressure on the powers that be to ensure that every single person has quality housing in the City of Burlington.

Examples of what people can do to assist the Union:

  • Come to a Tenant Union Meeting
  • Attend one of our pickets of local landlords
  • Organize your building to put pressure on your landlord

I am a UVM/Champlain College/ Saint Michael’s student who lives on campus, so I’m not a renter, and the union isn’t for me, right?

If you are a student and renting from your college, not only are you a renter, but you are getting incredibly exploited by your university! Local college students pay more in housing than many low-income renters – often a minimum of $800 a month to share a dorm room. We would love to help you organize on campus, as your university is not only making a ton of profit off of you, but is often forcing you to live in severely overpriced housing. This hurts all renters, those living on and off campus, as students are tricked into thinking off-campus rents are ‘more reasonable’.

How do you plan to make change if you refuse to work with landlords?

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning.” – Frederick Douglass

We believe in advocating and negotiating from a position of strength. This is a space for tenants and allies to share their stories and frustrations and build radical energy to leverage in our struggle for our right to housing. We do not believe in negotiating ourselves down from our stances, compromising for the sake of compromise, or watering our demands down to make them palatable to elected officials. Landlords have immense power in our community – many of them are elected officials or hold important seats on local boards and commissions, and they have historically been resistant to peacefully sharing their power.

What about homeowners? Are we welcome in the Union?

Although you cannot be a voting member of the Union as a homeowner, we are happy to collaborate with working-class homeowners who recognize the role they can play as allies. We believe that homeowners generally have more in common with tenants than they do with landlords. If you are a homeowner who is interested in supporting us in solidarity, please let us know!