Home / Author: Sabine Frid-Bernards
From ACORN Manchester:
Alone we are weak, but together we are strong. Our belief in this maxim is vital amidst a pandemic which has further exposed the injustices at the heart of society. As ACORN, we’ve shown that grassroots organising not only brings results, but by delivering these together as ordinary people, we advance concrete examples of community solidarity to last beyond the pandemic.
ACORN’s ‘Member Defence’ teams utilise the collective power of the union to fight alongside fellow members on housing issues, empowering them to take action and win. We do not buy into direct action ‘only as a last resort’ – when already rigged in favour of the rich and powerful, going through the system has both little appeal and often little success. Despite the obvious impediments that Covid-19 guidelines have had on our ability to visit landlords and letting agencies in a big group to demand justice, our teams have displayed impressive creativity with incredible results. So much so, that we now have a prominent pro-bono housing solicitor referring people to us, because it’s clear that we can achieve so much more through people power than the courts.
During the UK’s nationwide lockdown, and before our Manchester Member Defence Team was formally established, Sabrina’s household was hit with a rental increase of 24%. The household had been devastated financially as a result of the virus; the ability of the tenants to cover their rent, let alone manage an increase, proved a severe challenge. One housemate reached out to ACORN for support, and signed up the rest of the house as members – the root of all our union power is getting each other’s backs; if we get your back, we expect you to have ours too by becoming a member. Collectively, with direction from ACORN, a campaign strategy was drawn up. In the end, the mere threat of union action is all it took for the rental increase to be dropped in its entirety.
This inspired Sabrina to take an active role in the union, getting trained up to join the first cohort of our Member Defence Team (whilst joining our Community Protection Team against evictions and supporting vulnerable people through our food delivery scheme). Sabrina went on to give talks to other fledgling ACORN branches in the UK, such as ACORN Swindon, sharing her insights, and inspiring them to get their own victories. One simple win transformed a non-member into a passionate leader, committed to solidifying the collective power of renters.
Early on in the COVID-19 crisis, Sophie lost her job and her Universal Credit payments were not adequate to cover her rent and bills. Sophie, like so many others, started to accrue rent arrears. In June, she contacted ACORN for support. We pride ourselves on empowering our members to take action with the union’s backing, rather than us performing a service for them – this is essential to building a powerful and engaged movement. Accordingly, we worked with Sophie to draw up demands and a strategy to win them. Much of the devised strategy was unnecessary, as once it became clear to the letting agents that Sophie had our backing, they quickly relented to her demands. In the end, all it took was an email from ACORN to secure a £500 arrears reduction and a favourable repayment plan. This relatively easy victory not only made a difference to Sophie, but it strengthened our union; the new team members involved gained experience, and Sophie became another determined member of the team. As long as we continue to ensure that every victory – easy or hard-fought – empowers our members, we can build ACORN into an ever-stronger fighting force.
In another case, a member came to ACORN after being furloughed and having their repeated requests for assistance to their letting agency ignored. The tenants had been unable to move into the property for a month at the start of the tenancy, despite paying full rent, due to multiple pest infestations and the general uninhabitable state. ACORN members took bold and cunning action alongside the tenants, leaving a flood of negative reviews online, tanking the agency’s ratings. This forced them to the table, and even brought the landlord out of the woodwork. With these avenues of communication open, and the backing of ACORN members, the tenants were able to unearth a series of lies and omissions from the letting agent to both the landlord and themselves, throughout the tenancy. With their deceit laid bare, the letting agency conceded defeat, agreeing to refund the first month’s rent and offer an on-going 20% rent reduction. And yet again, our winning member has joined our Member Defence Team, building our power to get even more wins, and on an even more ambitious scale.
These are just a handful of wins that the four of us writing this article have helped to organise. When we have been able to all go down in-person to a dodgy letting agency together,we’ve managed to stop a member being taken to the small claims court for rent arrears, and win the cancellation of all his rent debt, worth over £1500.
ACORN gives members the support and tools they need to stand up for themselves. The growth in membership month on month speaks to how people repay this faith shown in them, allowing ACORN to go from strength to strength in the process. Simply put, there is power in the collective – ACORN intends to remind the masses of this crucial fact.
Written by Chris Moore, Ethan Green, Jack Yates & Sabrina McDonnell. You can join ACORN here.
From ACORN UK: Nottingham:
Nottingham City Homes wouldn’t listen to our demands, but BBC East Midlands did! Watch what we had to say on this clip from yesterday evening.
Today marks the deadline we set NCH to lift our member’s unfair £10,000 charge following our last action. If they fail to do so by the end of today, we will have no choice but to escalate our case further!
