[Report] Athens / November 2022 / Transnational Meeting of Grassroots Collectives for Housing Justice
The European Action Coalition for the rights to housing and to the city (EAC) organized its second meeting in 2022 between the 2nd and the 6th of November. More than 36 grassroots collectives from 20 different European countries met to share and exchange knowledge, experiences, skills, strategies, tactics and join forces for housing justice.
Because the meeting was held in Athens, we refer to it as the Athens’ meeting. It took place in Exarcheia, a historical neighborhood of resistance threatened by intense gentrification processes. EAC members chose to meet there in solidarity with the local struggles whose actions are very inspiring to all who struggle for the rights to housing and to the city. The Athens’ meeting would not have been possible without the help of various assemblies organized in Exarcheia.
COMPLETE LIST OF PARTICIPANTS
Habita! from Lisbon, Portugal / Habitação Hoje from Porto, Portugal / PAH from Spain / Sindicat de llogaters from Barcelona / Halem from France / DAL from France / AITEC from Paris, France / ACORN from UK / Greater Manchester Tenants’ Union, UK / London Renters’ Union, UK / Just Space from London, UK / Living rent from Scotland / Don’t Pay UK / CATU from Ireland / Syndicat des Immenses from Brussels, Belgium / Bonnevie from Brussels, Belgium / Action Logement Bruxelles from Brussels, Belgium / Bond Precaire Woonvormen from the Netherlands / A city for all! Who does the ABG belong to? from Frankfurt, Germany / Stop evictions from Berlin, Germany / Renters’ union Berlin, Germany / Stop evictions from Vienna, Austria / Aslido from Prague, Czech Republic / Rozbrat from Poznan, Poland / The Common Front for Housing Rights from Bucharest, Romania / LevFem from Bulgaria / Social Housing NOW from Cluj-Napoca, Romania / Harta from Naoussa, Greece / United initiative against auctions from Athens, Greece / Action Network for Housing and the City from Cyprus / Movement against foreclosures from Cyprus / Ministry of Space from Belgrade, Serbia / The Roof from Belgrade, Serbia / Activists from Georgia / Right to the city from Zagreb, Croatia / Off Topic Lab from Milan, Italy
2/ EAC’s plans for 2023
On Thursday 3rd and Friday 4th of November, 85 comrades from the different grassroots collectives participated in the plenary of the European Action Coalition. The plenary is a space of discussions and exchanges where future projects are discussed, and decisions are taken. It is reserved for members, but this time also for allied groups to open up and encourage convergence.
Here is a summary of the decisions taken:
New member groups
The EAC organizes in working groups. In Athens, the various existing groups (research, legal, transnational actions and anti-eviction) could meet and develop their common projects. Here is a brief summary of their discussions :
- The research group is willing to work on the relation between the rising costs of living and the right to housing. How are struggles are affected by the rise in prices for energy?
- The legal group is still willing to explore the different european legislations.
- The transnational actions group has a lot of work! With the MIPIM, the gas conference in Vienna and the Housing Action Days coming soon.
- The anti-eviction group is willing to do a campaign, to raise awareness that evictions happen everywhere in the world and that the EAC stands in solidarity to all who struggle against evictions.
New groups also emerged:
- The renters’ unions group: is meant to be a hub for discussions about how to organize, develop and reinforce the renters’ struggle throughout the European cities. It is also meant to create a social basis for our struggle.
- The end homelessness group: will try to dig further into the contradiction of abandoned houses and people in the streets. It aims also to focus on the self-organization of affected people.
Housing Action Day
This year the Housing Action Day will multiple and become Housing Action Dayssss ! They will take place from Friday 24th of March to Sunday 2nd of April 2023. You can find the call here
Next meeting of the EAC members in Cluj-Napoca
Social Housing NOW from Cluj-Napoca, Romania will be organising the next physical meeting of the EAC next Spring. Like Athens, Cluj-Napoca is a city threatened by gentrification. One of the main reasons for that is the will of the authorities to develop it as a “smart-city”. The members of Social Housing NOW! are fighting this gentrification processes, demand social housing and accessible housing for all and do an incredible work regarding the discrimination of Roma people in the city.
3/ Brief report of the workshops
On Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th of November, more than 150 persons participated to several workshops and teach-ins that took place in different locations in Exarcheia. They were open to the public and accessible for free. An important aspect of the EAC’s meetings is to provide the opportunity for workshops to spread information and give tools for all those interested in the struggle against the oppression of capitalism. The conclusions of the workshops were formulated at the open assembly which took place the next day at the Polytechnic university of Athens (Polytechneio).
