Last year, things kicked-off in London and really started to move for ACORN nationally. As well as launching here in Newham, we also launched in Newcastle, grew stronger in Bristol, and started organising in Reading and Birmingham. This year, there's plenty more to look forward to.
In all of our cities, members came together for many personal reasons: perhaps to be a part of an organisation that gets stuff done, to support to their neighbours, or simple to be more active in their community. But it was one issue above all else that came to dominate our member's action: homes.
Because, let's face it, in 2015 it felt like the housing crisis reached boiling point. With pressure on social housing and fewer people able to buy, hundreds of thousands more were forced into the difficult life of renting privately.
As a private renter in 2015, you probably had it rough. Last year, 1 in 3 private rented homes were damp, mouldy, or in a state of disrepair. Rents went up, and more lettings agents began to charge unfair 'fees'. Incredibly, 350,000 renters were evicted last year alone, and for many more, the threat of eviction kept people from complaining about conditions or challenging unfair costs.
It might be easy to think that the situation is going to be the same, or worse, in 2016. But that's forgetting one thing. In 2015, in spite of the massive injustices, ACORN members and others showed that, if people are organised in their communities, we can build the power to fight back - and win. Last year, we were only just starting, but quickly we were proving that we are an organisation that gets results.
After our autumn launch, our first action in Newham stopped our member Atta's landlord from evicting him and, after a successful petition, the council pledged to work with ACORN in 2016. Bristol city council adopted ACORN's Ethical Lettings Charter, and a whole host of landlords and lettings agents got a taste of what happens when you mistreat an ACORN tenant.
In Newcastle, despite launching in freezing December, lots of members turned out in the snow to highlight the injustice of lettings agent fees in the city, and to invite local agents to an accountability meeting.
It was also a year when the housing crisis went mainstream. A growing national movement driven by groups like ACORN, Shelter, unions, and local housing campaigners managed to push housing up the news agenda. Every week, it seemed, we saw new stories like 'beds in sheds', council house sell-offs, and the cost of renting hit the headlines. The pressure on renters may be rising, but people are starting to push back hard.
For 2016, there will be more battles ahead for sure, but there's much to look forward to. With ACORN growing in more communities, and contributing to a wider national movement, 2016 could well be the start of people shifting the momentum of power back in their direction. But the only way to guarantee progress is with you on our side. Because that’s our strength. ACORN isn’t its logo, its offices, or its staff. Its people like you – its members and activists. If you haven't already, why not start the New Year by joining ACORN today?