Tenant initiatives network: the globalization of local struggles

Tenant activists from 20 European countries meet for an exchange in Berlin. Their demand: housing must not be a commodity.

Rent increases and evictions are a problem in many European cities Photo: European Coalition

People from Lisbon, Groningen, Cluj, Athens and London are standing on a lawn in front of the Bethanien on Thursday morning, having breakfast. They have come because they have a common problem: rent madness.

They are delegates of urban policy groups and part of the network "European Action Coalition for the Right of Housing and to the City", which is meeting in Berlin this weekend. The reason for the international networking is simple, but often forgotten because of the local character of rent protests: The problems that many tenants in Europe are confronted with – be it rent increases or evictions – manifest themselves locally. But many of the perpetrators have long since gone global: financial players who have discovered housing markets as a profitable investment field.

Because the activists wanted to meet this challenge just as internationally, they founded the European Action Coalition in 2013 at the Athens Alternative Summit "Alter Summit" – that is, in the middle of times of crisis in the capital of Greece, which was particularly suffering from European austerity.

Groups from 30 cities and 20 European countries are now organized in the network. They meet every six months to discuss experiences and forms of action, and to organize critical research. The most recent result is a brochure on the financialization of the housing market. In it, one can find simply prepared scientific content about investors and their practices in the housing market. The demands of the network can also be found in the booklet: Decommodification of housing – specifically, taking housing out of the market.

Despite this global dimension of the housing shortage, activists struggle with different local and national problems: Rita Silva, 43, of the Lisbon-based initiative "Habita!" says, "This network is for strengthening each other." She reports on displacement in Lisbon’s poorer outlying neighborhoods and tax breaks for foreign property buyers. Tonia Katerini, 61, of Athens-based Stop Auctions, says Greece is giving citizenships to people who buy houses at knockdown prices. But not to live there, but to rent out – in 2017, there had been 500 Airbnb apartments in Greece, today there are 8,000.

The international network not only serves activists for exchange, but also provides a European infrastructure for action. In October 2014, the network called for a protest against one of the world’s largest real estate fairs – Mipim in London. Activists blocked access to the west London Olympia exhibition hall, in part to protest the industry-friendliness of then-London Mayor Boris Johnson, who was giving a speech at the fair.

The fact that the Rent Madness demo on April 6 took place not only in Berlin but in many other European cities is also due to networking. European Action Coalition also organized the London trip of the collective of the Neukolln scene pub Syndikat, who wanted to confront the owner Pears Global there because he did not renew their contract.

"It’s a good moment for a meeting in Berlin," says host Stefan Romvari, 35, of Solidarische Aktion Neukolln – especially in view of the initiative "Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co.". The latter will hand in signatures for the first phase of the referendum next week. On Friday, organizers of the referendum will meet with the international activists. And at least symbolically sign also the non-Berlin rent activists want. After all, invalid signatures can also have great value.