Canada Leads the Way in Demanding Remittance Regulations!

Remittance Fees Toronto March 2 2011- 2New Orleans By late Tuesday night the last report was in from Vancouver putting a cap on actions across Canada in Hamilton, Toronto, and Ottawa in freezing and rainy weather as ACORN Canada (www.acorncanada.org) members stepped out to demand of federal authorities in Ottawa and provincial administrators in Ontario and British Columbia that the costs of remittances simply had to be regulated to put a stop to predatory pricing.  The actions were widely covered on Global TV, Chinese and other language papers, the Metro Ottawa with a front page picture, and as far away as The Fast Forward Weekly in Calgary.  Migrant and immigrant workers and families understand that this issue is huge, costly, and demands immediate resolution.  (Details in the reports posted at www.acorninternational.org entitled Past Time for Remittance Justice and the supplemental report, Looking the Other Way:  The Absence of Remittance Regulation)

Importantly in Vancouver there was a commitment from the chief staff person in the Finance Ministry to meet directly with ACORN Canada leaders to see what needed to be done to vet the issue and move forward.  With a new Premier taking office this week, members are crossing their fingers that they might actually be heard on this huge issue dealing with money transfer organizations like Western Union, MoneyGram, and others.

Members in Toronto were literally locked out in the cold by police at the behest of the provincial government in Ontario at Queen’s Park.  There seems to me more interest in the Hollywood concept of The King’s Speech than in Queen’s Park listening!  Police and bureaucrats claimed the demand to meet with the Minister of Finance and present an “unauthorized” letter was past the pale, forcing the members with flags, bullhorns, and chanting to call out to supporters passing by and post the letter to the minister from in front of the government’s own building.  “Hey,” politicians seem to be saying in Ontario, “what do we care about the problems of a bunch of new Canadian immigrants?”  Indeed!

DSCN0764The report from ACORN Ottawa head organizer, Jill O’Reilly, elegantly and concisely describes what nearly 30 members faced at the federal level in pressing the demands:
“CUPW joined us with their national president. SEIU Canada local 2 staff joined us as well
We got press in Ottawa Metro, major free daily paper. We got local press in the Ottawa EMC, which publishes Thursday.

Leaders Michelle Walrond and Adrian Profitos went up with no trouble to commissioner’s office Ursula Menke at the FCAC. She wasn’t in or the deputy commissioner. So we spoke with their media relations person who tried to shove us off to the minister’s office. But members stayed firm and they promised us a meeting and to look at our info. We asked them to pass on the message to Ursula and her office that she needs to recommend a 5% cap on banks for remittance fees to the minister, etc.

Remittance Fees Toronto March 2 2011 - 1 The woman we dealt with was a little shaky and the press came up and took some good shots. the building management called the cops on top of the cops I already spoke with this AM. We turned out approx 11 cops. who were super nice and pissed that the building management called in more of them when we already notified them.”

All in a day’s work as other countries in the ACORN International federation also move to step forward with the same demand in the seven other countries where our members face the same issues.

Another step forward, as momentum continues to build around the world for remittance justice and it becomes clear there’s no stopping us now!

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More Tenants? More Rights!

2739044670_102bbef9d9-1Toronto Given the housing and foreclosure crisis in the United States, it was not surprising to see that homeownership rates have fallen rapidly in recent years.  The Wall Street Journal published an estimate saying:

The nation’s home-ownership rate is also falling, to 67% of U.S. households in 2010, after topping 69% in 2004, according to the Census Bureau, with further declines expected. Each 1% decline represents one million households moving to rentals, housing experts say.

Conservatively that means 2 million fewer homeowners in the USA.  Where are they going?  Into rentals.  The same WSJ article estimates the following:

Renter households now top a record 37 million after increasing more than 3.5 million in the past five years, partly due to the foreclosure crisis. Green Street Advisors expects an additional 4.4 million rental households to be added by 2015.

Part of this increase is fueled by the transfer of owners to renters and part of it is undoubtedly fueled by the tightening credit markets that will produce longer term rents, particularly among the young in expanding markets.

It is hard not to think about tenants in Toronto.  At best only 50% of the city is composed of homeowners and estimates are only a little better than 60% in the greater Toronto area.  In the neighborhoods where ACORN Canada organizers virtually everyone is a tenant in one high rise complex after another.  The longest running organizing campaign not surprisingly has been the effort to win what we call, “landlord licensing,” which would be a process of licensing (and de-licensing) based on inspections (which would lead to repairs and improvements) and finally assure our tenants safe, decent, and even affordable housing.  In this long running battle the real estate interests cry like stuck pigs at our every proposal, but there has been sure and steady progress.  Last year winning a better auditing and inspections process, even though far short of licensing, according to the City of Toronto housing department led to $100 million in landlord upgrades and improvements.  Now ACORN Canada is trying to secure another small, but significant victory in this guerrilla campaign where a box would be required in the lobby of all major apartment complexes where the audit reports and improvements would be available to any tenant seeking to rent creating a transparency that would hopefully steer tenants towards better properties and shame landlords into making needed repairs.

There’s no way to imagine cities with burgeoning numbers of tenants who will no longer be seeing apartments as way stations to homeownership but increasingly as permanent addresses and not realize that the long imbalance where landlords have held the upper hand and tenants in most cities and states have been virtually stripped of any rights, as a time bomb ticking.  New construction of apartment blocks is being accompanied by rental inflation, so there are bound to once again be calls for controls if (when?) greed laps past demand, but perhaps even more urgently there will need to be tenant rights campaigns, like the ones in Toronto, to secure basic housing decency for the millions and millions who now understand that apartments are central to the urban future.

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