NB Media Co-op: ‘Continue to fight’: Moncton tenants report back from national conference

Posted July 6, 2022

New Brunswick is considered one of the most unfair places for tenants in the country.

But tenants in the province are organizing and winning gains. Three Moncton tenants recently joined a national conference in Montreal aimed at addressing the housing crisis. 

The New Brunswick chapter of ACORN sent its two co-chairs, Peter Jongeneelen and Vanessa Jones, and member Christina Francouer to ACORN’s national convention in Montreal, June 18-21.

ACORN stands for the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now. With chapters across Canada, the organization is a strong voice for tenants and people living on low incomes. 

ACORN NB and other tenant advocates have been pushing for better tenant protection in New Brunswick, recently winning a rent cap.

However, the tenant advocacy groups say that the province needs to do more to address the housing crisis, including stopping renovictions, which allow landlords to evict tenants for renovations as a way to raise the rent.

The NB Media Co-op interviewed ACORN NB’s two co-chairs to learn more about the dire situation facing New Brunswick tenants, as well as the organization’s plan to address the housing crisis in the province.

NB Media Co-op: Tell me about the ACORN convention in Montreal that you attended. 

Peter Jongeneelen: ACORN Canada is a multi-issue, membership-based community union of low- and moderate-income people. We believe that social and economic justice can best be achieved by building community power for change.

A big portion of the first day of convention involved ways to learn new campaign and planning skills through workshops and discussions on various issues. 

The convention was attended by more than 200 ACORN members from BC, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, [and] Nova Scotia, including an Ottawa ACORN member who hails from Labrador. It was a fantastic opportunity to network. 

Many participants did not realize how bad the lack of rent control in New Brunswick was. Throughout 2020 and early 2021, tenants here faced huge rent increases every three months of around 30 per cent, 50 per cent, 75 per cent, and sometimes even up to 100 per cent due to the lack of tenant protections, rent control and the ineffectiveness of the Residential Tenancies Tribunal (RTT). 

NBMC: What were the issues being discussed at the convention and who were the speakers?

Vanessa Jones: The issues that were discussed were full rent control, disclosure of building owners, ending the tax exemptions of Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), banning acquisitions by financialized landlords (REITs), tying financialized landlord incentives to affordability and maintenance, and building social housing.

A few notable speakers included John Cartwright, chairperson of the Council of Canadians who said that social justice groups and unions need to come together for a common cause. Marva Burnett, president of ACORN Canada, highlighted the need for low- and moderate-income people to be a powerful force of positive change. Senator Pierrette Ringette, a former resident of New Brunswick, spoke about the bill she introduced, Bill S-239, aimed at lowering the criminal interest rate from 60 per cent to 30 per cent to help the poor who often take on the most risky debt to pay for basic necessities. Marie-Josée Houle, the Federal Housing Advocate for Canada, talked about the need for more affordable housing.

NBMC: Can you tell us more about the protest that you participated in after the convention?

Jongeneelen: On the final day of the convention, more than 200 participants marched from Concordia University to the Public Sector Pension (PSP) Investment Board’s office in downtown Montreal for a sit-in until the President and CEO’s office agreed to meet us. We demanded that PSP divest from displacement and stop raising rents because homes are not assets. 

NBMC: What is the key takeaway from the convention?

Jongeneelen: The key takeaway is the resolution to continue the fight for tenant rights of low- and moderate-income people and to make them a force of positive change for the future.  

We will expand the campaign to end the housing crisis here by calling for the immediate implementation of a permanent rent control and renoviction ban that aligns with the British Columbia Tenancy Act, the strongest against renoviction in Canada, that protects and compensates tenants against needless eviction. This law was won by BC ACORN last year. Once we win this campaign here, we will begin to explore other avenues around tenant law reform on the provincial, federal and municipal levels. 

We will also expand our campaign to end predatory banking, a key component of which is the implementation of postal banking as a low cost alternative to predatory lenders and the big five banks. Fifteen per cent of Canadians and a large portion of the rural population is underbanked, meaning they have no local bank easily available to them. New Brunswick’s Grand Manan, for example, is about to lose their only bank in late August. 

Internet banking, while an option for rural Canadians, isn’t the greatest because rural Internet usage is sometimes limited during times of harsh weather. Postal banking will also keep rural postal delivery alive and can save post offices from cutbacks of essential services to rural areas. 

NBMC: What are your ideas and plans for here in New Brunswick? 

Jongeneelen: We need to have housing as a human right in our province. We also need more affordable housing and preserve what is left of it. We plan on making housing a future provincial and municipal election issue. Everyone deserves secure, safe and affordable housing.

We will not settle for half measures from the current Higgs’ government around housing legislation and social policy. We have all seen the reluctance of this government in improving the lives of seniors, the disabled, veterans, and others on low and moderate income. A prime example is the current New Brunswick government’s reluctance to implement rent control for 16 months and then making it only temporary for one year with weak renoviction rules ending on January 1, 2023. This needs to change. 

We intend to be a driving force for this change by demanding that Premier Blaine Higgs, Minister of Service New Brunswick Mary Wilson (who oversees the Residential Tenancies Tribunal), and Minister of Social Development Bruce Fitch improve housing and social policies. 

Another goal is to force all of the political opposition parties to make housing a matter for debate in our provincial legislature. We need to remind our elected officials that the proper Maritime way is that we look out for and help each other, and to change the rhetoric from “profits over people” to “people before profits.” 

In Nova Scotia, ACORN had a huge maritime victory last October with the extension of the two per cent rent cap. While they were at it, they got the newly elected Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston to give cities inclusionary zoning powers as well. 

A number of municipal ACORN chapters, such as in London, Ont., and in Halifax, are hard at it to win municipal landlord licensing and inclusionary zoning. They are calling on municipalities to require that 20 per cent of all new apartment construction be affordable housing. 

The only way to achieve our goals is to continue to grow our membership while continuing to work in solidarity with our allies. We currently have close alliances within the Common Front for Social Justice, labour unions, the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights and the New Brunswick Coalition for People with Disabilities. 

Jones: We need to work with allies to make New Brunswick and this country a better place for all. As a society we need to start taking care of the most vulnerable people and no one should be unhoused.

We should always remember to continue to fight. Housing is a human right!

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Article by Data Brainanta for NB Media Co-op

 

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