Essen meeting: RETHINKING CROSS-URBAN SOLIDARITY

BEWARE: these are rough notes made as we go along. Do not quote or rely on accuracy until I have checked…

Essen 25 April

Introductions: Knut Unger (host) on timetable. Then introductions by individuals

Bettina Koehler Vienna has a progressive social policy history; but subject to neo-liberalisation going on.  Very hard to politicise. Complacency. RTTC issues gradually building up.  roblem of overcoming fragmentation and factions.

Charlotte Mathivet Paris AITEC – rental housing in Europe / HIC  / Spain anti-evictions

Annie Pourre, NoVox; some alliance startog between middle classes and poor people; DAL has 23 parts of France; a lot of community organising in neighbourhoods. Occupations. Try to make alliances with unemployed, immigrants, unions,

Claudio Javier Pulgar Pinaud Santiago de Chile  IAI and also academic in observatory of reconstruction (post earthquake 2010). Now doing PhD in Paris.  Latin American experience of neo-liberalism is of interest to Europeans too.

Kris Maschewsky Berlin active in neighbourhood anti-gentrif Tempelhof, though group split last summer. Part of Berlin crit geog group. Mittegemeindshcaft working on Eur comparisons. Has half a job in Weimar and half in Berlin. Precarious. Did thesis on marxist rent theory. Fictitious capital created by housing booms.

Merve Cevik from Istanbul Planner now doing a Masters comparing cities. Istanbul is gigantic and huge and so fast; masive evictions. Social movements try to link neighbourhoods but so hard to resist.  New policy of social housing, trying to get poor to periphery and now many of them are re-migrating back to city because they cannot survive in new locations. Is this authoritarian

Vanesa Valiño Barcelona Observatorio for Housing and Social Rights but mainly working on housing rights. Evictions and rent increases. Hsg was suffering even when everything was going well… and now greatly intensified. Impossiblity now (in crisis)of paying the mortgages which were contracted during good times. Alliance with society of people suffering from mortages – Plataforma Hypoteca… and the Observatory tries to give legal analytcal support. Different faces we show to different situations. Lots of alliances necessary, even with unions and …  “Scratching” (outing?) the politicians who took the decisions against which we are campaigning.

Michael Edwards – Explain JustSpace / intensification of speculation and pouring of money capital into built evironment; radid increase in commodification and financial penetration of built environment. Rapid growth of inequality; falling wages; soical housing shrinking, private renting growing fast – totally un-regulated and insecure. Social  benefits which filled the gap between low pay and high rents are now being cut. Huge international flows of specuative money from China, India, Russia etc etc inflates bubble of prices in the luxury market, but also in buying housing to rent.  Big institutions like insurance now entering.too. Trying to develop links between action groups and students and professors – with some success. Fragmentation among different groups of tenants, intending-owners etc the main organising challenge.

Grischa Dallmer from Berlin. Active tenant. Berlin tenants community gives legal support to tenants and organisations. Campaign for a European social housing policy.

Anna Habermann from Berlin studying urban planning , trying to make new understanding of urban planning.  No so much activist…  Social housing instruments.

Siw Mammitzsch Essen Tenant Association, part of coalition of tenants groups in Ruhr. Quality of the hosuing has fallen since financial investors took ver a lot of the stock. tenants not easily able to defend themsleves and the Association. Tenant orgaisation.

Pat Turnbull from London. LTF is a collective of reps from most of the 33 London boroughs (some active others not). People in the LTF are mostly council tenants, some tenants of housing associations (non-profit-distributing housing companies), a few are leaseholders who “bought” their flats and have mortgages. Now no money from counci to support associations; challenges are rising rents, loss of SR, loss of benefits. Serious problems of organisation, aslo of understanding and knowledge….  of real enemy. Biggest issue is getting working class tenants involved.

