Police evict a Black veteran during the rent strike wars of 1932

Combating the New Housing Apartheid: Lessons from the Great Rent Strike War of 1932

The DiDi Delgado
4 min readFeb 2, 2024


Good morning! And Happy Black History Month everyone!

Remember the Alabama Riverboat Brawl back in August? This post has nothing to do with that, I just wanted to bring it up because that’s the type of energy I’m planning to be on all month.

But I do have an interesting bit of history I wanted to share with y’all if that’s OK.

It’s about a riot that took place 92 years ago, where hundreds of tenants facing eviction violently beat the crap out of the law enforcement officers trying to evict them.

I know what you’re thinking, “DiDi this can’t be true. This sounds like fanfiction you use to pleasure yourself.” And while that last part is true, so is the riot I’m going to tell you about — on this, the second day of Black History Month.

Here we go…

It all started in the Bronx, my home away from home, back in February of 1932.

Rent prices in NYC were higher than ever following the First World War, because all building materials were directed towards the war effort.

That caused housing construction to stop in the US for many consecutive years, which prompted a housing shortage.

We’re living through a similar decrease in housing construction today stemming from COVID, as well as an artificial shortage of properties available to rent or buy thanks to greedy landlords and real estate developers.

Fewer houses means higher rents, as demand outpaces supply.

Anyway, a new social movement quickly popped up as renters started organizing and withholding rent, as well as resisting evictions.

New York City had some of the highest rents, and therefore some of the most intense direct actions to combat eviction. What began in the Bronx quickly spread to Brooklyn and beyond.

During these protests, tenants violently fought police officers, leading to hundreds of arrests. But the mass arrests only ensured tenants couldn’t pay, so the rent strike continued.

The strikes spread across the country in a wave, and eventually led to decreases in rent and eviction rates.

Additionally, the rent strikes of the early 1930’s led to the passage of the Housing Act of 1937, which established public housing in the United States.

That’s right, the projects — which currently house over 2 million low income families — were started because of community organizing, refusal to pay landlords, and beating up cops.

But there are still millions more families who can’t afford rent.

In fact, according to one recent Harvard University housing study, more than 12 million renters are severely cost burdened, meaning they spend MORE THAN HALF their income on housing.

And evictions are rapidly rising as pandemic protections have expired and a record-high number of income-eligible renters can’t access rental assistance.

So why am I telling you this, on the second day of Black History Month (or “Groundhogs Day,” as it’s known to bigots)?

I’m telling you this to remind you that not all lessons from history center around non-violence and voting. And maybe, if physical resistance got the job done in the past, it’s an option worth considering today.

But in lieu of that, I’m also here to make one last push for those most impacted by this Capitalism-induced ‘Landlord Crisis’ — Black women and children.

In the past eight weeks we’ve raised over $50,000 for struggling Black families! That alone has been amazing, and in many cases, life saving.

But this Black History Month we’re going to close the remaining gap and reach our goal of $100,000. We’re more than halfway there!

The current housing crisis is unsustainable. Homelessness is on the rise, and even small cities are seeing tent cities pop up while apartment buildings and houses remain vacant.

Mel King and other residents being accosted by police in 1968 over fair and adequate housing

This week, we pay homage to Black activists like Melvin “Mel” King, organizers with Mass Welfare Rights Union, Greater Boston Coalition of the Homeless, Community Assembly for a United South End (CAUSE) and a majority of Black and Brown residents alike who occupied a government redevelopment construction site in 1968 that would prioritize profits over people in Boston. We stand in unwavering solidarity against this housing apartheid, whether it’s in Boston or the Bronx, due to Capitalism and greed.

Like so many of our predecessors, it’s on us as a collective to find ways to keep people housed — or as Mel King said, to have “a place for the people,” so that we can better fight back the oppressive systems that seek to exploit us and drain us of all our resources.

Happy Black History & Futures Month y’all.

Tax deductible donations are welcome but only if you can cover your own rent like that.