"Good afternoon! Welcome to the second annual Southern Columbia Heights Tenants Union (SCHTU) Neighborhood Congress. Today is an important day in the life of our tenants union. We will elect our new officers, celebrate our victories--and they have been many--and set the agenda for the issues and problems we will take on in the coming year." With these words Shirley Hines, president of SCHTU, opened the November 20,1982 all-neighborhood congress.
Three years before, Shirley had felt a growing anxiety about the possibility of being evicted, an experience that had been repeated throughout her life. This fear, as well as the daily reality of her landlord's refusal to provide basic services had moved her to take initiative in developing a tenants association in her building. The association's efforts culminated last year in the purchase of the building by the tenants themselves.
Shortly after Shirley's association had been formed, it joined with other such groups in the Southern Columbia Heights Tenants Union, and at SCHTU's first annual congress in November, 1981, she was elected president of the board. For Shirley it has been a year of activity--serving as SCHTU's president, working with the Sojourners housing ministry as part of our staff, and emerging as a spokesperson for the tenant movement in the city.
Underlying all the last-minute activity of pulling the second annual SCHTU congress together and the expectation of seeing friends was an awareness of the disparity between the festive atmosphere of balloons and banners and the realities for the poor that brought us together that day.