Woman pushes for tenants union as fight for affordable housing in Collier County continues

Published: January 11, 2022 3:40 PM EST
Updated: January 11, 2022 6:53 PM EST

This week, WINK News has brought you stories, and concerns from those who say finding affordable housing in Collier County is nearly impossible. Now, we’re introducing you to a woman who says she’s ready to lead the charge to make more housing affordable.

She wants to start a tenants union to push for renters’ rights and create renter-friendly policies. The hope is that landlords will be held accountable as housing prices continue to rise.

The faces of affordable housing in Collier County have changed. Now they include people like Julisa Rodrigez, who is a kindergarten teacher. “These are your teachers, your police, officers, your firefighters, your nurses. These are the community workers that are now considered low income for what it costs to live here in Collier County,” Rodriguez said.

Rodrigez says she doesn’t want to move away because living in Collier is all she’s ever known. But, she also says she can’t continue to work multiple jobs, seven days per week, for the rest of her life. Right now, Rodrigez has three other jobs.

I just want to be able to live in my hometown and afford it and not be mentally exhausted, physically exhausted. Overworked,” said Rodrigez. 

“It makes you tired, it makes you sad it…you have all these different feelings that you’re trying to overcome and still be strong for your family,” she said.

“And maybe now is the time to rise up,” said Rodrigez. So she’s deciding to fight back against those high housing prices. Rodrigez created a Facebook group to rally other renters. She also started a petition to form a tenants union.

“So I started doing research on a tenant union and found out that actually, St. Petersburg has a tenant union that’s running successfully,” Rodrigez said. “And at this point right now, what they’re doing is they mediate, they try to prevent evictions they have been successful. Right now, they’re trying to move towards rental control. And that’s pretty big in itself.”

William Kilgore is the organizer for the St. Petersburg renters union. He says the key to success is community outreach. “Letting them know, ‘Hey, you’re not alone in this.’ Your neighbors are having, you know, roach and rodent infestations, you know, your neighbors are getting their rents up too, you know, if you all stand together, you know, we can… we can fight back and we can help you,” Kilgore said.

When organizers in Tampa saw what happened in St. Petersburg, they decide to form a tenants union too. Bratton Young is the organizer there. “The goal of it all is to empower people to, you know, take their own power and into their hands and build, you know, an organization that can fight for, you know, housing as a human right, or fight for reforms, like rent control,” Young said.

Now, rent control is a possibility in Tampa, a concept that as once unheard of. “We have the power in numbers, you know, there’s more tenants in a multifamily building than there is one landlord, you know, so we have a lot of bargaining power, a lot of leveraging,” said Kilgore.

Collier County Commissioner Penny Taylor is all in favor of this idea. She believes something needs to be done. “And the current crisis and this escalation of rents have pushed us into this situation where we absolutely need to be… have that support from the community,” said Taylor.

Rodrigez says the community needs the support of Collier County Commissioners to push their idea forward.

Commissioner Taylor admits that there aren’t any affordable housing projects currently in the works, at least that she knows of.