Winning for Tenants in Canada

ACORN International Unions

            Stoney Lake, Ontario       The agenda call for the annual meeting and training session for ACORN Canada organizers heralded Buckhorn 6.0.  It turned out the number might have been accurate or might have been pulled out of the air, but it spoke to the fact that for six years or so, beginning at Lake Buckhorn, and then moving to other lakes, all north of Toronto by a couple of hours in what is known in Ontario as “cottage country,” for second homes on the Canadian Shield from the glacial ice age retreat, the staff has come together for assessment and training.  This year the meeting is on Stoney Lake. More than 20 organizers came together with new recruits in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, and Ottawa.

Listening to reports on the first night, it was clear that as diverse as the campaigns are in Canada with progress on internet for all and predatory lending, tenants are the base across the country and a huge amount of the work is focused on winning on their issues, both individually and collectively.  One office after another shared the name of individual tenants who had triggered the building of tenants’ unions in various housing complexes, both large and small, because of rent increases or evictions.  Interestingly, a significant number of the drives were managed and implemented by ACORN members and leaders carrying the load.  The names of the complexes often masked their deep-seated dysfunction:  Wyldewood, Starlight, Olde Oak, Brookhill Gardens, Havenwood, Smart Living, and more.  Some were Canadian-owned real estate investment trusts or REITs and some, like LaSalle Properties, seemed to conjure up the specter of US and Chicago-based companies, named for one of the prime streets inside the Loop business district.

Landlord licensing, which ACORN has rebranded, RentSafe, captured more beachheads this year.  Toronto had been first, western Canada added one of its suburbs, and now Hamilton in Ontario was implementing the program.  The victory has been illusive in Ottawa, where we have waged the campaign for years against council claims that it was illegal, but the mounting number of cities putting such licensing and enforcement of housing standards into practice, renders their arguments hollow.  Rent caps and controls continue to be front and center in these fights.   One extension in the Maritimes was won through 2025, but pictures of a funeral in Nova Scotia, where the rent caps were vacated in January, underlined how hard these fights have been.

Eco-tenant unions have been built in several cities to demand retrofits to deal with the issues of climate change.  Requirements for temperature triggers for air-conditioning have made progress, as well.  The 2023 summer in many parts of Canada had been cooler, but this is a campaign that will inevitably grow wider.

Reading a Canadian researcher’s new book, The Tenant Class, the notion that rent increases are based on supply problems was easily demolished.  The book also went city by city in proving that landlords were raising prices in multiples that were significantly higher than inflation, crushing that rationalization for dramatic increases as well.  What goes around, comes around, and ACORN’s continually growing strength in Canada and progress in many provinces sets the stage for tenant power and a reckoning for landlords.