NETWORK AND THEMATHICAL MEETINGS
Workshop 1: Tenants’ Unions across Europe
In many cities tenants are organizing in unions. While having different approaches, they have a common aim: to build a solid social base for the struggles. In this network-meeting comrades from Bonnevie (Brussels), DAL (France), London Renters Union, Sindicat de llogeters (Barcelona), CATU (Ireland), Ort till Ort (Stockholm), ACORN (UK), Living Rent Scotland, Initiative against auctions (Athens), BPW (Netherlands) and others shared their experiences, talked about their contexts, and explained their approaches to specific problems. It was obvious to all that tenants should have more rights. Exchanges will continue through the year with the organization of webinars and maybe greater plans will come later…
Workshop 2: Housing struggles, energy poverty and climate change
Many comrades observe that the housing issue seems to disappear behind the now dominating question of energy costs. But how can we strengthen intersectional struggles and question the system as a whole? During this workshop there was a discussion on what happens at the intersection of housing and climate change struggles. The participants shared their different perspectives. There is a need to carry on working on the question as experiences vary greatly. The gas conference in Vienna was also discussed and part of the participants said they would like to participate to actions against it.
Workshop 3: End Homelessness - use abandoned building
The contradiction of people without homes and houses without people is still urgent. While the EU announced to end homelessness in 2030 without having a plan to do so, the actual development leads the way to more people losing their homes due to debts. During this discussion, participants talked with representatives from squats, members of collectives that deal with homeless persons and anti-eviction groups who try through their actions to prevent homelessness. It was decided to create a stable group in the future and work on long-term projects. Maybe a book?
SKILLSHARING AND PROJECTS
Workshop 1: Collective actions in 2023
The European Action Coalition for the right to housing and to the city has its emphasis on ‘action’. Since 3 years the EAC is calling for a Housing Action Day (HAD) in the end of March. HAD 2023 was discussed, and the new call is now available on our website here. It aims to agitate and inspire local groups to take actions in their local contexts. A collective action against MIPIM in Cannes/France, the biggest ‘real-estate’ fair in Europe where state and capital define future politics, was also discussed. It was reminded that the idea of an action against MIPIM was the birthplace of the EAC. More public information will be revealed soon. Finally, members of the EAC agreed to support actions that will take place in Vienna at the end of March against a big conference of the gas industry.
Workshop 2: Care in our actions and struggles
There was a discussion about how spaces that we use can be adapted so that there is more room for sharing feelings, taking care of one another. The demonstration that took place on the 4th (see below) was discussed as well. The necessity to have a group that deals with care and mental health appeared as evidence.
Workshop 3: Socialization
One year ago, Berliners decided, in a Referendum, that big landlords should be expropriated. The federal government is doing everything in their power to slow down the procedures. Since the campaign for expropriation started, comrades from other geographies wanted to discuss how to transfer this approach to their cities or countries. It seemed difficult to navigate across terminology as values and experiences are very diverse. Actions are different as well according to the context. At the end, the participants talked about different ways to think about socialization and implement solutions.
OPEN EXCHANGE AND TEACH-INS
Teach-in 1: How to stop an eviction?
In this workshop, participants discussed how struggles and resistances are organised in their different contexts. Although there are legal differences, and the methods vary, most groups try to buy time so that the person(s) threatened with eviction can negotiate with the landlord or creditor. The eviction might then be cancelled. All groups accompany people threatened with eviction from their struggle until after the time of eviction, if it takes place.
Teach-in 2: Reconnect the electricity meter when it’s cut
Some meters are running. Some meters are not running. A practical workshop on electricity took place showing how to reconnect a meter. It is easy to do even if from one country to another the meters differ.
Teach-in 3: Patriarchy free zone
The patriarchy free zone is a free space, a thinking space, an action space. The participants did not want to share more information about what happened during this workshop, next time come to see for yourself!
Open exchange 1: Find new words/concepts for our struggles
The Syndicat des Immenses from Brussels is very into creating new words to appropriately describe their sensation and analysis of the world. Immenses for example is a term invented to replace the commonly used “homeless person”. It is an acronym for Individu dans une Merde Matérielle Énorme mais Non Sans Exigences and can be translated in English by GIANT – Gifted Individual, Although Needy and Troubled. Many other new words were presented during this workshop. The various realities we are facing are sometimes hard to explain because we miss the words to express them… the Syndicat des Immenses invited us to invent them.
Open exchange 2: Legal procedures
The legal frames concerning housing and city rights are still quite diverse. This exchange was a good opportunity to share information about the legal frameworks in different countries. Laws on the European level were also discussed as they appear to be helpful to many in some contexts. The decree on abusive auctions is an example.
