February 8, 2021

Tony Roshan Samara,, (917) 270-9255

New Report Spotlights Tenant Organizers’ Crucial Role in Responding to the COVID Crisis and Calls on Funders to Do More

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments at the local, state, and federal levels have enacted eviction moratoriums, recognizing that stable housing is both a public health and economic necessity. Yet despite these laws, evictions have not stopped: Over 500 Bay Area households have been evicted since March 2020. 

Even with well-intentioned laws, renters are slipping through the cracks. Low-income renters of color in places where tenant organizing is limited or non-existent are particularly vulnerable. 

A new study details how a constellation of grassroots tenant organizers across the Bay Area are adapting to meet the growing needs of the most vulnerable renters, including providing crisis management. It also shows these groups need more resources to do their jobs effectively.

Defending Our Homes: Bay Area Tenant Groups Respond to the Social Crisis of COVID-19,” released today by the Regional Tenant Organizing network (RTO) highlights the essential role grassroots organizers play in helping tenants through the COVID-19 pandemic. It also provides recommendations to philanthropy on how they can help boost local efforts to weather the current crisis and lay the groundwork for a just recovery.

“This report makes the case that tenant organizers are, in fact, essential workers,” says Tony Roshan Samara, Program Director of Land Use and Housing at Urban Habitat, and one of the authors of the report. “State moratoriums are great, but grassroots tenant organizers are the connective tissue that directly help people and ensure existing laws are actually implemented.” 

The report came out of a month-long collaboration between RTO members, Urban Habitat, and undergraduates from Stanford University in July 2020. Together, they interviewed 30 tenant organizations from across the Bay Area to understand the challenges they face, the resources they need, and the opportunities that are becoming available. 

The groups interviewed laid out a clear set of requests. They need more resources, including:

  • Basic tools and technology to reach renters who are in need of help.
  • Stipends and gift vouchers to remunerate their dedicated volunteer workforce.
  • Funds for translation and interpretation services to ensure language access.
  • Funds to provide comprehensive legal services in multiple languages.
  • Mental health support for organizers who are providing crisis management.

“Too often, state laws go unrealized without a robust network of local groups to help track and implement them,” says James Huynh, Coordinator for the RTO. “With this report, we hope more funders recognize the outsized and largely unrecognized role of tenant organizers in making sure state legislation gets implemented at the local level.” 


Regional Tenant Organizing Network (RTO)
The Regional Tenant Organizing Network was started in 2015 to advance tenant protections and resist growing regional resegregation in the Bay Area. The RTO is convened by Alameda Renters Coalition, Causa Justa :: Just Cause, Faith in Action Bay Area, Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, Tenants Together, and Urban Habitat. It currently comprises 31 organizations from six counties, and a majority of RTO members are directly engaged in grassroots community organizing.


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