November 2017



Co-Designing With PTU using Recommoning Tools

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Portland Tenants United is a local collective comprising of tenants as well as a few landlords agitating for policy changes with housing, as well as attempting to redefine the relationship between landlords and tenants by creating better mechanisms for negotiation. They aim to intervene at different levels of the problem. PTU forces the issue that housing is a fundamental human right, something that we all need to survive, by mobilizing tenants to build a counter-power to the “landlord lobby.”

PTU has enjoyed a few recent successes, one of which is an amendment to what is called the Relocation Ordinance (Ordinance 188219), which was passed on February 3, 2017 to provide protections for tenants facing no-cause evictions. The amendment added a clause that mandated relocation assistance when these tenants are involuntarily displaced . While modest, these additions to the law are quickly becoming a legislative template for other laws in Washington State as well as other parts of Oregon. However, PTU members are well aware that these laws, while they are modest gains, need to be ratified and made permanent. Through a series of workshops, they are looking at different ways of converting these temporary laws into permanent cultural shifts. For example, they are investigating ways to reward positively deviant landlords with “tenant-approved” seals that indicate their commitments to tenant rights.

When it comes to getting their message across to neighbors and others living in the community in order to build solidarity, PTU members struggle to achieve this objective. They are having problems with engaging willing landlords, homeowners, even a minority of tenants to be advocates for change as well as to understand that tenancy is a fundamental human right. They have tried expanding tactics such as door knocking strategies to overcome this shortcoming. They also flyer neighborhoods as a means of direct action for tenant emergencies that need immediate response. PTU also struggles with issues of minority representations as well as racial disparities with their effort. For example, a lower income African-American tenant will struggle with activism because of the fear of disproportionate blowback or even more dire consequences. As a result, they are more reticent to join a public protest and act in the best interest of the whole. Another issue for them is to be able to find other rental housing if they were in fact to be evicted. In this regard, members of PTU are often confronted with their privilege, as they continue to struggle with finding ways to engage other renters much unlike them to participate in working on making tenancy a commons.

The workshop exercises with the Portland Tenants United were conducted at a community center in a local church in Portland Oregon. A total of 12 participating members attended. The participants were divided into two tables of 6 individuals each. The tables were arranged in a way that allowed individual members to be able to see each other and to talk across the table. The workshop was in three parts (which was presented as three “acts”). Recommoning cards were redesigned for the purposes of the workshop. The workshop with Portland Tenants United took a total of three (3) hours.

After collective governance rules were established, workshop participants were asked to select from four dilemmas and negotiate the stalemates. These negotiations were done within open and closed rule systems. During both open and closed rule options, the participants were presented with additional information that was re-introduced into the discussions.



The outcomes for the Portland Tenants United workshop included:

Capturing Narratives

Poster or postcard for potential/current tenants to write narratives around housing from personal stories. Members wrote “love letters” to the city of Portland.

“Tenant-Approved Landlord

Many of the workshop participants were initially reticent to participate engage willing landlords. But through the course of the workshop, as well as the scaffolding process they were able to reverse their judgement on what such participation would look like. Participants were able to express the characteristics of a landlord ally, and potential modes of engaging them. However, many participants still remained skeptical about cooperating with landlords, and believed that most landlords were motivated entirely by profit. They explored scenarios, and through the letter writing process to the city of portland, they began to create ideas about what it could mean for the city of Portland Oregon to have a “tenant-approved landlord.”

Improving door-knocking strategies – door knocking kit

Another important outcome from the workshop was the need for a door-knocking kit that will help their door-to-door campaigns. The kit was to be able to provide skeptical landlords with information about being a “tenant-approved” landlords, to work with neighbors in the communities being represented to explain how the might be able to participate, and finally a “door knocking kit” displaying door-knocking strategies as well as the ethics and challenges will be able to allow direct action unionizers to make a case for tenants about the need to participate and build counter-power measures to the “landlord lobby.”

Value in the hybridity of modalities for “recommoning”

One clear outcome was the importance of a hybridity of modalities for recommoning. They include, but are not limited to, the personality of face-to-face discussions as well as the privacy of the autonomy and pseudo-annonymity that online platforms afford in private discussions. These private communication spaces  should have a “request – notify – enter” mechanism.

A more honest platform

A recommoning platform should also be honest – and should share data equitably and within context.

Platform design

An important future implication for recommoning is with the creation of platforms that might be used to reclaim resources. For example, understanding how the different roles and negotiation structure might influence the creation rules around an online platform, how these shifting roles might be built into a system as well as how these differentiated roles may be distinguishable as absorbed roles or assigned roles.