New Orleans Spending several days with the ACORN Canada staff in our annual fall meetings in northern Ontario’s “cottage country” were invigorating in the company of committed organizers, great progress, solid workshops, and fascinating campaign discussions.
The rental housing crisis for tenants across the country colored all reports from every office from the oldest in Toronto to the newest in Calgary in the western province of Alberta. The campaigns are focusing on winning rent control at whatever level is possible, but strategic discussions focused on winning rental registries and vacancy control programs as intermediate steps or buffers even when partial or temporary rent control measures were achieved.
In some jurisdictions we are winning mandatory rental registries and in others, voluntary. Where voluntary, the organizational task is getting enough people to list their addresses, the landlords, and their rents so that on an accessible municipal database, people identify landlords for good or evil, compare rents, and, where possible, seem comments that warn of specific issues. The objective either way is putting weapons in the hands of tenants so that they are pointed clearly at landlords.
Where we have won rent control, at least temporarily, in the province of New Brunswick for example, setting a cap on rent increases, the big campaign is to win “vacancy control.” What this means is that when a unit is vacated, the landlord is still limited to how much the rent to the next tenant can be raised within the same parameters as the rent was for the previous tenant living under the controls. If the limit was 2% for example, then the new rent for the new tenant can only be 2% more than the old rent. Without vacancy control, landlords can claim renovations and whatever and try to implement huge increases of hundreds of dollars, which is happening in some cities in Canada right now.
Rents have grown so quickly in many provinces that provincial leaders have changed positions from been staunch “free market” advocates one minute to imposing rent controls within the same year. Some rents in Canada are up over 30% within the last year. Relatively speaking, Calgary is better than most, but the public attention and political movement around ACORN’s new chapters there demanding rent control has been dynamite. We’re at the hard edge of this fight in city after city.
Of course, the rents are driving inflation as well. No one is immune, including the organizers themselves, so the discussion among the office directors included various proposals of how to make sure that the staff could be securely housed, even while organizing and serving the membership in their fights to win housing justice.
Voluntary registries are not the answer of course, but building political support through participation in such registries in various cities, might be the path to winning mandatory systems, just as ACORN Canada has won for landlord licensing in jurisdiction after jurisdiction.