Programs » Section 8 Tenants Organizing Project (STOP)

How to Organize Your Tenant Council

Anyone can organize. To be successful you may want to look at what others have done, as well as get advice from other tenants who have organized or from organizers at tenant organizations. The following is an overview of how to get started.

Outreach

The first thing you need to figure out is what the common problems are that you share with your neighbors. The best way to figure this out is to talk to your neighbors by knocking on their doors, introducing yourself, getting to know them, and asking them what problems or concerns they have. Share what is important to you and then ask what is important to them or what they would change if they could make any change they want. This is usually called doorknocking. The most important thing to keep in mind is to listen to people.

Compile a list of issues that come up and keep a list of names and numbers of who you talk to so you can get in touch later. This list can be used to contact your neighbors for organizing meetings, in case of emergencies, or just to get to know each other. As you go door to door, ask people to make a small commitment to the organizing efforts such as handing out flyers, coming to a meeting, or talking to a neighbor. Make a note of what people say they will do and follow up with them. This builds commitment to your organizing efforts.

As you go through this process, often you will find other people in the building who are as interested as you are in organizing around the issues. You could call these people back and arrange to meet with them later so you can work together.

First Meeting

Usually the next step after you talk with everyone in the building is to plan a meeting. The key to a successful meeting is to have a clear, achievable goal and purpose for meeting. People get discouraged if they go to a meeting where everyone just complains and lists what’s wrong. It’s important to move from listing problems to taking action to solve them.

If you live in a very large building or complex you might want to start with small meetings on each floor or in each building and then plan a complex-wide meeting.

Before you call the meeting contact the tenants who said they were interested in organizing and get together to make flyers, call everyone on your list, set up a proposed agenda, and make other necessary arrangements to make it happen. The more people who are involved in planning and making the meeting happen the more successful it will be because more people will be recruiting friends and neighbors to attend and your effort will be stronger.

At the first big meeting, the group should elect a facilitator. The facilitator has two main parts to their job. The first is to keep a running list of those who have shown that they want to speak by raising their hand, and to call on them when it is their turn. Second, the facilitator should make sure that everyone is aware of what agenda item is being discussed so that people don’t go off on other topics. If the meeting doesn’t accomplish anything, many will never come back.

It’s a good idea to set some ground rules at the beginning of the meeting so it’s not all on the facilitator’s shoulders to control who talks when. Ground rules can be things like; raise your hand to speak, one person talk at a time, respect what people say, people who haven’t said anything get a chance to talk before others who have already spoken, and large decisions are made by majority vote. Make up your own ground rules for your own group and agree to follow them.

Plan a Campaign

After you have identified as a group what issues you want to organize around, then come up with a basic plan for how you can work together to get what you want. This usually involves figuring out which issues are the most important to the most people while keeping in mind what you can win with the power you’ve got. You are most likely to win your goal if it is specific, measurable (meaning you’ll be able to clearly tell if you win it), and achievable with the resources you have or can get.

At the big meeting, you can vote on which issue to tackle first. You will also need to make a plan of how to win the change you decide to pursue and give as many people as possible a role to play. Remember, if you can win a small victory first, you might get more support for bigger issues later.

After you’ve gotten the ball rolling, it’s probably a good time to make a decision about what kind of structure you want for the tenant council. Even if you don’t want any particular structure at all, it can be helpful to look at the different ways other tenants have organized.