The London Renters Union is a community of renters organising in solidarity with one another, and building the power needed to transform the housing system.
The London Renters Union organise primarily with private renters, and believe everyone has a right to good quality, secure, cheap housing. They support each other by collectivising around local housing issues, and empowering renters to take control of their housing situations around evictions, disrepair, and homelessness. They have successfully resolved at least 70 member disputes through collective action and solidarity. Through this process, and training and mentoring in renters’ rights and organising skills, the London Renters Union build community power to challenge the laws stacked against tenants and demand transformations to the housing system.
No fault evictions are close to being banned by the government after their joint campaign, and banks have scrapped discriminatory clauses for housing benefit claimants. The Union recently met with the Mayor of London who then came out for rent controls.
They are a London-wide organisation, with active branches in 3 boroughs and more to come. They counted over 1700 members in the first year and a half of operation.
The London Renters Union model is based around the empowerment of marginalised renters, already the most impoverished of the housing tenures in the UK. For them diversity is not a checkbox exercise, but the essential nature of a powerful movement; stating:
we can only build the power we need to transform the housing system and be taken seriously if we are made up of and represent the mass of ordinary renters.
By ensuring their meetings are facilitated by skilled facilitators and by providing childcare and travel costs, the London Renters Union create welcoming and warm spaces that empower members who face marginalisation to participate. In addition, their paid staff and volunteer organisers spend time organising one-to-one meetings with new members who face structural oppression to encourage and support them to participate in meetings and develop and support their leadership in the union.
Furthermore, by prioritising the experiences of marginalised renters in the work and communication, the crew are pushing for the solutions to the housing crisis needed and advanced by those most impacted, and not just the reforms that will work for those with prior access to political and discursive channels.
The membership in Newham is overwhelmingly POC (People of Colour), and includes many mothers, often with disabilities. One of the key demands is No Borders in Housing, and the team is discussing a range of outreach events about the connection between housing and a number of different social struggles and identities. In Hackney, they are currently running a joint campaign with East End Sisters Uncut around Islamophobia in local housing provision. Though they are organising around many members’ issues that involve disability and disablism, the team feel that they have not yet made sustained links with the disability justice movement and would like to strengthen this side of their work, so if you’re reading this and have any good leads, get in touch with the LRU directly.
Guerrilla Grants 2017 & 2019
Supporting the Newham branch organising as well as creating a sustainable infrastructure for the organisation at large.
This grant serves 3 purposes:
1. To strengthen the deep organising work LRU is doing in Newham, part-funding the salary (around 1/3rd) of the organiser there so that she can continue to develop and activate the membership there.
– To bring marginalised voices to the fore in strategy and demands processes on local and city-wide level.
– To continue to increase the proportion of active membership in Newham through leadership development.
– Things to be currently close to substantial policy change, but finalising the details of these shifts and building new campaigns will take sustained work over the coming years. The aim is to effect policy change on a local level around processes of temporary accommodation provision within the next year, and build from this local organising into wide-scale campaigns with substantial public support on housing provision and rent levels over the next 3 years. width=”1600″
2. To build a sustainable staff support framework by funding reflective staff supervision time for the new staff.
– To ensure the union is a supportive workplace that learns from cumulative experience, retaining staff so that they can run a long-term workplace rather than burning staff out.
– To give a day a month for each new staff member for reflection time – this both provides a framework for organiser development in an anti-hierarchical workplace, and importantly a way to build up a clear sense of the strengths and limitations of the model for use in union-wide reflective processes.
3. To continue to grow outwards into a mass organisation, funding essential union trainings & resourcing a fund to support new branches.
They are hoping to hire a New Branches organiser in December, but they need to resource the new groups they will be working with to organise. The union invites new and core members to trainings to understand and implement their organising model.
– To train up 60 volunteer organisers over the year
– To support the development of at least 3 new groups starting to organise locally.
– To run sustained outreach in multiple boroughs and increase their membership by 50% in those areas within the first year of organising. Though generalised membership levels are important, as local branches are the primary organising unit, having concentrated membership that can organise in an area is a priority.
