Ottawa ACORN fighting for tenants in the city since 2006
My name is Max Brazier, a member of Ottawa ACORN. I joined ACORN to fight for affordable and livable housing, and help get more students and young people involved in these campaigns. Since joining I’ve been an active part of the Housing Justice Priorities launch, and it’s been inspiring to see so many people come together.
Ottawa ACORN is a community group that’s been fighting for tenants in the city since 2006. While we work on many issues impacting low income and working class people, a big focus of ours has been affordable housing and landlord and tenant issues. As the housing crisis worsens and the Ford government sells out tenants in favour of developers’ interests, it’s more important than ever for ordinary people to get organized and fight as a unified voice. There’s no better way to do that than through ACORN. We can make the demands that tenants need because we remain independent from governmental and corporate interests; instead, our work relies on our members and the people in our communities. This spring, Ottawa ACORN reached out to tenants to help draft our Housing Justice Priorities, which will shape our municipal housing campaigns in the coming period.
“Hearing from tenants across Ottawa served as a sobering reminder of how the housing crisis impacts renters across the city and why City Council needs to finally address the housing emergency that they declared in 2020.”
This outreach took the form of knocking on doors, handing out pamphlets, making countless phone calls, and promoting tenant meetings in five neighbourhoods throughout Ottawa. At these tenant meetings, people spoke up about the issues that impacted them the most, told stories about their experiences with landlords, and helped brainstorm solutions. We also circulated a Tenant Survey that 145 people responded to with their concerns and experiences.
32% of tenants reported receiving an eviction notice, and 16% received a rent increase they could not afford. 64% of respondents’ annual income was below $50,000, and 57% of respondents pay over 30% of their annual income on rent. A quarter of respondents reported having been harassed, intimidated, or threatened by a landlord. Hearing from tenants across Ottawa served as a sobering reminder of how the housing crisis impacts renters across the city and why City Council needs to finally address the housing emergency that they declared in 2020.
All this work led to the Tenant Rights Council on June 17th, where over 100 Ottawa ACORN members/tenants were present and were pleased to be joined by guest speakers Councillor Ariel Troster and Lais Maurilio from the City for All Women Initiative (CAWI). Attendees voted for ACORN’s Top Housing Justice Priority out of three housing campaigns based on members’ and other Ottawa tenants’ biggest housing concerns. Voters chose their top priority between landlord licensing, $40 million for affordable housing, and an anti-renoviction by-law. All three of these campaigns were informed by the input received from tenants in meetings throughout the spring.
“We can make the demands that tenants need because we remain independent from governmental and corporate interests; instead, our work relies on our members and the people in our communities.”
Landlord licensing is a fight that Ottawa ACORN has been waging since back in 2008. A requirement for landlords to be licensed would boost accountability by treating landlords like every other business. Part of this is ensuring there are regular proactive unit inspections. In 2017, we got landlord registration onto the City Hall agenda. While the landlord lobby was able to push the city council to vote against it, the fight is far from over.
Until this year, the city has only spent $15 million annually on building affordable housing, despite declaring a housing emergency. This does not add up. More must be spent on building affordable housing to address this crisis. That’s why Ottawa ACORN is fighting for $40 million in the budget for affordable housing.
While we will still fight for licensing and an increased housing budget, ACORN members and other Ottawa tenants ultimately decided that fighting for a Renoviction By-law is Ottawa ACORN’s top housing priority. This would address unnecessary evictions for renovations and make it so landlords cannot displace tenants. Landlords would have to follow precise requirements to prove that units must be vacant in order for necessary renovations to take place. Developers would also have to obtain all permits from the city needed for the renovation before notices could be sent to tenants. To ensure tenants are not displaced, landlords will have to either enter an identical or more favourable lease with the tenant in a comparable unit or agree that tenants can move back under the existing lease after the renovation period and find temporary accommodations at the same rent for them in the meantime.
Energized by these campaigns, over 45 Ottawa ACORN members and supporters gathered in Confederation Park outside City Hall for the Renter’s Rights Rally. Speakers from Horizon Ottawa and Free Transit Ottawa also spoke in support of our fight. ACORN members delivered the Tenant Survey Report, along with the campaign demands, to a representative of City Councillor Stephanie Plante. The councillor’s office will meet with Ottawa ACORN in the coming weeks.
The Tenant Rights Council and Renter’s Rights Rally kicked off Ottawa ACORN’s fight for a Renoviction By-law. There’s still much more work to be done, and more fights to be won, to tackle the Ottawa housing crisis. We need more help to pull this off.