By Greater Manchester Housing Action (@gmhousingaction)
If the tumultuous last few months have signalled one thing it is that this is no time for moderation. We simply cannot afford to wait in hope for the government to make concessions to those at the sharp end of the housing crisis.
There has been a notable and impressive increase in the number of people and organisations committed to the fight for decent housing in the economic and social wake of the coronavirus. Some groups are established, others are new; but all of them stand facing a housing crisis that does nothing but grow, with new economic and legislative forces behind it. The recent upsurge in activity within housing and renter organising also sits within the wider context of the defeat of the Corbyn project, and many on the left are now looking to community and workplace organising as the route forward from defeat.
However, sobriety is required. The forces ranged against our movement are formidable. In Britain, the landlord and property lobbies remain deeply embedded with the Tory Party and the entire structure of political power — including many Labour councils. We have seen this fact manifest itself in the policy choices of the government — from their near-total abandonment of renters during the crisis through to the worrying planning reforms, laid out in a recent white paper. Globally, the power of finance capital over housing remains overwhelming, as, aside from the odd bright spot such as Barcelona, the predatory financialisation continues apace.
In this context, as the year draws to a close, there is a need for strategic reflection and analysis. Building upon a debate already in train in the pages of the New Socialist, Greater Manchester Housing Action (GMHA) and Housing Action Southwark & Lambeth (HASL), with the support of the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, have created a three part online programme across November and December. We don't pretend to have the answers to the questions facing us. Rather, our aim to create a space for us all to consider the big questions facing our movement: discussion on tactics, strategy; the threats and opportunities coming down the line, and drawing out demands for housing moving into the future.
The first online event on the 12th November — this Thursday — focuses on tenants unions, and asks: ‘Is there Power in a Tenants Union?’. It is here that growth in our movement has been most significant, with long standing organisations such as ACORN, Living Rent and the London Renters Union (LRU) registering significant membership growth; Tenants Union UK refocusing as the Greater Manchester Tenants Union (GMTU), and other tenants unions popping up across the country such as the Hull Renters Union. In the immediate, the looming eviction crisis and homelessness surge will be a key site of struggle for renters and unions, but in the long-term we must tackle questions of our organisations scalability, which models for organising are most effective, and — more broadly — whether tenants unions can ever be a vehicle for wide social transformation. The event will include speakers from ACORN, GMTU, HASL, LRU, the Dorchester Court Tenants Union and the Community Action Tenants Union Ireland.
The second online event on the 3rd December, focuses on housing financialisation and big capital in the context of the pandemic. We ask, ‘Who Profits from the Crisis?’. The old adage ‘never let a serious crisis go to waste’ holds true today. The pandemic has been an opportunity for capital and large corporations to expand their control over housing. This process has been termed as ‘housing grabs’, and it is starkly apparent that this is a racialised process. We have seen the disproportionate and systematic exposure of working-class communities of colour to unemployment, unsafe jobs, eviction, homelessness, displacement, and wealth loss.
With our panel of speakers, we will explore these dynamics. Drawing on recent research published about the situation in Los Angeles, we will broaden the perspective to include the UK; consider whether the pandemic has accelerated processes of financialisation and ask — what must our response as a movement be? The panel will include, Desiree Fields an urban geographer based at Berkley, Nigel de Noronha a geographer at University of Nottingham, Terra Graziani an LA based research and tenants rights activist and co-director of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, Joel Mantano and Pamela Stephens, both doctoral student in Urban Planning at UCLA.
Our final event will put aside the moderate demands around housing, and look towards the abolition of the landlord-tenant relationship and ‘A World without Rent’. The pandemic has exposed the extent to which landlords and other rentier interests have their grip over our economy. Categorising landlords into good, bad and rogue, occludes the fact that at the heart of landlordism is a basic exploitation. But how do we transcend from our current reality, and what strategic interventions can the housing movement make now in shifting the political landscape — away from the current model that empowers developer and rentier interests. We’re looking forward to announcing the speakers over the coming week. This event will also be accompanied by GMHA’s forthcoming educational pamphlet, ‘The Myth of the Good Landlord’ based on an article earlier this year by ACORN Liverpool activist Tom Lavin.
We look forward to welcoming not only organisers from across the housing movement, but those who wish to give context and understanding to the crisis we find ourselves in. Political education remains essential to the construction of a fighting housing movement; one that will defend and extend the human right to housing. Housing is a universal necessity of life, without it ‘participation in most of our social, political and economic life is impossible’, and the housing question sits at the heart of the radical change our moment demands.
Registration: Please register for the event via eventbrite, attendees will be emailed the zoom details to join the event. The events are free but for those who are able a solidarity donation to GMHA is possible.
Is there Power in a Tenants Union?
Thursday 12th November 2020 6-7:30pm
Who Profits From the Crisis?
Thursday 3rd December 2020 7pm-8.30pm
A World Without Landlords
Thursday 10th December, 2020, 6-7.30pm
Cover art by Jonathan Tomlinson.
8 November 2020