Tag Archives: housing

Double Crossing Tenants in Ontario

Pearl River     Helping with the ACORN Canada board zoom call was inspirational as always, but an eyeopener as well.

The good news included a win in the British Columbia after an extensive ACORN “internet for all” campaign with the telecommunications company Telus who finally agreed to extend the $10 per month basic internet access plan to all disabled users and many others.  Shaw is the next tele-giant in our sites.  They should throw in the towel now.  In Toronto, the report on the collapse of Google’s Sidewalk Labs fiasco, seems to have set the table for all of ACORN’s demands for senior and transitional housing to be built in the footprint, although it might take a year to navigate the bureaucracy to get there.

The bad news was pretty horrific, and, not surprisingly, it centered around the continued horror of Premier Ford’s Ontario government.  Early in the pandemic, Ford was clear, he had tenants’ backs.  He flatly stated that if the choice was food versus rent, eat, and he would make sure that tenants continued to be protected.   That was then, but what followed, to the horror of ACORN Canada’s leaders, was Bill 184.

When ACORN Canada’s president, Marva Burnett, said she was losing sleep worrying about Bill 184, I found myself shutting off the zoom camera so that I could Google Bill 184 and understand the problem.  The bill has one of those slippery names that sounds good, but too often portend evil:  Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing.  How bad could this be?  Turns out, it was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and quickly was becoming known as the “landlord eviction” bill instead.

Currently, tenants appealing an eviction and landlords seeking one have to go to the Ontario Landlord Tenant Board (LTB).  Sure, there’s a backlog, but that’s the government’s job to fix, not blow up by tilting the scales towards the landlords.  Bill 184 seems to do just that.  According to a report in The Leveller, “Bill 184 would allow landlords to bypass the LTB and offer tenants a rent repayment plan which, if the tenant refuses, or accepts and falls behind payments, would give grounds to evict. Tenants could then appeal to the LTB, which is fraught with problems and complexities that tenants without legal assistance are simply unable to navigate.”

The Ford team claims this is win-win for everyone, but tenants are clear with pandemic evictions relief ending soon that Bill 184 is greenlighting landlords for mass evictions.  It’s also a classic case of not fixing what is broken, since landlords already had the whip hand under the LTB according to an analysis of the data.  As The Leveller reports, “Despite delays, landlords use the board effectively to evict tenants and apply for above-guideline-increases (AGI) to rent. In recent years, LTB data demonstrates that landlord applications for evictions and AGIs have increased, compared to applications filed by tenants.”

ACORN Canada’s Tenant Union and many others will be standing in the way, but thousands of tenants are facing evictions and Ontario is greasing the way for landlords to put them on the street.  Marva Burnett will not be the only one losing sleep in coming months.

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New Communities and Community Land Trusts

Greenville       Reading in Harper’s about New Communities farming land trust in Georgia celebrating the 50th anniversary since its founding, my memory is playing tricks on me.  I keep thinking that I met Charles Sherrod or at least was in a meeting at the same time with him, but I can’t place the time or occasion, so it’s more likely that I’m transposing something else on it.  I suspect Tom Wahman is to blame.

Tom Wahman was part of a philanthropic underground of sorts.  One of those progressive pearls embedded deeply in the shells that encased the rich and their wealth in foundations.  I met Tom when he was at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund through an introduction from George Wiley of the National Welfare Rights Organization.  Tom was an early funder of ACORN for several years while he was at RBF in the mid-1970s.  He would pull the money out of a hat and wash it to ACORN via the Center for Community Change and an alley of his there, who ironically was George’s ex-wife’s partner.  When Tom would visit ACORN in Little Rock in the early days, he was equally cagey.  He would combine it with a visit to the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation as cover, and he was always on his way to his pet project and great passion, New Communities.  It’s likely hearing Tom talk so much about the Sherrod’s work there and his love and support for the project that I felt we were on a parallel path, starting organizations in 1970.

New Communities was a community land trust, one of the first of its kind.  There are some 260 of them around the country.  Our still thriving Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY) is likely listed in that mix with its thousands of land trust apartments.  All of our early ACORN Housing Corporation housing developments were founded on a land trust model.  Sadly, we were not able to continue on that model except in New York City.  Too many of the members wanted to see their housing equal wealth for their families.  We understood and eventually stopped trying to push water upstream.

New Communities endured to 50 though, much as ACORN has, through the ups and downs, so I find myself celebrating with the Sherrods on that score as well.  Their groundbreaking success in the 1970s was crippled by first drought and USDA discrimination denying them a loan until a lawsuit by black farmers saw New Communities get the largest single settlement at $12 million.  Though they had lost their first 6000-acre property, the money allowed New Communities and its model to rise again twenty-five miles away, and celebrate their fifty years.  As I steered the riding mower around our four pecan trees to cut the tall grass on the half-acre ACORN Farm in New Orleans lower 9th Ward yesterday, I marveled at how hard their work had been and how amazing.

Creating a community land trust of any kind is never an easy ride.  It’s collective ownership and combined resources and decision making that’s a saddle sore on capitalism’s hide.  Tom Wahman and Charles and Shirley Sherrod and their fellow farmers were right.  We need more of these, no matter how many rocks are in the road.

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