Original article taken from Global Info – Last Wednesday, April 20, three Amsterdam tenants' associations decided to start a campaign against high rents by calling on tenants throughout the Netherlands to refuse the annual rent increase. A demonstration will also be held on May 28, in which the central demand is to freeze rents for the next five years. See also the campaign of 'We Refuse the Rent Increase'† In the meantime, a rent strike against housing corporation De Key has been successfully concluded in Nieuw Sloten. Resident Nina tells how this was achieved.
The rental strike action took place in the Riekerhaven complex, a 'starting block' where a mixture of young people (students but also working young people) and status holders found shelter.
De Key focuses on 'self-management' and suggests that a real 'community' has arisen in which you are a part. The reality was a lot less wonderful according to Nina.
“Something had been brewing among the residents for some time because there were many problems in the complex, and the quality of the homes was really below average. We often approached De Key about this, but nothing happened. More than 500 people live there and for the most part everything went well among themselves. Entire families with children also live there, which is being forgotten. There was a system of pacers who were paid something to take care of the daily hassle, 50 euros per month. But that meant that they were allowed to clean up all the shit – sometimes literally – and De Key stayed nicely out of the picture. There were not only problems with maintenance and so on, but also people with social problems, for example status holders with a very traumatic past, homeless people who came to spend the night in the living rooms and sometimes mutual tensions between residents. Of course, the pacers were not trained for that at all. And they couldn't do anything about holes in the roof or in the floor.”
“Then we had storm Eunice on 18 February, and the roof, which we had often complained about at De Key, literally blew off some of the prefab homes. Some people had pieces sticking out of the ceiling into the living room. Panic of course, but De Key did nothing. They came to have a look and then left, while the storm was still raging. We then arranged the evacuation ourselves, but of course we had no replacement accommodation. De Key thought we should sleep with the neighbors and gave us a phone number in case that didn't work. But when you called that number, it turned out that they couldn't help you either. I myself have been in a stairwell until deep into the night looking for shelter. It was life-threatening, people also lost their pets…”
“The next day the next storm hit us right away, you probably remember that, and then an empty hotel was arranged. That too was a mess, but at least we were dry. Here too we had to arrange everything ourselves, and don't forget that it was still in the middle of the corona wave, many people have been infected there, which makes campaigning and organizing a rent strike rather difficult.”
But that rent strike started right away?
“Yes, it immediately went viral on the group chat, and some people started using it spontaneously by canceling the direct debit. They were actually on rent strike. We immediately started thinking about how we could organize this collectively. We had no idea what our formal rights were, how it worked legally, and the official organizations that are meant to support and inform tenants did not offer much help, rather they advised not to do anything. But contact with BPW and the lawyer they suggested helped and we quickly gathered the necessary information, wrote the first calls and set up a meeting. At a first meeting we had about 15 people and we were able to make some appointments and divide tasks.”
What did you actually pay and what kind of living conditions are we talking about here?
“These are written-off residential containers, supplemented with some rickety prefab homes for which we paid EUR 500 per month. The containers had previously been in the Houthaven and were written off after 10 years, but then the refugee crisis of 2015 came and it was decided to give them a second life. Then De Key and the municipality turned it into a housing project in the Riekerhaven where status holders and starters could help each other. If you look at the website it's a big happy 'community' with a lot of self-management stuff. In practice something has come of it, but it was mainly a lot of improvisation with few resources and under really harsh conditions; leaking roofs, holes in the floor, rats in the hallway and unsafe conditions in some hallways, up to and including structural abuse. All sorts of problems for which the people who were paid something to do 'self-management' all the time had to deal with the dredge and De Key was able to stay out of harm's way. There was also no residents' committee, since according to the Key we already had a community with self-management there, according to them this was not necessary. We rang the bell many times to make things better, but they weren't interested in doing anything about it at all. When the roof literally blew off, they tried to pretend their noses were bleeding, but when we went on strike for rent, that was over quickly!”
Then the negotiation begins...
“We soon sat down with them and received good support from Arcade, the umbrella organization of all tenants' associations and residents' committees of people who live near De Key. The Key initially tried some silly tricks and distractions, but the Arcade representatives pointed out that we had clear requirements and that they should talk about it. In the meantime, more and more people had started rent strikes, but we didn't have a good overview of how many and who they were. It was only during the negotiations that we heard, from the Key, that 124 people had refused to pay rent. We were, of course, ecstatic. Then it went really fast. We had a list of demands, about maintenance, safety, etc., and they were all quickly met. After that, we ended the strike action and people still paid the withheld rent.”
So a big success?
“Yes, sure. Crazy. But it was also a lot of work, much of which came down to a few people. It was also a lot of work because we had to reinvent the wheel. If we had to do it again, we would now know much better how to do it and what our rights are and all that. We also learned a lot. For example, we had not set up good communication channels to consult with everyone. It was unclear, scattered everywhere. In fact, our best asset was that we just printed pamphlets and stuck them on everyone's doors. But we didn't have a good overview of who was participating. And it also failed to get enough people to do the executive work, so it all came down to a few people, who also had to do it next to their work or study and now all are exhausted. But nevertheless, it was great to resist, and no longer be humiliated by an arrogant landlord. The means of rent strike should be used much more often.”
BPW is now working with activists from the Rieker Rent Strike on a brochure to support future rent strikes, taking lessons from those from the Riekerhaven.
We previously published a toolkit for housing security, 'Eat first, then the rent'† This toolkit has been developed to help residents who have encountered difficulties due to the housing and corona crisis to organize themselves.