Today We Control Rent…Tomorrow Police, Schools, the Community!

The Black Panther Black Community News Service, Vol. 8, No. 14. Published on Saturday, June 24, 1979.





Despite a campaign of lies and distortions waged by the landlords and real estate interests, the people of Berkeley, California last week passed a rent control charter amendment.

As soon as the charter amendment is ratified by the state legislature (a formality) no rent increases will be possible in Berkeley unless approved by a five person rent board to be elected by the people in the near future.

Also, landlords will not be able to evict people unless the rent board approves. The charter amendment will also force landlords to keep their houses in a decent state of repair.

Finally, if tenants feel that their rents are too high, they will be able to ask the rent board for a reduction in rents.

Several months ago, when the campaign first started, very few people believed that the Amendment charter could pass. It was learned that the California Board of Realtors had sent $15,000 to Berkeley to fight rent control, and that local landlords would come up with $25,000 in order to try and stop rent control.

The landlords were obviously afraid that the huge profits they were making off Berkeley residents would be reduced.

The Fair Rent Committee, a community group which sponsored the rent control amendment, and collected the signatures to get in on the ballot, naturally, had almost no money. It did, however, have the support of a lot of people.

Congressman Ron Dellums and Berkeley City Councilwoman Ilona Hancock were among the first to endorse rent control, along with the Black Panther Party, the Berkeley Black Caucus, and the Associated Students of the University of California.

Other endorses included Ella Walker, a Black businesswoman, Margo Dashiell, a member of the City Planning Commission and the Black Caucus, Larry Duga, the President of the Berkeley Co-op and Ying Kelley of Women for Peace.

It wasn’t long before the landlords started their smear campaign. At first they tried to say that the Black community did not support rent control. When the Fair Rent Committee released its list of Black endorses, the landlords stopped using that line.

They were further embarrassed when Assemblyman John Miller and Michael Jones, candidate for Alameda County Supervisor, both of whom are Black, also endorsed rent control.

But the landlords had other lies with which they tried to divide and confuse the people. They tried to tell tenants that rent control would mean higher taxes and higher rents, when just the opposite is true.

They tried to say that rent control would cost the city over $350,000 to run, which is what they said it cost the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Late in the campaign, TV station KQED in San Francisco called Cambridge and found out that rent control cost that city only $115,000 a year, very close to what the Fair Rent Committee had estimated.

Despite all this, the landlords still had the advantage. They had all the money. They put out three mailings, filled with lies, that went to every house in Berkeley. Each mailing cost about $5,000. They also hired people to distribute their literature, and to tear down the posters of the Fair Rent Committee.

Besides all this, they were able to afford a steady stream of radio ads, designed at scaring people out of voting in their own interests.

The Fair Rent Committee, with less than $2,000 to work with, had to depend on the work of community people. People doing precinct work for Ron Dellums and for Mike Jones, also carried rent control literature to give to people as they knocked on doors in their communities.

Other people wrote newspaper articles (See front page Black Panther Intercommunal News Service, dated April 22, 1972); others distributed leaflets at Co-ops and in the community, and several crews kept Berkeley plastered with rent control posters.

On election night, the landlords were so confident that they had bought the election, that they gathered together for champagne party. The Fair Rent Committee fathered at the Rainbow Sign, a small night-club which the Dellums Campaign had reserved for the evening.

The first results were pretty close, but by 6 a.m. Wednesday morning, the results were official. There were 27,565 votes in favour of rent control, and 25,102 against. People hadn’t been deceived by the lies of the landlords.

As one of the members of the Fair Rent Committee said: “It looks like good organizing and hard work can beat the man’s money”.