Living Rent’s fourth proper Annual General Meeting on 18th July will hopefully go down in history as the only one held on Zoom. That said it was empowering to see over 60 of us gather to celebrate the past year and plan for further tenant power in Scotland.
Even though it felt strange not to gather in a big room with banners and snacks, it felt especially important at this moment to celebrate some of the achievements over the past year. Our Chair Sonja Coquelin started proceedings by announcing that Living Rent has doubled in size over the last year and we currently are 1200 members strong! She also talked us through a year of powerful campaigns on migrant housing, hygiene in social housing, and hundreds of individual member defence cases where tenants have successfully fought back against disrepair and illegal practices.
As a union, we are moving to more of a formal structure of branches, as is evident at the city and also neighbourhood level. We are also organising using more structured teams of Member Defence, Communications, and Research. As we grow our membership, we aim to have a framework that maximises participation and uses and develops the skills of our talented members to achieve our aims. Sonja also outlined upcoming challenges: we need to develop and resource our new branches, structure our decision-making effectively, and secure sustainable funding that reflects our strategy and values (ideally from our members as much as possible).
It was surreal to see some of our leaders from the National Committee and campaign groups give outstanding speeches from the comfort of their sofas, to be met by ‘clapping’ icons, but once we got into breakout rooms the buzz was real. These breakout discussions allowed us to meet each other and discuss some of the things we’ve achieved and learned. A lot of members talked about how much they’ve been empowered by our member defence training, which has been ongoing throughout the pandemic when much other organising has ground to a halt. Unsurprisingly, we’ve gained half of our year’s membership during the pandemic alone (300 members). This is not just because tenants are now especially vulnerable to falling incomes, eviction and harassment by landlords, but also because in this time of crisis many of us recognise the need to build strong grassroots unions able to hold those in power to account.
National Committee member Gordon Maloney also reminded us of another challenge – the upcoming Scottish Parliament Elections in 2021. We want to make sure the Scottish Government makes good on their pledge to make rent controls reality and expand tenants’ rights more widely. In the shorter-term, our campaigning around the housing problems deepened by the pandemic has had victories in the form of the Scottish ban on evictions until the end of September. However, we need more help as renters and last week we began formally demanding that the Scottish Government protect renters during and after the pandemic by extending the eviction ban, introduce emergency support measures to help tenants (not landlords!) and in the long-term, give us rent controls and more social housing. You can sign our petition here!
Another reason to gather was so that we could elect a new National Committee. This voluntary group is legally responsible for the union, including our growing group of paid local organisers and national organiser. The candidates for National Committee were ratified with a large majority.
Major thanks to the group of people who put together the agenda, facilitated, let people into the meeting, sorted out technical issues like voting and breakout rooms – it ran like a dream. We’re learning to organise online and we’re knocking out of the park! Bring on the next 12 months!