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When We Fight, We Win: Grand Rapids Homes for All

April 18, 2016

Last Thursday evening, another 70 people showed up to talk about rent increases, gentrification, landlord abuse and alternatives to “market rate” housing in Grand Rapids.

Building on the first gathering in late February, the Grand Rapids Homes for All movement took its next step by continuing to develop some focus around what needs to be done to combat gentrification and the growing disparities between upscale housing and affordable housing.

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One important step that the local effort took was to join the national Homes for All campaign and sign the pledge. This decision not only provides Grand Rapids housing activists an opportunity to utilize the resources of the national campaign, but it provides peer to peer training, which has the potential to lead to an effective and deeply intersectional campaign.

The meeting last Thursday already followed the national model of developing working groups; Renters Rights, Development without Displacement and Alternative Models of Housing for People Not Profit. These three working groups provide a cohesive framework for moving forward and addressing very specific needs in the community.

The Renters Rights track entails the fight for renters rights ordinances across a city/county/state or contracts with individual landlords and approaches that organize mass numbers of renters into renters rights formations to fight displacement and advance the political power of the renter nation.

The Alternative Models of Housing for People Not Profit track represents transformative solutions that seek to create the new world we seek now.  These campaigns center on acquiring collective community ownership of land and establishing democratic Community Land Trusts as an essential first step in taking land off the speculative market and establishing permanent community control.  Collective ownership of the housing, cultural space, green space and worker cooperatives are also essential to the establishment of our holistic vision of community control, not in just one arena but all those that are critical for our communities to thrive and each of us reach our full potential.

The Development Without Displacement track unites campaigns across the country in which communities are fighting big developers and gentrifiers to ensure that all current residents (predominantly people of color) in communities facing gentrification win agreements and guarantees to ensure that they can stay in their community and help shape and benefit from the development.

Each of these three areas of organizing are based on the shared values of the Homes for All campaign. The four shared values are:

  • Community and Housing are a human right, not a commodity to be exploited for profit.
  • Land and Housing should be collectively owned and controlled by communities.
  • Land and Housing should be developed in a way that is sustainable for the planet.
  • Land and Housing should be accessible, permanent, quality, and connected to economic, social and cultural networks and institutions.

These values provide an important framework for doing the necessary organizing that promotes housing justice, challenges gentrification and displacement and creates a movement for social justice.Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 2.56.19 AM

The working groups have already identified several key areas of work, such as doing renters rights training, doing a landlord by landlord campaign to win contracts and rent controls, creating a renters union, holding elected officials and developers accountable and looking at alternative forms of housing that is based on cooperation.

The timing of this organizing work has also coincided with the opportunity for a few of us to spend the weekend in Chicago, attending a Homes for All national retreat, featuring 135 organizers from around the country that have been engaged in amazing work. The weekend was spent sharing stories in the struggle, learning models of organizing, sharing tactics, connecting with communities and developing strategies for the next phase of the national Homes for All campaign.

The weekend was truly inspiring, since not only did it bring together so many organizers, it demonstrated that there is power in direct action. What this often means is that, despite the limitations of the law around issues like rent control, people have been able to win collective bargaining and contracts landlord by landlord or building by building throughout the country. Here is just a sampling of the victories that have been won when direct action efforts are appliedrise-corp-landlord-cover-231x300

We participated in the Renters Rights organizing committee, which also meant we discussed Corporate Landlords. Corporate Landlords are property management companies, which own a substantial amount of property and are able raise housing costs because of the volume they deal with. One of the largest private companies is Blackstone and the Homes for All campaign has even created a major report on what this company does, primarily with rental units under the banner of Invitation Homes.

The Corporate Landlord organizing effort around Blackstone provides a great example of how to challenge rent increases and organize renters building by building and community by community. 

What was also inspiring about the weekend was the clarity it gave around ways to do organizing campaigns and how to create horizontal models for social justice. The retreat emphasized that the movement around renters rights, displacement and anti-gentrification work must be led by those most impacted, which are often working class communities of color. In fact, the retreat practiced this core value by making sure that those who led most of the sessions and talked about their work were women of color.

If we are to have an authentic housing justice movement in Grand Rapids, we too need to make sure that it is led by those most impacted as well.

For those interested in being part of this work, the next meeting will be held on Thursday, May 12, 6pm at Hope Church on the corner of Burton and Kalamazoo SE.

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