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05/31/2019 | Organizing for Housing Justice & A Home to Thrive

Meet Our Affiliate: Arkansas Community Organizations Helps Tenants

For years, the members and staff of Arkansas Community Organizations (ACO) have helped tenants in Arkansas win much-needed repairs and improvements to their rented homes and apartment complexes. Yet, despite these services, ACO realized they were pushing a rock up a hill only to have it roll back down again: While nearly one third of all Arkansans rent their homes (and those numbers are growing), the state still does not have a minimum standard of habitability for rental units and landlords are not required to maintain their properties. Worse still for mistreated tenants, nonpayment of rent is a criminal offense in Arkansas.

ACO realized they needed to fight hard to change Arkansas's lopsided landlord-tenant laws. Members began meeting with attorneys at nonprofit legal organizations in the state to develop an organizing and litigation strategy for reforming the state's renter laws, and over the last several years, ACO and Arkansas tenants have won several important victories.

In 2015, the city of Little Rock tried to close down an apartment complex over the holidays, giving tenants just one week to move. ACO had contacts at the complex and quickly organized a group of tenants who ultimately stopped the city's eviction order. The judge overseeing the case eventually ruled that because Little Rock has housing codes, there also exists an implied warranty of habitability for all rental property in the city.

In the summer of 2018, ACO started Arkansas Renters United (ARU) in an effort to build a statewide organization that could match the power of the Arkansas Realtors Association, a group that has defeated every attempt to reform Arkansas’s landlord-tenant laws. Lacking the financial capacity to hire organizers, ACO formed a closed Facebook group that members could share with friends around the state. The strategy worked—the group grew quickly, and members planned and participated in several actions, including making over 200 calls to the governor's office as part of a coordinated call-in during December 2018.

Valencia White, mother of two, and a renter in Little Rock, says she and the other members of the ARU are ready to continue the battle.

“It’s OK to just sit there and live in squalor? It’s a luxury to have a house that won’t fall in on you?” she asked. “I’m in the fight. We’re fighting together.”

The potential for this campaign to grow and build transformational people power in Arkansas is enormous, but social media alone cannot build the grassroots revolution needed to win stronger tenant protections in the state. For this reason, ACO has launched a national fundraising drive  in order to hire two organizers who can lead campaigns across the state to keep the pressure on local property managers and realtors and bring real change to people in Arkansas. They ask for you to get involved in two ways: 1) stand in solidarity with their members by making a financial contribution here, and 2) reach out to ACO Executive Director, Neil Sealy, if you are aware of skilled organizers who are ready to take on this fight in Arkansas. Neil can be reached at nsealy@arkansascomm.org.