Pleasantville Apartments Rent Strike


By 1970, the condition at the Pleasantville Apartments–the first buildings in the neighborhood–had deteriorated. The management company was unwilling to make repairs and abandoned the property. Apartment residents formed the Pleasantville Committee for Community Improvement (PCCI) organizing nearly 200 tenants for a rent strike, only the second in Houston history.

The Pleasantville Apartments had been built quickly in the early 1950s and functioned largely as a stopgap for those eager to occupy the newly constructed single family homes that were the neighborhood’s real draw for its early community. By 1970, the condition of the apartments had fallen well below code, and the United Management company, which had taken over the complex, was unwilling to make the necessary repairs. Apartment residents formed the Pleasantville Committee for Community Improvement  (PCCI), led by Mr. Arthur Murray and Andrew Moran II, and called a series of meetings with United Management to discuss a list of 21 grievances, including a $3 rollback in rents until repairs were made (rents were $16- $27 per week), plumbing, roofing, and other improvements to bring the units up to code, written leases for all tenants, and an end to exploitative late payment fees. On October 21, 1970, following three unsuccessful meetings with the management, the PCCI called for a rent strike, organizing the 195 tenants of the 300 unit complex to withhold their rent and pay it instead to a fund the PCCI would hold until repairs could be made. The management company moved to evict striking residents, including PCCI chair Arthur Murray, as well as PCCI leaders Ms. Claudia Mills, Ms. Irma Mayes, and Mr. Bradley Taylor who were all served with eviction notices.  The rent strike lasted for more than three months, until the management company abandoned the complex and returned the title to the Federal Housing Authority, which had originally guaranteed its financing some 20 years before. The FHA stopped collecting rent in December of 1970, but the PCCI continued to fight for improvements, and for a solution that wouldn’t leave residents with nowhere to go, even has the Houston Housing Code condemned apartments and put placards on the complex indicating it had to be repaired, evacuated, or demolished. 

In the course of their fight, the PCCI managed to get a stay of eviction orders for neighbors, granting a reprieve for those with no suitable alternative, and enlisted architecture students at Rice University working with Winton Scott to create a comprehensive plan to rehabilitate the complex. They also developed a close relationship with the Unitarian Church, who helped with their organizing. PCCI chair Arthur Murray also united with residents of other badly managed low-income serving apartment projects in the city to form Houston Organized Tenants for Action (HOTA) and share strategies for advocating for tenant rights without getting evicted.  

When the strike began in October 1970, nearly more than 160 of the 297 units in the complex were occupied. As the management company abandoned its post, calling off garbage collection and putting utility service at risk, many residents left. By June 1971, only about 90 units remained occupied. By January 1972, it was only a handful. The last residents moved out shortly thereafter in preparation for the demolition of the apartment complex. PCCI Chair Arthur Murray said at the time, “We held out to improve something. Decent conditions, repairs, and responsible management. We made our point that it was the landlord who was responsible for that situation.” 

The Federal Housing Authority (FHA) suggested that the community, newly galvanized around the blighted apartment complex, might buy it themselves. Together with Andrew Moran II of the PCCI and Reverend CD Wells of the Pleasantville Methodist Church, the community rallied and devised a plan to create a set of subsidised townhomes where residents would qualify based on income. If their income went above a set level, they would either arrange to buy the townhouse outright, or move on. Community members traveled to Dallas and Austin to secure the project. But despite a well organized effort and extensive redevelopment plans, the FHA wanted more money than the community could afford. The apartment complex was razed and sites devoted to heavy industry eventually grew in its place. In their account of the efforts to transform the site into new community housing, community leaders Talmadge and Geneva Sharp write that this “loss was the beginning of the industrial takeover of the Pleasantville community.”