Resistance to displacement, recomposition of class: Lessons from a rent strike in Hamilton, Ontario

Authors: Bjarke Risager*, University of Toronto
Topics: Urban Geography, Political Geography, Canada
Keywords: housing, resistance, class, gentrification, displacement, rent strike
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Maryland C, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Research on gentrification has, for good reason, often focused on the displacement of working-class people from their homes and neighbourhoods. Indeed, the displacement of one class by another is key to the concept of gentrification. However, this understanding of gentrification and displacement arguably often implies a notion of class that is too static and passive. As housing is becoming increasingly important to the urban political economy and housing struggles abound across the globe, this paper instead advocates a framework that emphasizes how struggles against displacement can involve a recomposition of class. Theoretically, the paper draws on recent trends in critical political economy, the tradition of workers’ inquiry, and autonomist Marxism. The empirical basis is a result of a participatory action research project with a tenants solidarity network involved in organizing a rent strike in a working-class and racialized neighbourhood in Hamilton, Ontario, in 2018. Here, tenants decided to go on strike when their landlord, a real estate investment trust (REIT), proposed a steep rent increase and displacement became a looming risk. This paper sheds light on the exploitation of working-class tenants in financialized rental housing, how these tenants attempt to resist their landlord’s exploitative practices, and how coming together in the struggle against displacement fosters community and agency – all of which are dimensions of 21st Century class composition that has the potential to enrich research on housing, gentrification, and displacement.

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