Report from the IUT World Conference

Eirene Tsolidis Noyce, April 21st 2023

RAHU attended our first world Congress of the International Union of Tenants in Lisbon Portugal, as a new member of the IUT. I was honoured to be able to attend as an international Delegate, and speak on a panel about our organisation, and our challenges in the Australian housing crisis. The conference had 81 delegates representing over 25 countries including Portugal, Denmark, Germany, France, Canada, Scotland, Ireland, Austria, Northern Macedonia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Sweden, Netherlands, Belgium and Spain.

The conference theme was safe affordable housing for all. We heard reports on key issues across the EU on the rise of short term rentals (such as airbnb) and the large scale property developer landlords (Vonovia and Blackstone). Importantly, the conference was held in Lisbon, a city paving a way out of a deregulated property market through investment in public housing, and restrictions on short term rentals.

There are many structural differences between Australia and the European context; beginning with the foundation that in Australia, the land in which we inhabit has been stolen, and profited from since colonialism.

In the European context, most EU countries have pre established rent regulation and public housing as the largest proportion of housing overall.

In Denmark, their rent regulation system relies on a rating system whereby each apartment and it’s liveability determines the rental amount.

In Belgium, France and Germany, the shortest lease is 3 years, and rent increases are capped both at regularity and amount for the following 9 year lease. In Belgium, once your lease is signed, you call the local government to ask if your lease is registered. If not, the renter terminates the same day. This dumbfounded me, as I came from the assumption that no renter would ever find something else, however the freedom to not only terminate but find an equivalent registered lease is so common its not too much of a consideration. Fines for not registering your property range from €50,000-70,000 in Belgium and France. Rents might increase by 10% on your lease, which many are rightly struggling against across Europe. That said, their starting point is still closer to 30% of income going to rent in the private market and generally, public housing makes up at least a third of all housing stock.

In this context it was challenging to describe Australia’s rental system. I joined a panel with Penny Carr from Tenants Queensland, Elizabeth Pam from Quebec’s HML, Geordie Dent from Toronto Tenants Union and Antonio Luis from Portugal’s AIL. I spoke about renters experiencing a 62% increase in rent costs since 1994, the 20% rent increases statewide in the last 8 months, the small investment in community housing that will still leave 110,000 people on the waiting list in Victoria, and the small gains in eviction moratoriums and rental laws.

Australia’s housing crisis was widely understood by attendees, as it has the same symptoms of a colonised and privatised market. There was general disdain for the issues, until I tried to describe negative gearing and capital gains tax.
These tax schemes were laughed at by every delegate I met – once they believed me that it exists – followed by a look of apologetic sympathy. I don’t like using the term shameful, but there’s very little more to describe these tax policies, when each year Australia loses more than $17.8 billion in potential tax due to write offs by landlords, then our Government scrambles for excuses to not afford to build public housing.

To identify similarities to Australia’s context seemed challenging at first, until I heard from Canadian, Irish and Scottish delegates. Our context is shared, and the resulting crises are starkly similar. Colonialism has controlled us into outposts of capital, wreaking havoc through raking profit from the land as the foundational right above all else.

In EU states, affordable housing as a Constitutional right is upheld.
Canada and Australia never began with a regulated market, nor public housing as a majority way of living. Scotland and Ireland had predominant public housing until Thatcher (never rest her soul) and have been paying the price of neoliberalism and privatisation ever since, much like Australia.

In this context, our home countries wrought by colonialism share the similarities of the largest homelessness, lowest public housing stock and highest rent rises of any country in the Congress.

As Irish researcher and speaker Rory Hearne described – “there’s a pattern for a reason”.

Being on that panel was both a privilege and an elucidating moment. Reporting on the gravity and level of disaster we’re experiencing in Australia, it was difficult to find positives. But I sincerely feel that the fact our Union exists, despite all odds shows that renters are taking our power back.

In the sheer necessity of having no other choice, I believe that sees the strongest power and resolve in the struggle for a home.

Eirene self-funded their trip to the IUT World Conference. No RAHU funds were used.
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