Europe is facing a housing crisis: DiEMers stand up for those left behind

The Rentvolution campaign highlights housing issues across Europe

DiEM25 Volunteers organised a protest, together with a People’s Gathering, in The Hague on 27 March 2021. The demonstration coincided with the European Housing Action Day across 78 cities on the continent. The event hosted by DSC Zuid Holland — co-organised with Bond Precaire Woonvormen and Migrante Netherlands — took place adjacent to the National Parliament. At this centrally located place we were very visible to many people with beautiful banners, striking jackets and our warm hearts.

Opening the event, Melvin Boekholt (DiEM25) decried the escalating costs of housing in the Netherlands, highlighting the neoliberal privatisation of the basic human right of housing in this country. Pointing to solutions, he emphasised the need for citizens to unite in order to shift the public debate towards outcomes that social movements such as the European Action Coalition on Housing and DiEM25, envision to restore housing into the hands of the public.

Next was Pim van der Heiden from the Bond Precaire Woonvorm (BPW) — a civil society organisation that fights for the rights of those in precarious housing situations. Noting the rapid increase in homelessness in the Netherlands, he underlined the political causes of this failure under successive cabinets of Prime Minister Rutte, who have marginalised the interests of the population in favour of the very rich and of corporate landlords.

The protesters also heard from Jean-Pierre de Breed, a nurse by profession, whose eviction was cancelled at the last moment thanks to the intervention of BPW. We were also honoured to host Joanna Lerio, representing Migrante Netherlands. She detailed the additional barriers facing migrants in the already tight housing market and concluded with a traditional song in which migrants extend their request for support once they have arrived.

After the round of speeches, DiEM25 members invited participants to discuss the future of housing politics through the People’s Gathering. This citizen engagement project provides a space for people to communicate their ideas towards addressing critical issues in their locality, region or nation. The feedback from those assembled on the day will be used to develop policy positions on the housing issue and eventually a national political programme for the Netherlands.

The demonstration was part of the Rentvolution campaign, and was therefore widely supported throughout Europe. In addition to our protest in The Hague, DiEM25 members organised and took part in actions in Rome, Lisbon, Luxembourg, Berlin, Brussels, Lyon and other key cities.

Lisbon

In Lisbon, DiEMers participated in the residents assembly organised by two local associations, Habita and Stop Despejos, who shared the motto of “housing for people, not profit”. We had the opportunity to listen to first-hand accounts of the victims of the housing crisis, with many having been evicted with no alternative. In the speech we gave at the assembly, we highlighted that  housing speculation in Portugal, in particular in Lisbon, is out of control — while the country has 730 thousand empty houses, many live on the streets and in precarious dwellings. DiEMers made it clear that it was these people, not investors, who should be protected by the state, for the sake of human dignity.

Berlin

In Berlin, about 2,000 people marched in the streets under the banner of “stopping the rent madness” and stopping the transformation of this unique city into yet another heavily financialised European capital where the population has been displaced and gentrified away. The housing situation in the city is at crisis point, and the tendency of private corporate funds to buy up previously social housing has accelerated recently. At the same time there is currently a window of opportunity to enact bold new policies. Recently a five-year rent freeze was passed by the city’s centre-left government, and campaigns such as the referendum campaign Deutsche Wohnen & Co. Enteignen have given new popular momentum to the demand to reverse the mass privatisation of housing by expropriating corporate landlords. This has led to a situation where tenants spend thousands of euro per year just for dividends to corporations’ shareholders. DiEM25 members are active in helping to gather some of the 175,000 signatures needed to ensure that the people of Berlin can vote to end the mass privatisation of their rent payments, and make affordable housing into a right in this city.

Brussels

Photo: Banner reads: ‘Housing for all!’ at Brussels protest.

In Brussels, there were mostly grassroots activists and social workers opposing evictions and helping squatters. While the situation varies from country to country and even, as in Belgium, from region to region (moratoriums on evictions here but not there, different legislations), something is certain : the COVID crisis will worsen the situation of the most vulnerable. Brussels already has thousands of homeless people. This is why DiEMers carried this sign in Brussels on Sunday:

Photo: Signs read: ‘Rehouse the homeless. Don’t throw more people on the street.’

Lyon

In Lyon, several hundreds of people participated in the march organized by la CALLE starting at the Sans-Soucis metro station chosen for its proximity to a current squat. The action focused mainly on the problem of expulsions of squatters and renters despite the ongoing health crises as well as expressing solidarity with all subjected to precarious living conditions, including non-documented workers and students.

The struggle continues!

DiEM25 members plan to engage further with civic organisations throughout Europe. Equally important are further engagements with citizenry through concrete proposals of the movement.

Join us to further strengthen these positive developments! Contact us by reaching out to rentvolution@diem25.org.

Image derived from work of Patricia Enriquez, Zuid Holland 1 DSC, the Netherlands.
Stefan Haas and Amir Kiyaei are members of the Zuid Holland 1 DSC in the Netherlands.

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