Tag Archives: renters

Launched

This is kind of what I said a couple of weeks ago at the Renters United launch. If you haven’t joined yet and are interested in these issues you can do so here: http://www.rentersunited.org.nz/join

In the ongoing debate about housing, renters are conspicuous in their absence. Politicians and the media, comfortable in their first, second and third homes, tend to look on renting a temporary circumstance. They view renting through rose tinted glasses: three character-building years in a freezing beer-soaked flat before getting on the property ladder.

As such, all the problems of — and solutions to — the “housing crisis” are about home ownership. Well I think that we all know that is not the whole picture, its time that renters got together and said so. This is what we want Renters United to be: a democratic union of renters campaigning to make renting better for all renters.

So a few of us came together and starting building for this day. Early on we realised that if we want people to join something, we need to tell them what it is and just as importantly, what it believes.

So, in the great tradition of progressive organisations, we drafted a manifesto. It’s not set in stone, we haven’t nailed it to any doors anywhere, but we came up with seven things we hope will resonate with you all tonight and with renters in general:

We believe renters should:

  • Live in a safe and healthy home
  • Pay affordable rent
  • Find and rent a home free from discrimination, intimidation and harassment
  • Expect a respectful and responsive relationship with their landlord
  • Have a rental agreement that grants them long-term security and stability
  • Have good cooking, laundry and bathroom facilities
  • And make their home their own though reasonable changes

Which of these things we focus on and how we do it will of course be up to our members. So, We, Need Members!

We need members to give us clear direction about where to start, because the issues are big and messy. We need members to spread our messages. We need members to recruit more members and most of all we need members to fight and win for renters.

As well as growing our membership our other initial goal is to connect with the many allies out there already working on the issue. We want to complement the work that people like Sarah and Phillipa are doing to advance policy and research on housing, and — at the sharp end — I know we can work closely with Julia and her colleagues to fight the individual battles too.

We need to challenge those with the power over renters and housing, we need renters demanding change directly and we are going to organise to make that happen.

We need to turn renting from a isolated and atomised experience to a uniting one, and the first step to doing that is to get renters and their supporters to join Renters United.

So all that is left to do is a bit of virtual ribbon cutting. We don’t have a bottle of champagne to break or a velvet curtain to open, but we do have a web server on stand-by ready to make the first version of our website live.

Please stand by:

Web server screen saying the site is now live.

Final launch preparations initiated

Wow! I’m pretty blown away by the response so far to us going semi-public with Renters United. So far we have around 130 people saying they’ll come along to the launch event which is amazing, especially when for most all they know about us is one sentence we put together for the holding page:

We want: To organise renters and campaign to make renting better for everyone in Wellington.

Launch day is 8 April and between now and then there is a lot to organise. At the moment I am busy making the holding page into an actually website. Initially it’ll do two things:

  1. Tell people more about us.
  2. Let people join. 

Also on the design front we are planning to produce a bunch of recruitment posters so those who are keen can start spreading the word in their flats, workplaces and property managers offices.

Keep an eye here for more work-in-progress on the website and the posters.

What do we call it?

Here are some ideas for what this thing could be called:

Wellington Tenants Union

The good: “Tenants Union” is the term most commonly used overseas for these types of organisations and there also a Manawatu Tenants Union. There was a Wellington Tenants Union in the 1970s so there is a nice historical connection there.

The bad: As already discussed, I’d prefer to use the term “renter” over tenant and for some (not me) union can variously have a militant, stuffy, out-of-date or rigid connotation.

Tenants Protection Association

The good: This is the name of existing similar organisations in Christchurch, Auckland and Hamilton.

The bad: Has a strong advocacy focus, both in reality for the existing organisations and in its description (protecting tenants, not organising them to defend their own rights).

Generation Rent

The good: Has “rent” in it and there is an NGO in Britain that is interested in similar issues with this name.

The bad: Generation Rent in the UK is very much in the NGO mould, as opposed to being a member-driven democratic activist thing. It also feels to me like it is focussed on young people (perhaps due to the association with Generation Zero).

Renters together

The good: Uses the word renter and provides a sense of unity without saying union.

