Three months ago, the situation in Wales and the world was incredibly bleak. We were in the worst ebb of the pandemic, and the path to ‘normality’ seemed like a long and winding one. However, as we have seen throughout Wales over the past several months, in times of crisis communities pull together.
Bluntly, here in Wales we are facing what can only be described as a housing crisis. Research from Shelter Cymru shows that over 15,000 private tenants are facing eviction in Wales when the government’s stalling comes to an end. Thankfully in Cardiff, a city where the deeply intrinsic relationship between the private rental sector and the supposedly-socialist Labour Government in Wales has manifested in a dire and hostile environment for tenants, community organising is on the agenda.
ACORN Cardiff launched in mid-May via Zoom, and publicised the event through Facebook, a tool that has for better or for worse become increasingly utilised throughout the crisis for community organising – see the brilliant mutual aid groups that popped up across Cardiff. I was eager to get involved having seen first-hand the tragic situations faced by many homeless people in the city. Being an active member of ACORN has not only made me more aware of these situations, but the fact that homelessness is just the tip of the iceberg has truly sunk in. This is not a Cardiff-exclusive problem, but exploitative and entitled landlords are an epidemic in our capital – many tenants are on the brink of being homeless, and their landlords could not care less.
Today, Saturday 22nd August 2020, is ACORN’s National Day of Action. ACORN Cardiff are holding a demonstration outside Cardiff Civil and Family Justice Court, the building in which tenants who have done nothing wrong will be told that they no longer deserve a place to live. These evictions may take place as soon as 20 September and will be the culmination of a range of protective measures for tenants coming to an end either imminently or in the near future. The situation is subject to Welsh Government U-turns, but as things stand court will begin dealing with evictions for which the notice was served before the ban at the beginning of the pandemic. Eventually the current ban will expire and people who have been made redundant or who’ve otherwise been struck by financial hardship during the pandemic will be in the firing line, with only a 1% interest loan to “save” them. The only thing this loan will do is accrue further debt for tenants, at the landlord’s benefit.
In addition, Section 21 evictions, also known as no-fault evictions, will still be permitted in Wales after their temporary ban expires next month but rather than banning this cruel practice the Welsh Government seems insistent on simply delaying the inevitable problem. Even a U-turn would only protect tenants until spring of next year, at which point the virus may have had a resurgence in Wales and people will be living with the personal impacts of a recession.
ACORN Cardiff asks Mark Drakeford and Julie James, what will Welsh Labour do to protect the rights of tenants in Wales to a safe place to live? We demand six policy changes of the Welsh Government:
- Immediately ban cruel and psychologically damaging Section 21 evictions.
- Forgive rent debt accumulated by tenants during the pandemic.
- Implement rent controls within the PRS to ensure affordable, comfortable, and safe living for every single tenant.
- Ensure landlords are prevented from evicting tenants who take advantage of the bridging rent loans.
- Ensure Rent Smart Wales legislation is fully and strictly enforced.
- Scrap the new, heavily criticised Tenant Saver Loan Scheme – no tenant should be forced into debt due to a crisis they played no part in. This is nothing but a Landlord Profit Saver.
If community organising is treating the symptom, then turning this organising into political capital is attacking the illness directly. This political capital is a key weapon in ACORN’s arsenal, both nationally and here in Cardiff.
Today, our members will post an eviction notice to First Minister Mark Drakeford, ‘signed’ by his own government – the same government that has let Welsh tenants down by siding with the private rental sector and allowing this brutal stream of evictions that will take place over the coming months. The psychological impact of being evicted is often overlooked by landlords and politicians alike, and as a union we consistently ask why the most impoverished in society, especially those in arrears, should bear the physical, mental, and medical burden of rough sleeping when landlords are sleeping comfortably in their own homes. As we have seen through our direct action as a group, these homes are more likely to be Pembrokeshire manor houses rather than one-bedroom city centre flats riddled with damp and mould.
These injustices have been tragically highlighted via our member defence work. So far, we have seen landlords continue to charge students extortionate rent despite the students being halfway across the world back home with their families in Asia. Landlords watching a tenant leave a contract due to their recent redundancy, and demanding that the remaining tenants in the contract make up the lost rent, putting them into debt and even having the audacity to suggest they take out a loan to repay arrears. Landlords forcing disabled tenants to take on more Universal Credit payments to avoid going into arrears. Exploitative landlords are a drain on the taxpayer and a drain on working people – this sort of behaviour simply cannot continue.
Between the callous nature of some landlords in the private rental sector and the snail’s pace on display by the Welsh Government in Cathays Park, it feels like tenants are outnumbered and out-organised. We must fight back alongside tenants to win a better future for ordinary, working-class people in Cardiff and in Wales. We must end this culture of abusive and exploitative landlordism and make noise about the rights of tenants until those in power give in.
If you need legal advice relating to a tenancy issue, contact Shelter Cymru.
If you want to get involved in community organising, contact ACORN Cardiff / ACORN Caerdydd.