One of the main issues in a town like Reading is housing. Not a day goes by that you can’t find a story about a tiny bedsit being sold or rented out, or the massive shortfall in available homes, or people being forced to live in awful conditions. The list goes on and on. In the middle of a housing crisis that is hitting Reading particularly hard all too often people say, “Well, what can I do?” and just accept things as the way they are.
But what can we do, when it all comes down to it? ACORN is a community union, working to improve the lives of people in Katesgrove and the wider Reading area. We talk to people – residents, workers, home owners, renters, etc – day in and day out, and we’re constantly told the same things. That there is no community, that landlords leave properties to rot inside and out, that letting agent’s charge extortionate fee’s, that homelessness and people living in temporary housing is rising at an alarming rate. That change is desperately needed but that people feel powerless to change things.
Branches of ACORN across the country have been tackling these issues head on. And winning. Through a combination of protest style tactics and working in partnership with organisations, ACORN is winning repairs to houses, stopping evictions, encouraging Letting Agent’s to reduce and remove tenancy fee’s, and in Bristol, working with Citizens Advice, Shelter and the Bristol City Council, ACORN have drawn up the Ethical Letting’s Charter, which the City Council have now officially endorsed.
What is this Ethical Lettings Charter I hear you cry? It’s (currently) a voluntary code of conduct that Landlords and Letting Agents agree to sign up to. They commit to Bronze, Silver or Gold standard, and the signatories agree to treat tenants with respect and dignity. Depending on the level, the commitments include ensuring that repairs are made in a timely fashion and to a high standard, that properties will be well kept and maintained (especially in relation to energy efficiency, all the more important now we’re coming into winter), and that fee’s being charged to tenants will, at best, be entirely removed (or if not removed, transparent and justified). There are more commitments (see here for the full list). In return, the agents and landlords who have signed up will get some free promotion, and ACORN and the Council will ensure compliance with the charter from signatories.
Well that sounds excellent! But what’s it got to do with me and Reading? ACORN in Reading is a new organisation. We work on whatever issues our members vote to tackle. If you think this is something that would be good for Reading, then you need to become a member. If this is something you feel really strongly about, get in touch – tell us your stories (as evidence that this is needed), get involved in making decisions about how we proceed with this campaign and help us get other people involved. Or if you think that there are worse issues in Reading (like traffic, dirty streets, or whatever), get in contact and let us know!
But the main thing to remember is that these sorts of issues are not insurmountable. When people get together, support each other, and work together we can achieve amazing things. We have in the past (things like the NHS, having days off, holiday pay, sick pay, all of these are things ordinary people have had to fight for in the past, and all of these are fights we won), we’re winning now (read all the stories linked above), and we will win in the future. We just need to build organisations that allow us to have our say.
How do I get involved? Well, there's a load of ways. You can follow us on Twitter or Facebook, or you can email us (firstname.lastname@example.org). What we really need is people to join us, and if you're able, help grow ACORN in Reading into a massive, powerful organisation, able to make the changes we so desperately need. If you're up for this, either join here or email us. No matter how you get involved, we'll get back to you as quickly as possible.