Chaos in the White House Can’t Stop Progress in the Streets

Bristol ACORN

Bristol   Maybe President Trump needs to get out more? Perhaps there’s something in the air in the White House that is clogging up his so-called “fine-tuned machine” and bringing out the crazy? Maybe from the outside looking in, it would be easier for him to understand better why the rest of us are scared sillier every day?

Who knows, but for me it was relief to jump off the merry-go-round of the Trump-Watch and back onto a plane again. And, though sleepless and a walking-zombie imitation, sure enough it was possible to find signs of continuing progress away from the maddening vortex of chaos in Washington.

Visiting with the ACORN organizers in Bristol, the big problem of the day was one every organization likes to have. On the eve of ACORN’s first all-offices, national action scheduled only days away from Edinburgh to Sheffield, Newcastle, Bristol, and beyond against the giant multi-national bank, Santander, they threw in the towel and caved in. The issue was a requirement that Santander attaches on any loans in housing that tenant leases mandate rent increases. ACORN was demanding the provision be dropped from all leases, and Santander announced that it was doing so, and in a bit of dissembling claimed that they had never really enforced it anyway. Hmmm. I wonder if they had told any of their landlords, “hey, ignore that part, we don’t really want you to raise the rents, we’re just kidding, it’s only money.” Hard to believe isn’t it? And, we don’t, but a win is a win, and the action will now become a celebration and a demand that all other banks in the United Kingdom also scrub out any such language.

Back home, ACORN affiliate, A Community Voice, was front page news as they laid the gauntlet down once again around an expansion of the Industrial Canal that divides the upper and lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. The expansion would dislocate homes and further bisect this iconic and beleaguered community.

Meanwhile, as we get closer and closer to being able to target big real estate operations and private equity that are exploiting lower income home seekers in the Midwest and South through contract for deed land purchasers, there was progress in the courts. A federal judge ruled that Harbour Portfolio, a Dallas-based bottom-fishing private equity operation with a big 7000-home play in FNMA, would have to abide by a subpoena from the much embattled Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and disclose information on its use high-interest, predatory contract-for-deed instruments in its home flipping. As we get closer and closer to having our arms around not only terms and conditions of these exploitative contracts, but also lists of potential victims in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, this is good news, even though far from the relief and victory families will be seeking.

All of which proves that if we can keep our focus away from the chaos created in Washington and our feet on the streets, there are fights galore and victories aplenty to reward the work and struggle.

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Emerging Tenants’ Charter

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This is ACORN France, which has nothing to do with this blog, but we welcome them to the ACORN Family

London     The ACORN United Kingdom organizing staff did me a favor and moved the second meeting to a university in far western London about a 40-minute bus ride from Heathrow, since I was finally heading to the ACORN Canada Year End / Year Begin Meeting, and then home.  ACORN Scotland couldn’t make it because of the giant rent control and security of tenure action and all of the last minute details, but where we had boots hard set on the ground in Bristol, Newcastle, and London it was a mini-UK YE/YB in its own right.

In such a short time,  the reports going around the room made it clear we were making huge progress. There were good solid reports on street-level issues in the new neighborhood groups around street crossings, traffic signals, and rubbish collection, but perhaps the most significant breakthroughs continued to be in the escalating campaigns around the broad range of tenants’ issues that are exploding in the cities where we are organizing in the UK.

Besides the Living Rent effort, the campaign originally begun with the founding of ACORN in Easton in Bristol to win improvements of conditions of private tenants and security of tenure form letting agencies has attracted wide support and expanded across the whole range of tenant issues and services. At one level organizers reported they have been surprised to get caught in a servicing and mediation role between some landlords and tenants with some leasing agencies, surprisingly, referring disputes to ACORN to mediate and resolve. Nick Ballard, the organizer at the point in the campaign, noted importantly that no tenant whom we have met in that capacity or to handle issues with their landlords have not joined ACORN, which was spot on! He also said that some tenants are reporting that just saying they are with ACORN and showing the button is winning them some fights.

The campaign has expanded to create a Tenants’ Charter of Rights in Bristol including longer leases, inspections, reasonable rents and other issues. Groups are not only joining us in supporting this newly emerging charter in Bristol but some city councilors are also coming on board. Winning compliance with the demands unfortunately is going to be a slog from target to target since the Council has no authority with all the powers in such matters residing in Westminster with the national government. We will be forced to win voluntary compliance, but we’re on our way.

Meeting earlier in the week with Professor Jane Wills who directs a masters’ program at Queen Mary University in community organization as part of their geography department, she speculated that perhaps the biggest contribution ACORN might be able to make in the UK was in organizing tenants and estates. She may be right. Furthermore, we may be already doing so from all of the reports at the organizers’ meeting and listening to their plans for the coming year.

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ACORN Bristol Begins!

ACORN Bristol Crew from left to right: Louie Herbert, Nick Ballard, and Stu Elliot

ACORN Bristol Crew from left to right: Louie Herbert, Nick Ballard, and Stu Elliot

Bristol   After 7 hours with our first organizing committee introduction with leadership and organizer training workshop at the Easton Community Centre in Bristol, it’s fair to say that we’re on our way and off to a great start.  People were both serious and excited, and hunkered down to the tasks before them with another meeting in two weeks as the organizing committee membership expands.  The first 10 members have now joined at 5 pounds per month and we’re on our way.

            The day involved a deep discussion of the ACORN Model and how it might work in Easton as well as the chance to practice doorknocking and spend serious time doing some planning of potential issues in the neighborhood.  Given the level of tenancy in Easton, not surprisingly one group worked on how they would construct a campaign to limit “letting” (leasing) agency fees from 150 pounds to get a flat and the other sketched out a campaign to deal with mold and health hazards in units where landlords were not making repairs and the dampness was causing asthma and respiratory problems.   Very exciting stuff.

            Easton has about 13000 people and is a polyglot area, once largely white working class, but now also Somalian, Indian, Pakistani, Afro-Caribbean, and more.  Much more! 

            Pictures can speak thousands of words. 

            Here comes ACORN Bristol!

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