The Case For Renter Participation
There is a longstanding perception on the part of some that homeowners are more responsible neighbors. The rationale often used is that homeowners, either because of their financial investment or an innate virtue, care more about their neighborhood and therefore are willing to invest more time and effort into keeping their community livable. Renters, in contrast, are expected to be apathetic at best and at worst negligent, disrespectful, and intentionally disengaged.
Is there any truth behind this widely-held belief? Does homeownership really encourage civic engagement?
Yes and No
Anecdotally, we see this to be true. Homeowners greatly outnumber renters within Portland’s neighborhood associations. There is also research that shows a connect between homeownership and community involvement. However, the value of homeownership to civic participation is far more modest than previously assumed. Furthermore, the research also shows that
- Homeownership is not the only factor affecting involvement. Community, culture, social norms, and other socio-political forces are likely to strongly influence civic behavior.
- Tenure matters. When renters and owners have lived in a place for similar amounts of time, the difference in participation shrinks drastically. This suggests that measures aimed at stabilizing rents can help precipitate greater civic engagement.
Does It Matter If Renters Are Involved?
Renters may not be as civically engaged as homeowners, but there is nothing that suggests it has to be this way. If democratic representation is the goal, then we cannot be satisfied with our current system when it doesn’t include roughly 46.3% of households in Portland. When renters are not represented, it guarantees that income, racial, and age diversity will also be lacking.
Without representation, issues that primarily affect renters will not have an equal voice. When renters don’t have a seat at the table or a vehicle by which to organize, they are unlikely to be able to pushback against the forces that drive gentrification and displacement. This ultimately results in a loss of income diversity in our neighborhoods, which hurts everyone.
When we don’t interact with people from different backgrounds we tend to rely on stereotypes derived from hearsay or from atypical situations. However, when our daily lives bring us in close contact with other groups, we tend to form a more representative and kind view of those groups. More generally, we feel a stronger social connect to people we see frequently and live close to.
When residents of different incomes cross paths and have opportunities to interact, they are more likely to feel that they are “in it together.” This in turn creates social capital and ultimately can motivate grassroots advocacy to preserve diversity in the face of community change. And as noted above when renters are able to remain in their neighborhood, they become more civically engaged.
What Neighborhood Associations Can Do To Increase Renter Participation
(1) Change the assumptions.
People will not participate if we don’t ask. By assuming that renters are not interested in neighborhood activities, we prematurely write them off and create a self fulfilling prophecy.
(2) Interrupt Prejudice.
We cannot let disparaging remarks directed at any group stand. We must hold people accountable who make prejudicial comments at a neighborhood meeting. Ground Rules are one way to do this.
(3) Proactively Engage
Start working on issues that you know renters care about. Form a committee for renters’ rights or for looking at potential ways to stabilize rent. Renters will be more likely to participate if they see a place to plug-in.
Renters Aren’t Off The Hook Either
We can’t wait for change. We have to create it. Neighborhood Associations are a vehicle for participation. If you don’t feel you’re being represented, join and change that. Ultimately if we don’t actively participate, we will not have our voices heard.
By: Kelly Fedderson
Community Resource Program Manager
SE Uplift Neighborhood Coalition