15-1 Insights about the Future of Tenant Organizing from Members of NLIHC’s Collective

By Sid Betancourt, NLIHC

The Collective is a cohort of tenant leaders from around the country who work closely with NLIHC and leverage their lived experience to elevate concerns, chart an advocacy path, and ensure that NLIHC effectively addresses the needs of low-income people and families. NLIHC staff recently spoke with members of NLIHC’s Collective to learn more about their work and get insights into their ideas about the future of tenant organizing. Here’s what two members of the Collective – Sharon Norwood and Dee Ross – had to say.

Sharon Norwood (Chicago)

Sharon is a childcare provider and advocate from Illinois. Her primary passion is advocating for source-of-income protections. As a former Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) participant, she was a reliable tenant who would consistently pay her rent on time – would sometimes even pay extra, in fact – and went above and beyond by covering repair costs that a landlord would typically cover. Even so, she found herself in Landlord Tenant Court, which led to her family’s displacement. The experience fueled Sharon’s transition to tenant organizing from childcare advocacy. She has since won many awards for her work, including NLIHC’s Organizing Award in 2023. Looking ahead, Sharon envisions everyone having a safe place to live, especially children, and wants to break down the prevalent racism that exists in her area. In terms of advice for advocates, Sharon had this to share: “Each one, reach one, so we can teach one” – meaning that you should take the tools you have, use them, and share them with others. If readers want to contact Sharon, they can do so at [email protected]

Dee Ross (Indiana)

It was Dee’s personal experience with unlawful eviction and homelessness at 19 – enabled by Indiana’s lack of tenant protections and its status as one of the few states where tenants cannot withhold rent due to poor living conditions – that prompted him to establish his own non-profit organization, the Ross Foundation. At first, the Ross Foundation didn’t focus on tenant organizing. However, he soon realized that housing was at the center of every issue. In response, Dee worked to set up the first tenants’ union in his community in 2016 and the only statewide tenants union in Indiana in 2018. He used his skills to bring people from urban and rural areas together to advocate for housing justice and tenant protections. Dee looks forward to a future where a national landlord registry exists, and he is currently working to create a statewide registry. He also wants to expand his work outside of Indiana and begin to work in states that prohibit the withholding of rent. 

Despite health challenges and other setbacks, Dee emphasizes the importance of finding victories in small wins. His message to organizers is that you have to persevere – success isn’t defined by solving every problem. Dee, who has two invisible disabilities, acknowledges his privilege in still being able to be on the frontlines. More than anything, he wants readers to know that you are more than enough, you are valued, and you are needed in this fight. If readers want to learn more from Dee himself, you can contact him at [email protected]

Members of the Collective have a wealth of insights to share, and we encourage readers to carry these perspectives into your tenant organizing.  To stay up to date on the work of the Collective or explore opportunities for involvement in the coming years, reach out to Sid Betancourt at [email protected]