Joscha Metzger Hamburg geography , doing a PhD on conflict between tenants and building corporations, also in RTTC network in Hamburg. (Previously in Freiburg where small city made it easy). H very segregated. RTTC works well and has media interest but protect is very uneven, focussed in alternative districts, weak elsewhere.

Hatice Kursuncu – Istanbul – evicted people either have to take on mortgages or become tenants in very degraded area.  Period of bubble and expecting crash?  Fighting Olympic bid 2020. They have a public housing admin but it does private partnership. TOKI. Many evictions likely. Tens of thousands being displaced.

Ana Mendez de Andes Osserv de Madrid – a kind of think tank. Do research designed to support movements. Want to develop at Euro level, sharing analysis, beyond solidaity. Build solidarity on analysis of underlying causes. Common analysis very important indeed.  Had a meting ARBORA Oct 2012 on how a commona analysis could develop.

Walter Rapattoni ¿lawyer from Italy. Pescara and active Unione Inquilini (which comprises owners as well as tenants) Started 68 Milano. 1970s campaigns became national federation, ofte not with unions or political powers. Extreme left was main pillar of Unione Inqulini. One of the founding organisations in IAI. 2 campaigns were against evictions, and against illegal (un-declared) rents. Self-organised with natinal meeting every 2 years. No salaries. Fiscal compact of the EU/EZ – debt cancellation to re-launch social housing. / Coordination against eviction.  ((Objection – Europarl housing groups stresses social housing only for poorest, and must be run by NGOs; sell to private sector)

Cesare Ottolini – coordination IAI. worldwide. Against evictions. Works at all levels up to the Europarl where they held a meeting 2012 with 100 different groupings (“stakeholders”) building alliances. Need stability in organisation to make progress. Victory in Kenya on debt cancellation; and global activity continuing.. Needs coordination.

Agnes Verweij from Rotterdam writes for dutch tenants union magazine, 3m tenants (incl 2.3m in social housing companies) and half are linked to associations. Works also in anti-gentrification projects. Universities disappointing, more in Rott than Ams.  Hsg cos act as revolving funds: they reinvest in hsg which used to work well, but neo-liberalisation has greatly weakened it. NL govt claimed that EU law set an income limit of €35k/yr per household to be eligible. (Property lobbies all over Europe campaining for minimisation of social housing on grounds of fair competition. ) Also a union for precarious housing after 2010 criminalisation of squatting. Created “vacant property protection” industry, escaping from rent protection law and employment law  no pets, no children, no parties, no holidays or absences…  This is a back door and expanding.

KNUT Unger employed by Witte TA, and there is an alternative tenats associaon too. TAs are supported by membership subs, and they provide legal advice, advocaacy at various levels, at lande and local levels.  850m/yr subsidy in NRW.  Main problem indutrial housing sold to private equity firms. 350k units in NRW. In expanding regions rents are rising as markets permit, e.g. Köln. In shrinking areas they cut maintenance. Secured a commission on mass sale of housing whose 2-yr resaerch is now complete. Now trying to get some reforms implemented. USAnnington Terra Firma + others, DB active in Spain and USA evicting people….  Proposal for stabilising cooperation at European level.

*****************************************

Now at 3 small groups for short discussion before lunch:

Crisis group – common analysis (I am in this one)

Policy group – what policies work in which countries

Practices and problems of organisation – (Pat Turnbull went to this one)

*****************************************

CRISIS discussion.  Crisis is the amniotic liquid which anables some common links, actions, understandngs (Madrid)

Annie: current crisis is not the problem: it simply acellated and intensifies the long struggles and problems which have gone on for a long time. 2 possibilities for discussion: if we are going to build a horizontal solidarity // or build a common analysis. We should be modest, see if there is scope for solidarity and go home and discuss what to do.

