Tag Archives: campaigns

ACORN Canada staff at YEYB in Quebec City!

Consolidating the Fight Against Housing Displacement in Canada

Quebec City    After a day of training and reports, the ACORN Canada organizing staff really got serious when the Year End / Year Begin meeting began no holds barred wrestling with campaigns.  The discussion was particularly intense around the dual crises of affordable housing, beyond the reach of many members, especially in the urban centers, and displacement of these same tenant families in these red-hot markets that have been well publicized in Toronto and Vancouver, but are equally problematic in Ottawa, Hamilton and other cities.

The platform for the discussion was the breakthrough victories in the western cities of Burnaby and New Westminster, abutting Vancouver.  As Vancouver has become increasingly unaffordable and the playground of the rich and foreign investors pushing prices past seven figures, pressure on prices and housing stock has led to speculation and displacement that we have termed “demovictions,” when tenants are evicted so that landlords and developers can demolish these three-story, ten apartment units to erect huge, towering apartment and condo towers.  In previous years’ meetings, the decade long campaign that had finally succeeded in winning landlord licensing and inspections with real penalties in Toronto had been the centerpiece topic.  ACORN groups in Ottawa and Hamilton had carried that campaign forward in those cities.  Now the debate centered on how to nationalize the victories in the west across Canada.

The victory in Burnaby had been long in coming as well, but was sweeping.  ACORN’s campaign and leaders had moved the city council to pass arguably the strongest tenant protections around displacement in North America.  When a qualifying building is scheduled for demolition and redevelopment under the new bylaw, the displaced tenants would be given a monthly rent top-off from the time they are moved out of their old unit, until they are moved back into the unit.  The rent supplement would be the area median rent plus 30%.  In 2019, that calculated to $1820 for a two-bedroom or $1545 for a one-bedroom, assuring the tenant of being able to successfully find alternative housing.  The real kicker is that once the redevelopment is completed, the tenant has the right to return to her old apartment at the same rent as when they left, coupling the scourge of displacement with what is effectively rent control.

This is great public policy.  The city doesn’t lose any affordable housing nor are tenants permanently displaced, even tough temporarily inconvenienced, the city gains more housing units, and despite all of their whining the developers make their money back and more from the new apartments they are adding.

Will it still lead to gentrification?  Yes, to some degree, since the new units, either rented or sold, will undoubtedly absorb the costs of the relocation and the retained affordable units.  Rents on those units will rise with inflation a couple of points per year, but low-and-moderate income families trying to move to Burnaby will be forced farther out to find affordable housing.  The only solution for that problem is the one that cities, provincial and national governments in Canada and around the world are still avoiding:  building more public housing.  The national housing policy envisions a rent subsidy for 300,000 families of up to $2500 per year, but that’s another story.

Nonetheless, ACORN Canada is clear.  This is what works.  Time to make the demands nationally, city to city, province to province.  These victories are benchmarks, so the stalling and excuses from city staffers and electeds won’t wash anymore.  There is a program that is winning, and a plan to make it work everywhere.

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Capacity in Organizing Counts – Props to Those Who Get It!

Lake Buckhorn, Ontario     In the annual HO/LO meeting of ACORN Canada several hours north of Toronto in the urban-centric area called “cottage country” near the defining geological formation known as the Canadian Shield, the head organizers and lead organizers throughout the Canadian organization were taking the measure of their work thus far during the year.  They were also working out ways that they could move forward on an array of campaigns on predatory lending, affordable housing, childcare payments, internet access, and welfare systems.

In one exercise designed by head organizer Judy Duncan, they broke into smaller groups to hash out ideas for direct actions that might jump the campaigns up a notch.  Listening to the reports from the groups was fascinating.  The suggestions were dramatic and imaginative.  It’s tough to devise creative tactics that walk the knife edge between what exerts pressure, captures attention, and, most importantly, feels comfortable for the membership to do.  A couple of videos later in the day of actions against the pending eviction of more than one-hundred families in a giant Ottawa complex called Herongate, long a campaign and action, target for ACORN there, allowed the HO/LOs to see how that office had faced the task and how local television commentators had reported and responded, very sympathetically in one case.  Those clips and another from the bi-annual ACORN Canada convention held in Hamilton, Ontario also displayed the members’ humor, anger, and handiwork in making the protest signs.  I had some trouble watching the last because my eye always goes to the signs that fail to say ACORN somewhere since the slogans are aimed at the target, but the word “ACORN” is a hardwire signal to supporters and potential recruits that it’s time to join in and act now.

All of this is about building capacity.  In ACORN we know its lifeblood, but its amazing how often people outside the work miss the details that make the work effective because they are lost in the last tweet or the most recent white paper or the hope that some bright new star will point the way to the future.  This makes it more remarkable when it turns out somewhere, somehow, people so often blinded by the glitter, finally recognize the grit, and that leads me to give some props in a surprising direction to some of the rich that “get it” about putting some oil on the gears and flywheels that make it happen and increase the capacity.

I don’t know how it all really works, but the Climate Emergency Fund seems to have stumbled onto something that I would love to see commonplace, and that’s an understanding of funding the things that make stuff happen, even if smaller and harder to suss out behind the headlines.  Props to Trevor Nelson, Rory Kennedy, and Aileen Getty who have been among the primary funders of the Climate Emergency Fund supporting Extinction Rebellion and similar actions.  Its not Gates, Buffet or Bloomberg money, but it’s pennies from heaven that are paying for buses, plane tickets, signs and the grist at the mill of social action and organization building.

Their thing is climate.  Our thing is climate too, with a different constituency and a day-to-day grind on that issue and scores of others.  There’s more than enough money to go around, but we need more “emergency funds” that grease all the wheels that make action and organizing happen, so let’s hope more of the one-percent start to get it and follow their lead.

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