Leeds The highlight of my day in Leeds was accompanying Dave Aldwinkle, one of ACORN’s national organizers in England, along with the Leeds Branch Chair, Branch Secretary, and Branch Membership Officer, to an anti-eviction planning meeting. Aleksandra and Arkadiusz, were originally from Poland, but had been living in the flat for 13 years under different property managers, and had paid their rent faithfully. The landlord had not been as faithful in paying his mortgage, and HSBC, the giant global bank, had foreclosed on him. HSBC had soldiered on for a bit with a new agency, but had now hired some folks to close down the property and evict the tenants. There were four units here, but our ACORN members were the only ones left with one unit uninhabitable and two where the tenants had just left without a word as they had assessed the situation.
The Branch Chair had been newly elected, but had personal experiences with evictions. Aleksandra had been to a training session the previous weekend so she had a sense of the fight now. Dave was well-organized. He had an agenda he passed around with squares labeled Overview, What Do We Want, Strategy, Recap & Action Points. There were blocks for everyone to write notes and other blocks to detail follow-up actions. This was a valuable tool. I hadn’t seen it before, but the members all used it for their notes and to highlight their assignments at the end of the meeting. The involvement of so many leaders also elevated the meeting for the tenants, offering additional confidence.
The tenants wanted to stay. They knew the odds were low, but they had been looking already and had not been able to find anything affordable. An eviction notice had been served demanding their departure by the 15th of November. As the organizers and leaders explained, the tenants should not leave then. Normally, they would be able to stay six months or longer because they didn’t really need to vacate until there was a court order. By English law no utilities could be cut off and the owner, HSBC, was responsible for ongoing repairs. Unless a special 24-hour emergency court was convened to deal with the backlog of cases, they had time.
Knowing the inevitable, most of the session focused on the tenants’ negotiating strategy: what they could demand and win. How many months did they want to demand? How about moving and relocation money? How about a list of repairs for more leverage on HSBC? It turned out the solicitors were based in Bristol, where ACORN’s largest chapter could also join in a supportive action. There were a lot of possibilities and a lot of research that needed to be done, but the tenants settled on asking for a year and one-thousand pounds, though they would likely be able to win more.
Sitting in the living room drinking tea and eating homemade brownies and Polish bakery sweets, it was impossible not to experience the mix of emotions of the members between honor and appreciation, fear and disgust, mixed with hope and anger. There were tears and hugs at the end of the planning meeting. Some of our crew took home some sweets. A plan was made for the follow-up session and action next week, after everyone had done their pieces. A WhatsApp group was going to be formed. I want to be on it!