Seventeen years after it disappeared, the Ann Arbor Tenants Union is back. “We started actively organizing during the pandemic,” emails Ozge Savas, the group’s spokesperson, as Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti renters began holding virtual meetings hoping to strengthen their bargaining power as tenants.
Some tenants in Wilson White properties, including Nob Hill and Wyndham Hill, were angered by letters they received in April with an ultimatum: sign a new lease at a small increase within two weeks or be prepared to cough up big if they waited. In a letter shared with the Observer, the difference came to $215 a month.
Working with the AATU, almost forty tenants sent a group email protesting the ultimatum. There was no “official response,” says a Wyndham Hill resident, and the effort at collective resistance petered out–but the resident nonetheless believes that the support from AATU helped individual renters negotiate better deals with management. More recently, members were involved in an anti-eviction effort in Ypsilanti.
The original Tenants Union coordinated a citywide rent strike in 1969 and 1970 and for many years operated an office in the Michigan Union with paid staff to advise students in landlord-tenant disputes. It closed its doors in 2003 after losing funding from the Michigan Student Assembly.
The reborn AATU has only a Facebook page (a2tenantsunion); Savas, who recently earned her doctorate in psychology, emails that they “are currently not seeking funding from the university.”
While it’s unclear if the loose-knit coalition will develop the muscle of its predecessor, Covid-19 has catalyzed years of frustration over high rents. “Raising rent in the middle of one of the worse economic crises we’ve had in a long time–we’ve heard from tenants that this can’t continue to happen,” says med student and activist Alex Reardon.