Rent-striking the REIT:

Reflections on tenant organizing against financialized rental housing in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Emily Power and Bjarke Skærlund Risager

Published in Issue 1.2 // Retrospectives

Keywords: REITs, rent strike, Canada, financialization, tenant organizing

Abstract:

In 2018, a group of tenants from four high-rise apartment buildings in East Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, launched a seven-month rent strike against their landlord, a real estate investment trust (REIT). The tenants protested a proposed steep rent increase and demanded long-standing repairs to their apartments. While some repairs were done, and the strike involved other successful moments, the rent increase was not fought off. Written from the perspective of the Hamilton Tenants Solidarity Network (HTSN), the group that helped organizing the rent strike, this article has two aims. First, we analyse the strategy and tactics of the REIT in the context of deindustrialization and financialization in Hamilton. We break up this financialized landlord’s ‘repositioning’ strategy into five predatory tactics: cutting, squeezing, greening, rent increasing, and bullying and bribing. Second, we reflect on the experiences, successes, and failures of HTSN. Our successes include organizing tenants and training tenants as organizers; having well-executed legal, fundraising, and media strategies; making social events and political actions integral to the strike; and relying on and forging further ties with comrades and supporters. Our challenges and failures concern all the tenants we didn’t manage to involve or involve in an active way; divergent tenant strategies; relationships between tenants and organizers and within HTSN; and underestimating the stakes of going up against a REIT. We conclude by reflecting on the potential for collective organizing in the face of financialized landlords today.

Emily Power is a member of the Hamilton Tenants Solidarity Network (HTSN). Bjarke Skærlund Risager is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Geography & Planning, University of Toronto, and is doing participatory action research with HTSN.

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