Monthly Archives: September 2015

The Trials and Tribulations of a Local Group Organizer

Mayor of Grenoble, head of social housing, and other bureaucrats and pols "doing the time"

Mayor of Grenoble, head of social housing, and other bureaucrats
and pols “doing the time”

Grenoble I had spent most of the day in meetings about organizing a domestic workers union in Morocco and expanding the Alliance to Paris, Lyon, and beyond, but there was a chance to watch a mini-action in one of the newer groups involving a meeting organized by the Mayor of Grenoble. The head organizer of Alliance Citoyenne, Solene Compingt, and I literally ran for the bus from the office across town to the school auditorium where the public meeting was being held.

Ostensibly the meeting was designed to get the neighborhoods input or reaction to a redevelopment plan on a specific social housing or public housing project that was on the block for demolition and rebuilding. The Mayor arrived as did the head of the Grenoble office of social housing. City workers were scurrying around in preparation and readiness. A PowerPoint was projected onto the wall at the bottom of the banked auditorium. People kept trickling in until there were perhaps one hundred in attendance at least a quarter of whom were from the Alliance local chapter. The organizer, Emerick Champagnon, was moving from clump to clump to talk to members after they held a short preparation meeting on the sidewalk outside before coming into the auditorium.

head of social housing pretending to listen

head of social housing pretending to listen

The PowerPoint was brief with only two or three slides, spelling out the goals, objectives, timeline and promises of the redevelopment. Quickly, the questions started flying for over an hour as various residents tried to cross the moat and throw themselves against the wall of the city’s strangely constructed fort around the project. The state was funding the project in a partnership of sorts, it was clear, but nothing was clear about what the Mayor really hoped would come from the meeting. On the city’s part there seemed no clear agenda other than to check the box off that said “public meeting,” live through it, and get to dinner by 8pm. After they gave a brief explanation of the project whenever asked a question they pushed the decision over to the state and to every exhortation from numerous speakers in the crowd they resisted any involvement in the meeting with the state by the residents, insisting that they were best able to negotiate in their various interests: a classic “no win” strategy. And, no-win for anyone. The Mayor or his aides had constructed a dead end canyon and for the organizers and members there were few options other than to keep riding around in circles in the ravine.

some of the members trying to get a grip on the debate

some of the members trying to get a grip on the debate

What to do? There was no choice but to organize the members to attend since it was a public meeting on an important issue to the group organized by what should have been a decision maker. Members would have attended individually, if there had not been a collective action to do so. The Alliance questions were organized, but as the information was presented it was impossible to fabricate democratic demands that would resonate with all of the members on the spot, so the organizer in the after meeting wrap up briefing is left trying to offer options for the frustration to be channeled to the next steps the group could take. Not sure that’s what the Mayor had in mind by organizing the meeting in the first place or stonewalling when it happened. They were a classic picture of public officials absorbing the punches in boredom as they resolutely resisted either moving to respond or making a plan to move forward. They were just marking time it seemed. I would bet the group will now leapfrog the Mayor and go straight to the state, complicating the matters even further. While the Mayor has attempted to strengthen his bargaining position, he has likely eroded it.

Solene commented to me as we walked into the night that she “hates these kinds of actions.” How could it be otherwise? A public meeting that makes a mockery of public participation while pretending to be designed for public input is a rat maze, not a merry-go-round, pleasing no one, and adding to the trials and tribulations of life and work of local group organizers everywhere.

briefing after meeting

briefing after meeting

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Italian Tenants Withstand Landlord Pushback with Court Victory

ACORN Italy's David Tozzo with the Organizers/ Forum in Warsaw (in the middle in green shirt)

ACORN Italy’s David Tozzo with the Organizers/ Forum in Warsaw (in the middle in green shirt and glasses)

Grenoble    Ever since 2011 when ACORN Italy launched our campaign to take advantage of a unique handle passed by the national legislature allowing tenants to reduce their rent if their landlords were renting to them on the black market without paying taxes, we have been fighting back against the landlord counterattack. The victories for tenants exploiting the law were huge since by triggering registration of the landlord’s property their bounty was a reduction of their rent by 85 to 90% for the four-year term of a standard lease with a four-year option of renewal. The math is clear. If a tenant were paying 1000 euros in rent, they would then only be paying 150 euros saving more than 10000 euros a year, 40000 for four years, 80000 for eight years. Needless to say, the landlords had been happy to avoid paying taxes to the government, and were wild with rage about now having to both pay taxes and receive less revenue from their tenants.

Lawyers were a cheaper alternative for the landlords and they have yo-yoed back and forth to court with us since 2012. We took a hit from the Supreme Court in late 2013 ruling that there was a technical problem with the law. We managed to get legislation through the Senate that prevented the tenants who had seized the law’s opportunity with us from having to pay back the landlords for their lost revenues. We have introduced other legislation to correct the technical flaw and restore the original intent of the law.

Meanwhile another suit had ended up in the second high court of Italy which interprets laws and is called the La Corte Surprema di Cassazione or Supreme Court of Cassation. The decision of the Court which is final at the highest level has reopened provision – and the opportunity – for tens of thousands of tenants throughout Italy.

The Court ruled that if the landlord and the tenant had a verbal, oral contract rather than a written lease contract as required, then they had the ability to push the property to be registered and register the rent at the lower level as allowed by the original legislation. Part of the tenant’s claim and defense would be allowable based on the “moral” or “psychological” pain suffered by the tenant from not having a written lease and having been forced to find housing in the informal, black market so prevalent throughout Italy. The Court’s decision does not reopen the door for tenants with a written, but unregistered lease, but settles the matter for those who were forced to agree to an okey-dokey lease involving tax evasion.

The tide hasn’t completely turned for ACORN Italy’s work. We still have much to be done with our allies in the Senate to both nail down tenant protections and restore the comprehensive opportunity to all tenants, but in the meantime we’re gearing up to get the word out throughout Italy to tenants with wink-and-nod verbal leases that their opportunity is knocking and the door is wide open again. Needless to say, head organizer David Tozzo is drawing up major national recruitment plans to scale up ACORN Italy’s work to take advantage of the opportunity and the membership is soaring.

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