Housing Financialization and the Need for a Global Renters’ Movement Workshop

What is the importance of housing financialization in contemporary capitalism? What differences can we grasp between the Global North and the Global South? Which is the role of public institutions in housing financialization before and during COVID-19? How have social movements responded to financialization? We asked ourselves these questions during the workshop Housing Financialization and the Need for a Global Renters’ Movement hosted by the Gittell Collective. Our goal was to explore the connections between the financialization of the economy, with a focus on housing, and the struggle to assert the latter as a human right. Housing financialization refers to the growth of real estate investment through financial institutions and markets. It requires understanding land and the built environment as assets, therefore housing exchange value surpasses its social value. Housing has thus become a profitable field for investment. Instead of acquiring enterprises’ stakes or investing in manufacturing companies, wealthy people and private institutions have the option to become shareholders in transnational firms that purchase foreclosed homes or blocks of social housing, where vulnerable tenants live. These companies would then speculate with those homes or force evictions by means of rising rents. At the heart of the issue is treating housing as a commodity, which has informed many housing struggles across cities around the globe.

The event was divided into two sessions on February 17 and 24, 2021. The first workshop addressed current trends in housing financialization, the role of public policies such as rent regulations, and ways to raise awareness on evictions and how they are linked with financialization. We invited Professors Raquel Rolnik (University of São Paulo, Brazil), Desiree Fields (University of California at Berkeley, United States) and Tom Slater (University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom), and Dr. Erin McElroy (New York University, United States), who is also involved in the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project. The second workshop revolved around different urban housing struggles in Africa, Europe, North and South America. We listened to social movements’ mobilization strategies and actions against gentrification and evictions, most of them overlapping with housing financialization dynamics. Participants included Rob Robinson (Right to the City Alliance, New York City, United States), Talita Gonsales (Zero Evictions, São Paulo, Brazil), Mandisa Shandu (Ndifuna Ukwazi, Cape Town, South Africa), Rita Silva (Habita, Lisbon, Portugal), Ricardo Apaolaza (Frente de Organizaciones en Lucha, Buenos Aires, Argentina) and Isaac Rose (Greater Manchester Housing Action, United Kingdom). The Gittell Collective is thankful for their contributions, a summary of which you can find in our YouTube channel, and this text published in Metropolitics. We hope our insights stimulate housing activists and academics to build a larger and stronger right-to-housing and to-the-city movement.