Guerrilla Grants 2021-22
Building on the phenomenal grassroots organising work of LRU, we found that a 2 year grant to strengthen the deep organising work they are doing in Newham, was the only logical move. By building the power of working class and migrant renters to put pressure on power holders – the local authority and large landlords in the borough – and contribute to collective action for structural change.
What deep organising work in Newham you say?
– Despite the government suspending evictions, many landlords have continued to evict illegally, and the Newham branch responded, helping six people who have been illegally evicted to either stay in homes or seek justice after being violently evicted.
– The LRU organiser, Amina was quick to coordinate bringing the organising and meetings online, which was central to continuing our work during the pandemic. Many meetings are now again able to be in person, and the return to face to face has really strengthened the social and community spirit of the branch.
– The branch developed deep relationships with local power holders, including regular contact with Newham PRS team, the mayor’s office and council leader for housing. LRU have influenced their covid response, and response to the evictions crisis, by making member-backed demands. Soon heading into the local elections, the LRU relationship with the council is very strong, and the branch will be ensuring the renting is a prominent issue in the elections.
– LRU have achieved a steady rise in Newham branch members, with up to 40 people at most branch meetings.
– Developing local leaders in the branch, with Ghazal, a member in rent debt and facing evictions, with no recourse to public funds, leading LRU comms work and taking a leadership role in the branch, including appearing on Newsnight, and Channel 4 news on multiple occasions. Amina has devoted a significant amount of time developing people from a working class backgrounds, often people of colour, so that they are leading the branch, through intensive coaching and empowerment work. Amina also plays a central role in designing and delivering the bespoke organiser training that LRU is developing for emerging leaders across all branches, which is detailed, successful and well received.
– Due to the pandemic, public actions were initially reduced, but the branch has won numerous disputes, including with OneHousing: Sameera was a recent migrant, and didn’t speak English when got involved in the branch, but LRU trained and supported her to take action and negotiate, and she got a meeting with senior leaders at OneHousing. In January Samira led a second action at the offices of her landlord One Housing’s HQ over the cold, damp and mouldy conditions of her home over the last 10 years. After sustained pressure One Housing recently committed to the repairs needed.
– The branch picketed City Rooms in April during a day of action in support of LRU member Lawanya. As a direct result, City Rooms have ceased court action chasing rent arrears and reached a fair deal with their member.
– ZFA Group is a multi-million pound temporary accommodation provider. Despite repeated requests over 3 years, they refused to fix the serious disrepair in the home of LRU member Z. Led by Z, a young woman, more than 30 Newham & Leytonstone members protested outside their offices, securing the essential repairs (March 2021).
– Alongside coaching and empowering branch members, Amina has also provided leadership and coaching to other LRU staff, contributing to the leadership of the organisation overall as LRU have rapidly expanded.
The work that the branch will undertake in the following two years will build on these successes: supporting members in housing crisis, winning local change, and contributing to LRU collective work for structural change. Across the next two years the branch organisers will focus on:
– Supporting members in temporary accommodation to get organised, and demand better conditions and rehousing. The number of people and families in temporary/emergency accommodation is higher in Newham than in any other borough, and a significant proportion of our branch members live in TA, having been moved there after traumatic evictions. The branch has set a specific objective to continue its work in this area, bringing in new members, and building their collective power to win on the quality, security, and proximity of TA. The focus of this strategy will be the 2022 local elections in the borough, and winning key demands from the elected representatives.
– Beyond Temporary Accommodation, the branch is gearing up to run a campaign around the local and mayoral elections in 2022, with their democratically set demands. The branch will deliver a campaign – including both insider track meetings, and outsider track media, demos and actions – designed to force renting up the political agenda of the council. Over the last three years the branch has built strong and productive relationships with the council, and is well positioned to exercise its power in these elections.
– Beyond the elections, the organisers will continue to maintain the branch space as a key space for peer support, consciousness raising and solidarity for the 100,000 private renters of Newham. LRU are proud of the branch’s culture, created over a number of years by the hard work of their organisers and the members, and this deep organising is what gives LRU campaigns their strength.
– A number of working class renters from the Newham branch (see above) have gone on to play important leadership roles in the union, and over the next two years the branch organiser will continue to devote time and resources to empowering and developing the leadership of working class renters through mentorship and training. This will particularly focus on developing and supporting the newly elected organising committee in the branch, which is majority working class.