Watch the full video:
From ACORN Canada: This has been an explosive week for the Rent Control Now campaign in Nova Scotia! Over the past few months ACORN has been collecting rent increases from across the province. The results are grim but not shocking, members have gotten increases upwards of $900 a month.
One rent increase went viral over social media, Grace – a tenant who works at the local gas station – got a $650 increase designed to force her to move from her apartment so the landlord can renovate the unit. The response from the Province? Rent Control doesn’t work. According to the provincial government it’s a “philosophical issue” – try telling that to Grace and the hundreds like her who are forced from their homes by greedy landlords!
Since then tenants have been coming forward with their stories and ACORN has been more active than ever, getting tenants rallied, sending hundreds of emails to Stephen McNeil and local MLAs, and pushing the province closer to rent control. We are organizing a rally Saturday (Facebook event here) – with upwards of 1500 people from across the HRM interested in coming – to force the province to act in the best interest of tenants and enact Rent Control Now! Can’t make it? Click here to send an email to your MLA to demand Rent Control!
CTV News: ‘It’s ridiculous’: Calls for affordable housing in Halifax area grow louder (with video!)
Nova Scotia Advocate: News brief: We need rent control and landlord licensing everywhere in Nova Scotia
The Chronicle Herald: Rally calling for rent control in Nova Scotia to be held Saturday in Halifax
Global News: Habitat for Humanity pushes for more affordable housing options in the HRM
The Coast: Halifax to rally for rent control this weekend
From iNews UK:
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, 63 per cent of private renters had no savings and almost half of working renters were just one paycheck away from losing their home. Think of them as the “squeezed middle” Ed Miliband once tried to champion – they were already stretching themselves to cover the most essential cost of all: housing. Now, Shelter estimates that 332,000 private renters who were not in arrears prior to the pandemic are now behind on their rent…
In the meantime, without the protections they need and with local authority enforcement patchy at best, some renters are turning to tenants’ unions for help plugging the gaps where the state is failing. Acorn is a nationwide community union with 5,000 members across the country and branches in 22 cities. A spokesperson told i they have helped to resist 20 Section 21 evictions in total and picketed lettings agencies. They also reported a “huge rise in attempted illegal evictions” and requests for help. Acorn has been holding “eviction resistance bootcamps” across the country over the last two months. Participants are taught about renters’ rights in the event that a county court appoints bailiffs to carry out an eviction.
“We have seen a huge increase in our membership over the crisis period,” Acorn’s spokesperson added. Tenants unions see themselves as providing grassroots support where legal aid (which was cut significantly back in 2013) and local councils are falling short. They may become more ubiquitous in months to come but, if they do, it will be a symptom of a housing crisis that predated the pandemic and has been exacerbated by it.
BBC featured an update on the pandemic in Dharavi, where public health programs and aid from organizations such as ACORN have helped decrease infections and deaths. As one of the most intensely packed places on earth, it is incredibly positive news to see that cases and deaths are down. Local leaders attribute this to local health workers who know the slum well and are able to go door to door, and aid from NGO’s and civil society.
“I would put this down to about 6,000 health workers combing every street, doing tests…since they know the slums, they are able to track all the cases,” says ACORN organizer Vinod Shetty. “It’s mainly been civil society and NGO’s which are responsible for the feeding of the whole of Dharavi and the kind of support that was given at the worst possible time. It was civil society, social network of organizations that rose to the occasion and kept the kitchens running.”
Listen to the full story on the BBC.
ACORN Canada is organizing to support tenants who are being forcibly evicted by their landlord due to repairs and renovations on the buildings. Organizers say that it is the responsibility of the landlord to find accomodations for these tenants.
“We are in the midst of a pandemic, there is no room to rent and it is expensive! We ask them to leave when Montreal is in code red and we are told not to leave home! ” says Theodros Wolde of ACORN Canada.
Read the full post (in French) from ACORN Canada.
Vice News talked with founder of the Ohio Voter Project and author of the Voter Purge Project’s data cleaning and analysis methodology Steve Tingley-Hock about our work to track wrongful data purges across the country.
“When I ran the initial queries, that was my first indication that there was a serious problem here,” Steve says of the initial Ohio records that showed about 40,000 voters were set to be wrongfully purged. Steve, along with the VPP, now collects and analyzes data for 16 states.
Watch the full video below, and read more about what we are doing with this data in our report.