4/ Brief report of the activities
"We can't Pay, We won’t pay" – Movements against crazy housing and energy costs
On Thursday 3rd of November, the EAC organised a public opening with the event “We can’t Pay, We won’t pay” – Movements against crazy housing and energy costs. It aimed to highlight the defensive techniques developed in different contexts to cope with the cost-of-living crisis. Comrades from Don’t pay UK, Δεν βγαίνω (Den vgainw – I can’t cope), Don’t pay Belgium, Gaztivists and Sindicat de llogaters (Barcelona) explained how the skyrocketing rents and unending mortgages together with the rise in energy costs escalate the issue of the housing crisis. They also described how they try to organise collective defense to address them. All highlighted how the energy industry makes illegitimate profits and how important it is to interconnect the struggle for housing justice with the one for climate and social justice.
'Against state repression and the violence of capital – Exarcheia remains a neighborhood of resistance and struggle'
It is a tradition, during the European Action Coalition’s meetings that participants act together in solidarity with a local struggle. In Athens, the EAC members participated in the demonstration for the defense of Exarcheia and against state repression and the violence of capital, called on the 4th of November by the ‘Coordination of Actions in Exarcheia’. The demonstration was attacked by the police at the very moment the demonstration was going to begin.
DEBATES AND TALKS
Debate organized by Trise: Presentation on Milton Park
Dimitri Rousopoulos’ accounted of his experience with the self-managed neighbourhood of Milton Parc in Montreal and the project of libertarian municipalism as a historical legacy for the social and urban movements. A decades-long struggle to save the Montreal neighbourhood managed to unite residents and succeeded in establishing the largest non-profit cooperative housing project in North America, consisting of 642 housing units and over a thousand residents democratically participating in the project to this very day. They all own the land in common. There is no individual ownership and therefore it is not possible to buy and sell property within these six blocks…
Debate organised by the United Initiative Against Auctions: Struggles against foreclosures in Greece
Since the 2008 crisis, things have gone worse and worse for households that are enable to pay their bills, their taxes, their mortgages. The Greek governments have progressively altered the Katselli law and today protections against foreclosures and evictions are almost non-existent in Greece. At the same time, banks sell their bad loans to funds, who proceed to foreclosures online. Mobilizing against foreclosures and evictions is getting harder and harder. The United Initiative Against Foreclosures presented us their struggle and showed us how important it is for housing justice in Greece today.
Theatre on the right to housing in Greece by Boalitaria
The group Boalitaria is a self-organized theatre group which uses methods of theatre of the oppressed. This theatrical genre was created to help society to recognize its own oppressed situation and its cause, the oppressor. Their play is concerned with different aspects of housing struggles. It showed how vulnerable people facing eviction must face the big landlords, the banks, the authorities. For the EAC is was important to discover new forms and tools that can help the struggle!
OPEN ASSEMBLY FOR HOUSING JUSTICE 2023
After 5 intense days of exchanging knowledge, skills, experiences, … after long and passionate discussions and debates in Athens, the Transnational meeting of grassroots collectives for Housing Justice closed on Sunday with an Open Assembly for Housing Justice 2023. At the open assembly the conclusions of the working groups, workshops and teach-ins were presented, new proposals were discussed, feelings were shared. A roadmap for housing justice in 2023 was created and some milestones were set for the expansion of the movement.
5/ Some details about the locations and collaborations in Exarcheia
The first important moment of the Athens’ meeting was a welcoming dinner organised by the self-organised community of squatted Prosfygika on Wednesday 2nd of November. After the meal around the Prosfygika kiosk, two members of the community gave a presentation on the history and functioning of their community.
A few words about Prosfygika
The building complex of Prosfygika was built in 1933 in order to house the refugees of Asia Minor. Due to these conditions, a lively working-class neighbourhood with communal characteristics arose. The antifascist partisans of 1944 used Prosfygika as a shelter against the British and Greek state-armies, the bullet impacts are still visible on the facades of the buildings while the monument of the guerillas located in the forefront of the neighbourhood is reminding it to us every day. Today, Prosfygika is one of the biggest building complexes in the centre of Athens which is still not gentrified and exploited by the big funds or the state. It’s a place with a strategic significance because of its location in-between the two ‘pillars’ of authority – the Supreme Court on one hand and the Police Headquarters on the other…
A short clip here: Community of Squatted Prosfygika – theRefuge
On Thursday 3rd and Friday 4th of November, EAC members gathered in Notara 26 squat for the internal plenary.
