Renters’ Rising

banner_fb-page001Buckhorn, Ontario   It is starting to feel like we’re getting real traction in what has become a global fight for tenants’ rights. Not only has ACORN built an effective organization for tenants to resist the arbitrary, capricious, and sometimes dangerous and unhealthy practices of landlords in an often uncertain legal environment, but as importantly we are developing real programs for real protections from government and policy makers. As I was crossing the Atlantic to attend an ACORN head organizers and staff training session in Ontario, there was evidence of this kind of progress for tenants on both sides of the ocean.

In Bristol, in a conference attended by hundreds, ACORN organized a wide-ranging discussion on steps that needed to be taken to shore up and advance tenants’ rights not only in Bristol but throughout England. Launching a new campaign, Renters’ Rising, with actions and events throughout England, ACORN is calling for a country-wide Renters’ Union. Similar steps are being taken by ACORN Scotland on the wake of their parliamentary victories on security of tenure and rent control.

The crisis in affordable housing in the United Kingdom touches through virtually every city. London is now world famous for the breadth of the issue, but ACORN chapters in Newcastle, Reading, Birmingham, and of course Bristol and London have organized meeting after meeting where members are demanding solutions and are determined to take action. The collapse of social housing and the dramatic increase of private landlord tenancy has created an environment where protective rules and policies for tenants has not caught up, giving too many landlords the upper hand which they are exploiting. ACORN Bristol’s promotion of an ethical letting charter and its support by the Bristol Council as well as several letting agencies themselves has given momentum to these campaigns.

On the other side of the water the progress in Toronto in winning a landlord licensing regime with real teeth in enforcement after a campaign with ups and downs over more than a decade is finally at the finish line. ACORN has already won initial support by the full council but the devil is in the details and is now rounding up council support in anticipation of the staff report and final votes on implementation. Organizers reported real progress pretty much across the board with strong support from various council allies who are essentially telling us, “We got this!” Nonetheless, members are involved at every step along the way and will be present in large numbers at every opportunity. ACORN Canada President Marva Burnett was realistic in a recent interview on what the approval of landlord licensing would mean. She noted both her disappointment at the Toronto Council’s rejection of the proposal in 2008, as well as her expectations and hope for the final vote on the plan this fall.

Burnett’s points are inescapable. None of this is easy and, given the power of landlords, these fights are won through persistence. But the factor on ACORN’s side on both sides of the Atlantic seems to be that politicians cannot ignore reality forever. The rental market is out of control and that demands effective regulation. The other point that is equally inescapable whether Canada or the United Kingdom is that tenants can neither fight nor win without effective, mass organization and that’s what they have built in Toronto and elsewhere in Canada and that ACORN is now building with is Renters’ Union in England.

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Hating Immigrants is the Wild Card in the Electoral Deck

immigration_2280507bNew Orleans   Wow! It must have suddenly become hate-on-an-immigrant day and Hallmark didn’t prepare any condolence cards for the rest of us. In one day the lives of immigrant millions of families were cast into limbo with the split, no-decision 4-4 polling of the Supreme Court and the 52-48 so-called Brexit vote for Great Britain to leave the European Union. President Obama called the Supreme Court split decision, “heartbreaking,” and said the upcoming election would determine “what kind of people we are.”

Meanwhile the United Kingdom showed what kind of people they were, and it was a bit brutish and left little doubt that immigration and the attendant freedom of mobility within the European Union was the wedge issue driving them out of the EU. As reported in the Times,

With net migration to Britain of 330,000 people in 2015, more than half of them from the European Union, Mr. Cameron had no effective response to how he could limit the influx. And there was no question that while the immigrants contributed more to the economy and to tax receipts than they cost, parts of Britain felt that its national identity was under assault and that the influx was putting substantial pressure on schools, health care and housing.

The campaign run by one of the loudest proponents of leaving, the U.K. Independence Party, flirted with xenophobia, nativism and what some of its critics considered racism. But the official, more mainstream Leave campaign also invoked immigration as an issue, and its slogan, “Take control,” resonated with voters who feel that the government is failing to regulate the inflow of people from Europe and beyond.

Prime Minister David Cameron will pay for the misjudgment and shortsightedness in calling the vote and the rejection at the polls with his job, offering his resignation after a couple of month’s transition to sort out the mess. There is pulling of hair and rending of clothes throughout Europe in trying to understand the “turning point,” the vote represents, but it is hard to see it as anything other than backwards. Scotland which voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, is likely to press again for independence from the United Kingdom given this debacle.

Meanwhile in the United States the same mess is brewing. Trump of course said, “good for them,” joining the nativist on both sides of the Atlantic. Speaker Ryan who is becoming expert at the convoluted logic of politics claimed the no-decision was somehow a rejection by the Supreme Court of Obama’s executive authority around immigration, knowing that all of this awaits the appointment of a tie-breaking Justice in the hands of the next President. The Republicans once again proved how quickly tragedy can be converted into farce.

But what about the people, the immigrants themselves? The five million or more who were living on the bubble of this decision who were parents of citizens or children raised here, all of whom were hoping for some security and a path to the future? Advocates promised to mobilize, voter registration efforts were highlighted, but in the meantime, the “kind of people we are” will be the kind of people who break up families and deport record numbers of people from the United States, because our politics lacks both a heart and a backbone willing to make hard political decisions even when they are so clearly morally correct.

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