The bad: Doesn’t mention Wellington (Wellington Renters Together doesn’t work I don’t think), possibly a little passive sounding?

Wellington Renters / Renters Wellington

The good: Has who and where right there on the tin.

The bad: Doesn’t say what it is or give a sense of collectivism or unity.

I’d love to here what you think of these options or any other ideas you might have.

The status quo

If you’ve rented in Wellington you’ve probably come across the property management company Quinovic, one of the largest (if not the largest).

Recently they published their post-election ‘analysis’ of the political landscape:

The summary take away – National would suggest they are creating a supportive / lower touch Government that allows the investor/property owner to get on and pursue their objectives, and earn a return for the resources they commit to the economy.

Setting aside the assertion that residential property owners are nobly contributing to the economy (how?), I think in this statement we see why we need to start challenging landlords to do better for their tenants.

From Quinovic’s perspective a status quo that delivers sky-high rents that keep rising, dangerously unhealthy housing and a total lack of security for renters is just spot on thank you very much.

Of course this is not surprising. Quinovic are – after all – managing property and tenants to maximise the profit for their clients. These profits require maximising income and minimising cost and so what the status quo really means for renters is an ever worsening situation where it becomes even harder to find and retain a safe, secure and affordable home.

This is why we need to start hearing from renters loud and clear, because a status quo that sees a baby die in an overcrowded mouldy house and families living in cars because they can’t afford a house is not the kind “business as usual” we need.

Tenants or Renters?

Since I started thinking and writing about this idea I generally been using the word tenant to describe the people we will aim to organise.

Tenant is the legally defined term and is used by existing organisations in other cities (the Tenants Protection Association in Auckland and Christchurch, the Manawatu Tenants Union in Palmerston North) and of course the Tenancy Tribunal, so naturally I fell into using it too.

A few days ago someone who has been thinking longer and deeper about renting in New Zealand suggested I consider renter instead. My initial thought was of the baggage that term carries with it thanks to the TV show Renters, but on further reflection I think there is a case for using renter over tenant.

First, many of the people we would like to recruit and organise are not the formal “tenant” of the property. Nevertheless they will be paying rent and even if they don’t immediately identify with renter they sure as hell know they are paying rent so there is an association there. If someone is not familiar with the term tenant (which is somewhat technical and legal in nature), or if their renting situation is not legally a tenancy – such as boarders and other “grey-market” renters – the term renter should offer a sense that this thing if for them to.

Second, I feel that the word renter is more active and feels like something that common cause could be built around. In my head it feel analogous to worker, whereas tenant feels like it reflects a passive contractual relationship, more akin to employee in a workplace setting. This will help us express the need to focus on campaigning for wider change, rather than focussing on advocacy services for individual members.

This may be a somewhat trivial matter but I do think that language matters as organising is fundamentally about communicating. We need to choose our words wisely.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

What does three years in a student flat tell you about renting? Not much.

A question: how many of the politicians, civil servants, journalists and academics that discuss and debate housing are renters?

Whether sympathetic or otherwise, the reality is that few of the people involved in the public discourse around rentals have substantial experience of it.

Of course most politicians will have a nostalgic experience of a #characterbuilding experience in a drafty old flat, feeling that a couple of cold winters under three duvets offers them an insight into the reality of renting.

But this actually serves to reinforce the idea that renting is a temporary experience. For hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders renting is not temporary. It is living. The “dream” of home-ownership is just that, a dream.

For people without the means to pull together a deposit and the stability of income to commit to a mortgage their path to a securing a healthy, safe and affordable home must be through renting.

And yet we have nothing in place, legally or otherwise, that can deliver this.

We need organisations that work towards making this happen, that is what I want to get going. So that renters speak for themselves on these issues and so it becomes harder and harder for politicians to wax lyrical about their student days in Aro Street.

Renting is not a temporary or transitionary circumstance, especially in a distorted housing market like Wellington. We need to hear more renters in the public discourse because at the moment all the solutions proposed to the housing crisis only aim to address the supply of housing for homeownership and thus ignore one third of all households in our country.


Photo credit: Nick Thompson via Flickr.