Atlanta The highlight of an ACORN convention since the first one in Memphis in 1978 has been the big action on the last day, and true to form that was also the case in Montreal. ACORN Canada members and leaders found the perfect target for the “Make Housing Our Right!” The headquarters of the Public Sector Pension Investment Board was less than a kilometer from where we were meeting in downtown at Concordia University. PSP is what the name describes: the agency that invests public employees, mainly Canadian federal employees, pension funds.
The chants were simple, and one of them was “PSP – Divest!” ACORN research had found that, unbelievably, this public investor was deeply involved in financialized housing. What is that? It’s the business of using housing as a financial commodity, which means doing almost anything other than increasing the supply of affordable housing, because the houses or apartments mainly are nothing but investment assets. PSP, from what ACORN had determined, was even investing in predatory payday lending, including companies that don’t operate in Quebec because interest rates are capped at less than 30%.
ACORN members went through their demands in prep session before marching over to the soaring skyscraper located at a prestigious address on the Montreal equivalent of Park Avenue, now booming with apartment and condo construction. Two teams had gone in advance to the 14th floor to deliver a letter from the organization to top management and ask for a meeting, while the rest of us chanted in the massive lobby with our slogans echoing from the high ceilings, so that we could be heard clearly on the very top floors.
We were caught in a runaround even as many were sitting-in and shouting out in the lobby with the elevators guarded by a phalanx of building security and armed Montreal police, standing shoulder to shoulder. Receptionists and admins didn’t have the authority to make the appointment, they claimed. Phone numbers for scheduling went to automatic machines which then hung up on the leaders’ calling. Finally, as the action wound on, the police were convinced to intervene and several accompanied ACORN President Marva Burnett and Head Organizer Judy Duncan up the elevators. Later they returned having successfully delivered the letter to await an appointment. Representatives of the employees’ union were with us, and they have a meeting set in the coming week, so we will be face to face on this issue soon.
PSP is neither the worst or best, but its investments are so far outside of the public interest that it has to change. ACORN delivered that message at the top of our lungs, and ACORN Canada won’t stop until housing is a right and funds like this join in the effort to make more housing affordable for low-and-moderate income families.