From Berlin to Burnaby: Tenants march against evictions and “rent madness”
On Saturday, April 6th 2019, Stop Demovictions Burnaby took to the streets of Metrotown once again to demand “Homes for People Not for Profit”, buoyed by the spirit and strength of roughly 50 same-day actions around the world. The march was part of the Berlin-based #Mietenwahnsinn movement, which mobilizes people across Europe and North America to fight the free market chokehold on housing. “Mietenwahnsinn” means “rent madness” in English, a madness that Berlin organizers connect to property ownership in all its forms, from big corporate development companies to individual landlords.
Mietenwahnsinn: Housing for the people, not the market
The demands of the Mietenwahnsinn movement are bold and clear—proposing a referendum that, if successful, would expropriate the property of any landlord who owns more than 3,000 rental units and turn those units into non-market housing. This could generate roughly 200,000 units of non-market housing, according to organizers. Key to this demand is Article 15 of the German constitution, which was created just after WWII, before Germany had fully embraced the free market; it allows state and local governments to convert land, natural resources, and means of production to public ownership “for the purposes of socialization”.
In order get to the referendum stage, organizers must gather 20,000 signatures within the next six months, and then another 170,000 by February 2020. If they can get there, their chances of winning are strong: according to recent polls, 55% of Berliners consider the expropriation and re-nationalization of housing to be a reasonable demand. Berliners are no strangers to public housing. The 200,000 units of housing that the Mietenwahnsinn movement proposes to expropriate were previously publicly-owned council flats, which were privatized during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Metrotown tenants speak out: We will not give up!
Stop Demovictions Burnaby answered Berlin’s international call for support with enthusiasm. We organized a “snake march” that wound its way through Metrotown, stopping at key sites of displacement to shame developers and expose the violence of demovictions. We pasted posters overtop advertisements for new luxury developments, stating the number of people forced out of their homes and communities to make way for the rich.
Fred stood in front of the empty lot where his home once stood and called out Thind Properties for displacing him and his neighbours. After his building was torn down, Fred was forced to move to the other side of Burnaby, where he pays much more for a damp basement suite. Erika, a working senior, spoke to the crowd on Cassie Avenue, where she lived until her building was purchased by Belford Properties. Forced to relocate to Coquitlam, Erika now pays over $500 more every month in rent and mileage. Other speakers described how a number of displaced Metrotown tenants have ended up homeless, forced to sleep in their cars given the outrageous rents and low vacancy rates in the region.
Magda, who lives in one of the buildings Westland Corporation plans to develop into yet another luxury tower, described the ticking time bomb of eviction that hangs over her head. Tenants still living in Metrotown have no choice but to “get organized and unified,” according to Alaidjah, who has been going door to door to connect with his neighbours. He believes building collective power is the only way to hold his landlord accountable for the deteriorating conditions in his building on Sussex Avenue.
Jodi brought a message of solidarity from Anita Place tent city in Maple Ridge. She lost her housing three years ago after a fire and has been homeless ever since—fighting with her comrades at Anita Place against a hostile anti-poor City Council and a bigoted local population. She emphasized that action must be taken so more people don’t end up homeless in Maple Ridge, Burnaby, and beyond.
The fight continues: We still won’t go