The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) established its Waterloo Region branch in the summer of last year. On Dec. 4, over a dozen ACORN members were rallying against demo-victions (demolitions/evictions) at 93-99 Benton St. and 39-43 Saint George St. This area is known as Rainbow Row due to the bright colours the property brings to the community. The tenants living at are facing demoviction due to the property owner’s choice to replace the homes.
“I was talking with my friends, Sam and Brooklyn who are two of the co-founders of Waterloo Region ACORN. And they were kind of mentioning that I should attend a union [that] was forming in the region. And because I grew up in a co-op,I’ve always known there’s a different way to run housing,” Acer Bonaparte, chair of Waterloo Region ACORN, said.
The idea of social and economic justice is at the center of ACORN’s organization. The members fight landlords and corporations through direct action. In 2022, the national ACORN hosted 610 events, and over 7,800 people turned out to show their support. All members have a vote within the organization and are able to speak for the collective group. Members can set policies and determine the tactics for each group action.
Leading up to the rally, ACORN members worked with the tenants of Benton and Saint-George Street to canvas around the Rainbow Row building and the surrounding community. Over fifty petition signatures were collected and there was an overwhelming amount of community support.
In the Waterloo Region, many residents have expressed a shared concern about preserving affordable housing and maintaining the unique character of the neighbourhood. On Dec. 4 ACORN members and community supporters marched from Rainbow Row to the front of Kitchener City Hall. Their goal was to draw attention to the urgent need to protect these houses and other similar properties.
“We need housing that is affordable and accessible to all because a lot of times in these conversations we don’t focus on both. But if it [housing] doesn’t meet people where they are and their needs, then it simply won’t be attainable,” Bonaparte said.
“The current definition of affordable housing isn’t really affordable. It’s something like 80 per cent of the market rate, which is absolutely ridiculous. ACORN wants that to be tied to a minimum wage workers full time earnings which will be 30 per cent of [monthly income]—which brings the rent to about $900 a month,” Bonaparte said.
During the march on city hall, attendees of the march gave over 15 delegations at the Planning and Strategic Initiatives Committee meeting. They urged the council to prioritize the well-being of the tenants at Rainbow Row and preserve their community.
“If you have mobility issues, you need to be able to get in and out of your unit. You need to be able to live somewhere that isn’t sweltering in the summer and freezing in the winter. So it’s not just about having a place to call home or having a place that works for you and is comfortable and a place you are happy to come home,” Bonaparte said.
Ultimately the city council chose to postpone the matter until Jan.22 so city staff can set up a meeting between the developers and the tenants. ACORN’s yearly campaigns include but are not limited to advocating for housing, fair banking, modernizing Employment Insurance and internet for all.
The campaign demands housing include creating non-profit acquisition strategy and regulating banks to stop financing corporate landlords who purchase with the intent to increase rents and displace people.