The Center for Urban Pedagogy and IntraCollaborative
Rent Regulation Rights
The Center for Urban Pedagogy
Rent Regulation Rights
This signals, in an immediate and attractive way that there is important fundamental information that needs to be in the hands of a specific group of people who may have language, communication and cultural issues preventing them from knowing their rights and/or seeking help. Functional, inviting and in the service of justice. – Mark Mushet
Rent Regulation Rights
“Rent Regulation Rights” is a pamphlet and poster in Chinese and English that helps tenants of rent-stabilized apartments to know their rights—and to use that information to fight landlord harassment and illegal evictions. CUP, the grassroots organization CAAAV, and the designers IntraCollaborative collaborated to turn a complicated law into legible illustrations and simple text that empower residents—especially recent immigrants in NYC’s quickly gentrifying Chinatown—with the information they need to be able to stay in their homes.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
Rent stabilization makes housing more affordable to thousands of New Yorkers by limiting how much (and how often) rent can go up in protected building. But the laws are complicated to understand, especially for immigrants whose don’t speak English well. Tenants don’t know their rights, and don’t know where to find the information they need. And they are often afraid to make demands. In neighborhoods like Manhattan’s Chinatown and Lower East Side, landlords eager to cash in on increasing property values often illegally pressure tenants to move out, and harass them to make it difficult for them to stay—locking them out of their apartments, turning off heat in the winter, refusing to make necessary repairs, and worse.
Grassroots organizers at CAAAV, asked CUP to help them make a print guide that would make the law easy to understand and help tenants in Chinatown to fight illegal harassment. The challenge would be to 1) make the law understandable visually and in simple language; 2) make it work in both Chinese and in English; and 3) make it appealing to residents who don’t trust government agencies and aren’t aware that there are rights that apply to them regardless of their immigration status.
In every CUP project, we try to build on 1) the knowledge that community organizations have of the issues that they work on, 2) the direct feedback from the target audience in how effectively the graphics work to convey information and how they resonate with the community’s culture, and 3) the talent our design partners have for breaking down complex information. We also bring our experience in helping community organizers and designers to move past their own jargons and speak the same language; our ability to translate complicated laws into simple, friendly language; and art direction focused on making graphics that are clear, friendly, and meaningful to audience they are meant for.
In this project, we needed to draw in tenants who care about this issue but are not out looking for a document to help them. We decided to start with an appeal to something that Chinatown residents often talk about—how expensive the neighborhood is becoming—and to lead with Chinese text and images of the neighborhood, making it visibly relevant. User feedback on an early draft that it was too “Chinese-y” and didn’t reflect what a modern, Chinese-American community looks like, helped drive the visual direction to make it clean and iconic, while referencing Chinatown’s common yellow and red signage. “When I go out and do street outreach with the poster the design really brings people in and I can reach a lot more people that way,” noted Ediwin Zheng, a member of CAAAV’s Chinatown Tenants Union.
CUP selects Making Policy Public (MPP) participants through an open call for proposals, disseminated nationally through CUP’s mailing list and press outreach. Advocates or community organizations are invited to apply by submitting a policy “brief” that details an issue that is critical to their constituency, why it would benefit from a visual explanation, and a description of the potential audience and distribution network. A jury composed of leaders in design and policy/advocacy fields selects four advocates and four designers to work with CUP and in collaborative teams.
The projects are driven by advocacy groups struggling to convey complex policy issues to the individuals most directly impacted by those issues. These organizations often lack the infrastructure to engage the design community, or the skills and resources to productively manage a design process. By linking them with talented designers, and providing extensive assistance with policy analysis and art direction from CUP staff, MPP gives advocacy groups a way to harness the communicative power of good design to increase their capacity as organizers and advocates.
During the collaborations, CUP provides art direction, project management, and policy research; structures the collaboration process; and oversees production. We play a large role in helping the designers to learn how to collaborate with advocacy groups (and vice versa), which is often a new experience. The design process is a deeply collaborative one. Designers are asked to dig deep into the information and really understand the issue so that they can push the visualization to a higher level. We also help the advocacy partners to productively engage in design critique, which can be challenging for them. We help them build a vocabulary around design and by the end of each project, their capacity to collaborate with designers has increased dramatically.
Because we partner with groups who work directly with the impacted constituency, we have access to the end-users throughout the process. Throughout the process CAAAV’s tenant members gave feedback on the design, making sure it reflected the community’s image of itself, and not outsiders’ perspectives on what “Chinese” is, and they provided personal stories illustrating successful efforts to fight landlord harassment. The result is publication that makes rent stabilization law easy to understand, helping tenants to get repairs made, dispute illegal rent hikes, and stay in their homes.
"Rent Regulation Rights" was officially launched on March 9th, 2014 with a distribution event led by members of CAAAV’s Chinatown Tenants Union. CAAAV plans to work with its members and other community organizations to distribute the project to Chinese-speaking community members and other residents living in rent-regulated apartments in Lower Manhattan.
Rent stabilization has contributed to New York City’s diversity over the last several decades, making it more affordable for lower-income families to stay in the city. But rent-stabilized tenants throughout New York City face a constant threat of eviction, as well as harassment by landlords. In Chinatown, economic pressures for higher-end development are increasing, and tenants face the additional challenges of language barriers and lack of familiarity with housing law. In particular, recent immigrants in the Chinatown community do not understand what rent-stabilization is or how to protect themselves from abusive landlords, or don’t understand that these protections extend to them regardless of immigration status. Organizations like CAAAV can provide information and resources, but often individuals only reach out for help after receiving an eviction notice.
This poster allows CAAAV to educate more individuals about their rights—before they lose their homes. The poster draws people in and provides them with information in one place, jumpstarting the process of helping people understand their rights. Residents can take it home with them and share with other tenants in the community, making each recipient of the poster another educator within the community.
The strong visuals also help CAAAV’s organizers to reach more people. They help to start conversations and draw people in to an otherwise dry and hard to follow topic. CAAAV members and staff have already told us how much this poster has facilitated the process of reaching out to Chinatown residents.