Collaboration with community partners brings HECUA’s model of transformational learning to life. We know that the 12-15 hours a week that students spend interning with a local organization is just as valuable as the time they spend inside the classroom. Periodically, we feature the community partners who make experiential learning possible.
Meet InquilinXs UnidXs Por Justicia-United Renters for Justice (IX).
IX is a non-profit with a vision to create a housing system that works for everyone, a world in which renters direct city development. IX works closely with HECUA’s Inequality in America program, both as an internship site and as a guest speaker during the program’s unit on housing issues.
We sat down with Arianna Feldman (Communications Organizer) to learn more about how IX works to create community-led change.
“A big part of our mission and work is that the people on the ground who are experiencing the marginalization are the experts. They are the ones leading. It’s up to the people who live [in the buildings] to decide what happens in a given campaign, structuring what our work will look like. We’re also a power-building organization, meaning we’re focused on organizing to create enough power to change things.”
This commitment to being a member-driven organization also shapes how IX is governed.
“What’s unique about our board is that they are all tenants and people of color who live in buildings where we have run a campaign. Most of our staff are also tenants who are directly impacted by the issues we work on,” Arianna explained.
This community-driven structure provides a unique opportunity for HECUA students who intern at IX to learn about power-building and community organizing. For some students, it is their first experience working with a community-led organization like IX.
“One thing that is always new when students come to our group is that we work very relationally. What surprises interns is that I ask them to take time to get to know the core leaders. That’s not often recognized as labor. Interns will come back and say ‘I feel like I haven’t done any work today’ but I say ‘you’ve spent the day getting to know someone, that is work.’”
Arianna observes that what HECUA students learn in the classroom applies directly to their internship.
“Our work fits really well with the Inequality in America program. The program talks about the difference between building power vs. advocacy and the different forms of organizing. I’ve gotten feedback from interns, who say ‘I wasn’t sure at the beginning, but now this internship is following the arc of the class perfectly.’ It’s a beautiful symbiosis that we’re in.”
Arianna shared how she sees this relationship as a two-way street.
“I think the impact it has for us is that interns have built deep relationships and have often times identified an area where we’re low on capacity or struggling. The interns will adapt to those spaces and figure out what they can help with. The first HECUA intern we had was really passionate about housing organizing and is still in the community, still talking to our members, and we’re still in deep relationship.”
What does community-led power-building look like in action?
In May 2020, residents collectively purchased five apartment buildings formerly owned by notorious landlord Steven Frenz. For years, tenants campaigned for building repairs and improved living conditions, only to be met with retaliation and eviction from Frenz. According to Minnesota Reformer, “In 2017, Frenz was banned from holding rental licenses in Minneapolis for five years because of chronic neglect, fraud and pest infestations.” Tenants campaigned for years in order to achieve this victory.
“Tenants decided they wanted to have ownership. The idea of community ownership of land and housing is really our long-term vision,” Arianna explained.
“Now the work is to create the cooperative model and to ensure that the cooperative structure is sustaining and well-structured so that it can continue.” Arianna said. (A link to donate is included at the end of this post).
What’s next for IX?
Responding to the COVID pandemic and housing crisis has been a major focus. With eviction moratoriums ending, thousands of Minnesotans could face evictions in the coming weeks and months.
“Landlords are targeting our black community members in this moment,” Arianna explained. “We’ve been doing a lot of work with our members, trying to prepare for what could be the worst eviction crisis this country has ever seen.”
As the housing crisis worsens, we asked Arianna how others can engage in supporting the work of IX.
“This moment we’re in, it’s a moment of crisis. It’s a moment of transformation. Our vision is no evictions. It’s protecting our communities, protecting each other and supporting each other from any kind of displacement.
The truth is that this vision can’t live with just our organization; we’re too small. It’s a big transformational vision. That’s why we’re connecting to the movement to defund the police. Evictions are carried out by police, so a future without police is a future without evictions and displacement, which is especially important in the middle of a global pandemic.”
What can you do?
“What is most supportive in building power with us is for folks to talk to their neighbors. Know people on your block and in your neighborhood so that, when those threats come to our community, we’re all prepared to support each other in whatever way that looks.”
Many thanks to Arianna Feldman for taking the time to chat with us about the work of IX. HECUA is proud to partner with InquilinXs UnidXs Por Justicia- Renters United for Justice through our Inequality in America program. To learn more about IX, visit their website at https://www.inquilinxsunidxs.org/en/home/.
Then, go talk to you neighbors.