Report from the hallway : Tenant Organizing in Côte-des-Neiges
The housing crisis in Montreal has recently benefited from an increase in visibility as many mainstream platforms have published stories pertaining to the renovictions at the Manoir Lafontaine, for example. The mayor and the Montreal Metropolitan Community (CMM) now join the party calling for the provincial government to adopt measures regulating rent and placing a moratorium on evictions starting on the 1st of July. But a lot can happen until then. In our organization’s short life, ground-up organizing and solidarity among tenants have proven to be the most direct tools to deal with landlords’ constant attempts to extract profits from their renters.
After having been contacted by a tenant who signaled a series of problems with housing (including mice, mold and the threat of eviction) we began going door-to-door to talk directly with the tenants, get their opinions on the situation and begin to organize resistance. Fairly quickly, it became clear what was going on: the landlord, comfortably nestled in their Westmount observatory, was skimping on necessary repairs and blaming the tenants for the mice when it was evident that the cause of this problem had to do with faults in the building structure. In addition, the older tenants were specifically targeted due to their having lower rent. Some had been directly threatened with eviction, which they had successfully fought back, others were harassed, the landlord thinking this would lead to their "voluntary" departure.
It is important to note events such as these had been going on for many years without significant reprisals from the legal institutions like the Regie.
This, in turn, points to the fact that the current housing crisis takes its roots in soil carefully tilled and prepared from the disinvestment from social housing, the configuration of property rights around housing and, more generally, the antagonistic relationship between those who rent and those who own housing. In resolving the latter, it appears to us that the route of reform is fundamentally limited: it simply isn’t equipped with the ability to socialize lodgings. The owners of property have a stake in its preservation, a stake which leads to the inhumane treatment we’ve been seeing as the housing market becomes more competitive. Concretely, this explains the wave of renovictions washing over the city and affecting two of the buildings we visited most recently in Côte-des-Neiges.
An important aspect of this crisis is its racialized character. As was pointed out by a few of our tenant contacts, the diversity in their block has decreased over the years, with Black people and Filipinos being progressively replaced by white tenants.
One of them feels personally targeted: a resident for many years, she sees the landlord multiplying impromptu visits, even entering her apartment when she isn’t present. Rent hikes are one thing, they can be challenged through the Tribunal administratif du logement, but this type of behaviour is difficult to deal with because there isn’t a clear procedure. Some tenants have invested money over years to challenge the landlord’s intimidation tactics, yet no generalized victory has been made.
One possible reply is to build resistance from the ground up through tenant organizing.
Unions are generally seen as the basic form of political association for workers : without collective bargaining, it is extremely difficult to get concessions from those who own the means of employment. The same goes for housing: in the private relationship between the landlord and tenant, the former has a net advantage, as the latter depends on them for housing. By establishing networks of tenant solidarity, what we’re hoping to do is break the privacy of that relationship. Tenants have everything to gain from organizing collectively — they are the majority after all. Within this wider goal, knocking on people’s doors is an essential step. It’s through those encounters in folks’ hallways — having conversations about the state of disrepair in the building, badmouthing the landlord, sharing our experiences of the pandemic, smiling through our masks — that we’ve made the most significant bonds
Eventually, these attempts lead to mobilization: the tenants and ourselves delivered a series of demands in the form of a letter to the landlord’s door. We see this as the first step in a process of constructing, not only organizational structures for and by tenan
ts, but people’s power more broadly.
Housing is a link in the chain of capital; tenant militancy is, therefore, a break in that chain. As we see it, militant organizations of the people are the surest weapons to fight back against the constant encroachments of capitalism and colonialism upon our lives. May it be repeated from door-to-door.
Serve the People/Servir le Peuple