A few words about Notara26:
In 2015, with the onset of mass migration and what was called the “refugee crisis” the political, social, and urban landscapes of many places changed — including Athens, Greece. The events touched and affected the public and private lives of many. The beginning of Notara26 points to one of those moments. A time when a group of people, with ideals and politics of self-organization, collective action, and solidarity were moved to occupy an empty public building in the city’s downtown and to create a place of shelter and safety for thousands of refugees who were abandoned in the streets of Athens. This group of people decided to squat an empty public building in Athens, 26 Notara Str., in order to territorialize solidarity towards refugees/immigrants to cover their immediate needs (shelter, food, medical help). This project doesn’t stand for philanthropy, statal or private, but rather for a self-organized solidarity project, wherein locals and refugees-immigrants decide together. The decisive body is the squat’s open assembly where everyone is welcome to participate with no exclusions.
A short clip here: Notara 26, Greece’s First Housing Squat for Refugees & Migrants
NETWORK FOR SOCIAL SUPPORT TO IMMIGRANTS AND REFUGEES // POLYTECHNIC UNIVERSITY OF ATHENS (POLYTECHNEIO)
Workshops were held both in spaces provided by the Network for Social Support to Immigrants and Refugees (spaces situated in Tsamadou street) and the Polytechneio.
A few words about the Network for Social Support to Immigrants and Refugees
It was founded in 1995 with the aim of coordinated action against racism and nationalism, for the assertion of the rights of immigrants and refugees. Both with structures of practical solidarity (support office, Greek language courses, etc.) and with interventions, political and social, we claim better living and working conditions for immigrants living in Greece.
A few words about Polytechneio
Founded in 1837, almost along with the modern Greek state, NTUA is the oldest Technical University in Greece. […] The recent struggles against the military dictatorship of 1967-74 escalated with the student gathering at the NTUA Patission Campus on the 14th of February, 1973, followed by an unprecedented brutal attack by the police inside the campus and the arrest of several students. This was followed by demonstrations, the occupation of the Law School of the University of Athens on 23rd February, and again on 20th March. Each of these demonstrations was met by force. The protest culminated in the greatest blow against the Junta, the Polytechnion (NTUA). Uprising in November 1973. The toll of the Polytechnion uprising was tragic. Several demonstrators were killed; many more were arrested by the military police and were tortured for months in military prisons. The Polytechnion Uprising is an outstanding event in recent Greek history. NTUA honored the victims of the Uprising with a monument within its courtyard, opposite the gate which the tanks of the dictatorship demolished that night. The monument was placed alongside the column commemorating the National Resistance. The two memorials emphasize the continued struggle of the Greek people and the country’s youth over the years.
El Chef provided the whole EAC’s meeting with food!
A few words about El Chef
We took action in 2008, wanting to put into practice the concept of co+trophicity and promote the spirit of self-organization, solidarity, participation and struggle. Against the logics of the deification of profit, the logics of commercialization of basic goods, the logics of individualism and brotherhood, we started cooking every Saturday at the Steki Metanaston, at 13 Tsamadou Street in Exarchia, where we co-exist with other collectives and actions. Today, in a society plagued by extreme neoliberal policies, the economic crisis of a decade and the pandemic, we cook every day to meet the ever-increasing needs of our fellow human beings and we cooperate with other collectives that participate in similar actions. The El Chef social kitchen is not a charitable activity, it does not treat the afflicted people as wretched, hungry or destitute, offering them “a plate of fay.” On the contrary, we believe that these logics reproduce the problem. Our purpose is to act together, to cultivate resistance and solidarity, to be inspired and shape other forms of social reality that will liberate us and make us stronger. Many times hunger is used as a weapon of intimidation and hostage-taking of the “below”. We, with our weapons of resistance, solidarity and self-organization, fight against the theft of our rights, against all economic and social oppression and for everyone’s access to common goods.
Note from the EAC team
We would like to thank all members who did the travel to Athens from all over Europe to participate to the meeting, sharing their reflections and experiences. We are very grateful to the United Initiative Against Auctions for their joint organizing work. Special thanks to El Chef social kitchen for the delicious food they provided us. We are also grateful to the Community of Squatted Prosfygika for hosting us for a dinner on the first day of the meeting and giving us an insight into the organisation of the community. Thanks to Notara26 squat, Steki Metanaston space and the Polytechnic school of Athens (Polytechneio) for hosting us. This event was supported by the Network for Social Support to Immigrants and Refugees to whom we are very grateful too. Thanks also to Trise, all the local assemblies, collectives, and comrades for their generous and attentive support. Without you none of this would have been possible!