Bettina: different scales are important, with transnational processes interacting with national and local relations. We could exchange experiences at local levels between localities. Need to do all these things. Cesare: we need to pool our grasp/knowledge as a basis for sharing knowledge….  x: need to find good simple ways to describe and disseminate what is going on. K: can we put together a clear analysis of the housing situations?? Great ignorance on what is happening at the EU level. Compare impacts for example, of debt-strikes in different countries; or of the “basic income” idea – would you support it in each country? Annie: important to reinforce existing campaigns, not invent new ones. Charlotte already edited a book in Fr and Eng “Time to Evict the Crisis” http://www.coredem.info/rubrique35.html   She suggests a blog where we could share materials, link to our existing materials. Michael mentions the London Just Space “Protocol” about citizen groups and researchers (how to get the best and avid the worst from these collaborations), and also explains the INURA NMM projects which seek to compare cities on some common variables, topics etc.

There are limits to the challenges which can be made within national limits, and we should by-pass the national level to try and influence the European-level discourse.

Cesare:we should co-produce an analysis, e.g. on EU Fiscal pact, e.g. on implications of debt-strike, e.g. on evictions…  Knut: it is a higher priority to focus on these kinds of trans-european issues than on offering theoretical perspectives. Could we make alliances, for example, with unions / workers inside the banks or institutions which are behind it.

Beware info: you can drown in it. What is needed is stories. [ Feantsa does this a bit on homeless issues. ] The other problem is languages / translation. We have to keep our common publications to the shared threads which we could translate.

? Work at 2 levels: (i) linking solidarity actions between localities and (ii) linking and co-producing narratives / analyses of what has been happening…

Could we agree we need (including short co-produced texts on key issues which are suitable for translation into languages)

A a story of the European housing crisis

B Impacts in localities of EU policies

C Transnational investors information

********************************************* Lunch

(Some recap of morning “Crisis” workshop – not repeated here)

ECHR took side of occupiers in a Turkish slum against the governent. Housing Rights Watch and FEANTSA are working on this. Also people in Hungary.(Charlotte speaking). ME reported that here are estates in London which would like to work with other localities for a joint action.  ECHR is only on human rights – housing rights not in their brief and the argument has to be related to rights to life, to family, to…   Barcelona people saying use it only as a last resort. Judges not our natural friends. Suggestion of linking with Housing Rights Workshop, FEANTSA etc on this issue. (Note ECHR is not part of the EU machinery but of the Council of Europe – thus a wider group of countries, including Turkey for example.)

There is an International Union of Tenants – umbrella group. Huge. German Fed is dominant. Strongly linked with social democratic parties. Has an officer in Brussels and mainly does lobbying.

Third group on social housing – means utterly different things in each country. Need for a new definition of the social housing we want. A target definition. Not connected to market mechanisms. New construction. Interesting German experiment (Berlin) where a co-op can expand where money can be found to take more houses out of the market. (discussion then rushed around Danish and other co-housing, coop etc forms). Market threat to attempts at non-market projects…

Some discussion about co-op (non-market) models. Can they be scaled up from middle class “alternative scene” experiments to a more general solution?  (ME remember to find out from LILAC etc ).  Does the scaling up of these models require expropriation…??   And beware of massive STATE ownership because that makes it so easy for the state to evict entire naighbourhoods..  There will be a meeting of HIC in Lyon in 5 July  which will have a lot about co-housing etc…)

Concept of commons useful – and that means common USE and common MANAGEMENT. How can we  create a form of commons which cannot be privatised? Ana insisting that it is USE which is so important and that common use rights can become embedded even where the owenrship is still private. (?!) Beware of the state: it’s the state which organises the market (and someone adds that it’s capital which organises the state). Someone calls for pushing beyond the limitations – challenging the contradictions. Calls it “radical reformism”. There is a danger that we could assist a resurgence of capitalism but we should do what we can.

Discussion of whether to do some lobbying of EU. Some reluctance from people who consider that their groups are rather anarchist and thus unlikely to sign up.

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Author: Ed

staff in the Bartlett School of Planning and cooperating with others in UCL and with the Just Space Network to support London citizens' inpu

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