ACORN Toronto

 Photo: Lauren Clewes

Photo: Lauren Clewes

Coming to the realization that governments do not have the resources or answers to some of our most pressing problems is like a coming-of-age for citizens in a democracy. It is also a driving force behind starting advocacy groups that bring to the attention of politicians the real problems citizens face and how they are trying to fight them. One such group is ACORN Canada. The organization recently made headlines across Toronto through securing “Rent Safe”. More about that project will be discussed later in this article.

The information compiled here is from an source within the organization, shared with me on the basis of anonymity. The reason being? ACORN is a membership-led, democratic organization - the members, who pay dues and run the organization, are the ones that speak to the press. My source, a community organizer, is simply an employee.

ACORN, operating in more than 10 countries, is a national, independent membership organization of low- to moderate-income citizens. My source likens the organization to that of a neighbourhood union. People come together in their communities and fight for better living conditions through protests, media, and direct action. My source recalls times where, when wanting building repairs, direct action involved organizers gathering tenants in the lobby to file hundreds of complaints at a time.

ACORN is based in several cities including Toronto. The main office is in East York but has neighbourhood chapters in Weston, Scarborough, and York West (Jane & Finch). ACORN is also currently expanding into Peel region.

I mentioned the historic “Rent Safe” program, recently passed by Toronto’s City council. This is the first program of its kind in North America - a huge win for tenants’ rights. Like restaurants and their “Dine Safe” signs, rental apartment buildings are now required to post results of their inspections in a visible place in their lobby. Because of “Rent Safe”, landlords are also required to pay fines if they fall behind on obligatory maintenance and are not allowed to rent out new units until repairs are up to date.

Other projects ACORN are working on at the moment are province and country-wide. They include advocating for affordable rent and internet access, restrictions on payday lenders, and an increase to the amount Ontario Disability Support Program recipients can earn before income clawbacks. Rallies and protests have gained traction with news outlets such as Global News, the Toronto Star, and more are starting to pick up their stories.

I was personally curious to find out how the City council has received ACORN. Was their reaction to the “Rent Safe” program warm? Surely they must have been met with opposition from councillors who usually vote against common-sense and democratic initiatives. According to my source, ACORN has supporters sitting on council across the entire political spectrum. After doing some research, the numbers seem to back that statement up. More than 50% of Toronto households are renters (City of Toronto, 2006), so it’ll be a hard sell for any councillor to explain to their constituents why they oppose ACORN and their “Rent Safe” program.

If this organization interests you, my source mentioned the possibility of either donating or volunteering, citing the constant need for office and outreach positions to be filled. The Toronto office is located at Greenwood station. I’m personally very excited to see the success of ACORN’s upcoming projects, fighting for the rights of their members and low-income citizens across our city.