It’s small world. Marva Burnett, the president of ACORN Canada and ACORN International, visited several cities in Nigeria last year with her church group. She met a young man named Edem Etido in Port Harcourt, a large city much farther southwest from Lagos, the mega-city, but also along the Gulf of Guinea, nearer to Cameroon. I talked to Edem via Skype about his interest in organizing ACORN Nigeria, and how we could get him some training. I promised to visit him when I was scheduled to be in Nigeria. The pandemic postponed that visit three times with the latest now pushed back to the spring of 2021, but in the last week I’ve heard from Edem several times via Facebook and email. Protests have broken out in Port Harcourt and throughout the country, triggered initially over police brutality suffered by young people, but now expanding to a host of other issues over corruption, the economy, and the inaction of government.
His message was simple and straightforward, as he wrote,
The youths in my country need international support for what we are advocating for at the moment. I guess you’ve heard or watched the protest that’s ongoing in Nigeria now?The hashtag that’s trending on Twitter now #EndSars #EndPoliceBrutality is the ongoing protest by the youths here because, the (SARS) which means-Special Anti-Robbery Squad, have gone out from what their primary duties are, which is to protect lives and properties of the Nation and citizens. All they do is intimidate, harass, and extort youths at gunpoint while also killing youths for no reason, because nobody is gonna query or prosecute them.We’ve been on this for more than a week now and all our governments could do is just make verbal and audio promises which they have been doing way back since 2015 and we are fed up with fake promises, so we demand full action, and that’s why the protest is ongoing.We just heard that they are going to send the military to intimidate and shoot at us for the peaceful protest. No country has said anything about this and it’s not fair. I don’t know how ACORN International could help to make this protest go round over there, so as to get the international attentions we need.
The youths in my country need international support for what we are advocating for at the moment. I guess you’ve heard or watched the protest that’s ongoing in Nigeria now?
The hashtag that’s trending on Twitter now #EndSars #EndPoliceBrutality is the ongoing protest by the youths here because, the (SARS) which means-Special Anti-Robbery Squad, have gone out from what their primary duties are, which is to protect lives and properties of the Nation and citizens. All they do is intimidate, harass, and extort youths at gunpoint while also killing youths for no reason, because nobody is gonna query or prosecute them.
We’ve been on this for more than a week now and all our governments could do is just make verbal and audio promises which they have been doing way back since 2015 and we are fed up with fake promises, so we demand full action, and that’s why the protest is ongoing.
We just heard that they are going to send the military to intimidate and shoot at us for the peaceful protest. No country has said anything about this and it’s not fair. I don’t know how ACORN International could help to make this protest go round over there, so as to get the international attentions we need.
If I hadn’t heard of these protests already from Edem, and if you hadn’t heard of them yet, there was a front page picture that jumped later to a story in the Wall Street Journal, because the protests shut down the city of Lagos along with its airport and main thoroughfares.
How can we help? There’s a petition that the young people hope to send to the United Nations that you can sign. You can also make a donation to support the protests. As the article points out, “More than 55% of Nigerians are underemployed or unemployed and youth unemployment is even higher, according to official statistics. More than 90% of Nigerians work in the informal sector….” People in Nigeria are desperate for change, so anything we can do, small or large, helps make that possible.
Members of the ACORN group chose a pedestrian overpass in Surrey for a “banner drop” on Wednesday (Oct. 14), in a call for increases to disability and income assistance in B.C. “PWD = Poverty,” read the banner, referring to persons with disabilities.
The “drop” happened at the intersection of Scott Road and King George Boulevard. ACORN is calling for rates to be increased to $2,000 per month to match the new federal benefits for low-wage workers, group member Bertha Edward told the Now-Leader. “If the federal government determined low-wage workers are entitled to a basic standard of living at $2,000 a month through Canadian Recovery Benefit and Employment Insurance, how is it justifiable that the B.C. government forces people on disability and income assistance to live below the poverty line?” the group said in a news release. “We live in a rich province and there is no excuse for people to live in poverty,” Tabitha Naismith, chair the Newton ACORN branch, said in the release.
Online, ACORN is at acorncanada.org. The website describes ACORN Canada as “an independent national organization of low and moderate income families with 130,000+ members in 20+ neighbourhood chapters across 9 cities.”
On the ACORN FarmNearly 50 Xavier pre-medical students descended on The ACORN Farm equipped with shovels, energy and good will towards the mission of The ACORN FARM. Master Gardener R.C. Brock, a long-time ACV ACORN member greeted with them with an arm-long list of farm jobs, in the favorable autumn weather.
As the group planted greens and squash, weeded, dug out fence lines, mowed the grassy areas, pruned trees, harvested squash, and cleared away nature’s debris, the day fell away to good cheer and joy as it came to a finish.Three of the students, including two young women had mastered the chain saw and removed a dead tree.
Please LIKE The ACORN Farm on Facebook. Come volunteer or have a picnic.