E72: Tenant Organizing and the Cult of Property Values (w/ Luke Melonakos-Harrison)


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By re:verb, Calvin Pollak, and Alex Helberg. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

What’s a tenant union, and why does it matter? On today’s show, Alex and Calvin get some fascinating answers to this question from Luke Melonakos-Harrison, a Masters student in Yale University’s Divinity School, tenant union organizer with the Connecticut Tenants Union and the Connecticut Democratic Socialists of America, and aspiring Methodist pastor.

In the course of our conversation, we learn about the kinds of unresolved housing issues, often exacerbated by the COVID pandemic, that led Luke and other tenants to begin organizing. We discuss these issues’ intersectional dimensions: how they most severely affect individuals marginalized by class, race, gender, sexual orientation, and disability status, as well as how housing issues intersect with other political problems such as the prison-industrial complex and gender-based violence and discrimination. A crucial concept Luke introduces to us is “the cult of property values,” which captures how landlords, real estate developers, and dominant media and political classes attach almost religious significance to the value of property, while neglecting other, competing sets of values like human rights and economic justice. Along with these stinging critiques, Luke shares some amazing gains that he and his fellow organizers have been able to make at a local policy level in Connecticut, and explains some of their inside-outside strategies in response to the quirks of state law.

We close by seeking Luke’s tips for anyone listening who may be interested in forming a tenant union of their own. Luke’s main suggestion is rather simple, but inspiring: get to know your neighbors! It’s a welcome reminder – and the whole conversation is a bit of a salve – in a time when it’s quite easy to surrender to alienation and despair. We hope you enjoy it!

Follow Luke, the CT Tenants Union, and Connecticut DSA on Twitter:




News coverage of recent tenant organizing efforts in Connecticut:






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