Theory of Change

Landlords and real-estate developers are highly organized with a legion of lawyers, lobbyists, and politicians working 24/7 to ensure the system of housing we all live under is as profitable as possible for them. Without an organized and militant formation of tenants fighting side by side to defend our rights and take back control of our housing we can be certain that nothing will change. However, we recognize one important fact.

Landlords need us to make their profits.

As tenants, we pay the rent, we generate the value, and landlords need us, not the other way around. Because landlords need us, an organized group of tenants (a tenant association) can pressure landlords to make repairs, cancel rent increases, and stop evictions. When tenant associations from one area of the island come together and form a local chapter of the tenants union they can provide support and insights to one another increasing the strength of their organizing. Similarly, when local chapters join together into an island-wide movement (a tenants union), they have the power to push for broader systemic change. This is what we call building tenant power.

What is tenant power?

We believe that tenants have power! We often think landlords have all the control. After all, they own our housing and in many cases the power of the law is on their side. But, history has shown us time and time again that when tenants come together they have the power to make change in their communities. One of the primary ways we can do this is through forming tenant associations.

Tenant associations are the heart of the union. They are our source of power as tenants and the building blocks for a broader island-wide tenant movement. But, just what are they? Put simply, a tenant association is a group of tenants who share the same landlord and have committed to coming together to help one another. This can be through sharing of resources, emotional support, childcare, etc.. Importantly, tenant associations also have the power to put pressure on abusive and negligent landlords and give us as tenants more control of our homes and living spaces. How does this work? As tenants we pay the rent, and landlords need us to make their profits. And if there's one thing landlords care about, it's making money. But here's the thing, alone it is often hard to make demands of your landlord. After all, if they own 100 apartments why should they care if one tenant is unhappy? But, if you get together with 10, 20, 30, or 100 of your neighbors and make the same demand, landlords often have no choice but to give in.

Just like individual tenants coming together are stronger, tenant associations that join a local chapter of the Honolulu Tenants Union are also stronger. By bringing together tenants and tenant associations from across the island we can produce broader systemic change. Corporate landlords and developers operate at an island-, state-, and nation-wide scale influencing the political system. If we want to take back our power as tenants we also need to be organizing at the island, state, and national level. For this reason the Honolulu Tenants Union is committed to bringing tenants together from all over the island to create an island-wide tenants union and connecting with other tenant unions outside of Hawaiʻi. Together we can build tenant power and create the communities that we need and deserve!