Beginning of September 2001
It's already been three weeks since you heard the latest news from us concerning our landlords announcement of a rent increase from 580,00 to 5.140,00, or more than 900%.
Now a short summary. Amsterdam's left-wing bookshop 'Het Fort van Sjakoo' received at the end of July 2001 a letter from the Woningbedrijf Amsterdam (WBA) (Housing Corporation Amsterdam) which stated that beginning Sept 1, 2001 the above mentioned rent increase would take effect. If we don't agree with the rent increase than the WBA will begin a rent adjustment suit with the district court, thus the letter. Two of our co-workers attempted to speak with the WBA area manager Oldings. He and a colleague of his blocked off any attempt to create space for discussion. As far as the WBA is concerned nothing is open to discussion. Nevertheless, a day later we sent them a provisional letter of objection.
We didn't let the cold reception from the WBA discourage us and we decided, to their great annoyance, to go public. By means of a large number of mailings, interviews with diverse media and telephoning members of the board of directors of the WBA, we've began to increase the pressure on them. At the same time we came into contact with other groups (such as the Latin Amerika Centre and the Vrije Ruimte (the Free Space)) in Amsterdam who are dealing with the same problem. The reason we seek this co-operation is to demand a non-profit rent rate for non-profit social spaces. With this in mind there should be a discussion started in the city council.
To our delight many people have taken the initiative to show their displeasure in diverse ways. Every day many faxes, letters and e-mails from within the Netherlands and from abroad are sent to the WBA, complaining about the disgraceful and antisocial rental policy of the WBA. We've also received a lot of support from many people in the book industry. One worker from the bookshop Scheltema in Amsterdam drew up an urgent petition that within a week had seventy-five signatures from bookshop workers, owners and people in the publishing business in support of us.
We also found out through the newspaper that during the night of Sunday the 19th of August the front of the inner-city office of the WBA on the Muntendamstraat was redecorated by sympathisers of our bookshop. A colourful new paint job from paint bombs and a meter high mural beautified the front.
Also our downstairs neighbours, internet workplace ASCII, have announced a series of actions, the first took place on Friday August 31.In the early afternoon in front of the entrance to the Stopera (the Amsterdam City Hall) an open-air internet workplace was set up. The whole city hall appeared to be closed on arrival. The public announcing of this action probably caused someone there to go ballistic because queen Beatrix was going to be there that evening for a ballet performance. The passing public was informed about what was going on until the police showed up and the protesters were told to leave or else their carrier bicycles and equipment would be seized. The first three Fridays of September will have more actions, which will be announced on squat.net and the e-mailing list.
The vice-chairman from the board of directors of WBA, Mr. Kerkvliet, was called on Monday August 13 and promised that the starting time for the new rent will be postponed. He promised that we would get that on paper, and then we heard nothing again from him. We heard through the media that the WBA thought that the letter they sent us wasn't formulated properly. The first news we received directly from the WBA was a letter that came on the 22nd of August. In it they announced that they've already began a legal case in the district court, "since the case could take a long time". "If we in the meantime come to a compromise we will withdraw the case". Next they wrote, "if a substantial rent increase is not possible for you to pay and you must look for another commercial space, we will let you leave without giving us one year notice. We understand that this situation gives you many problems. The other side of it is that you have had to your advantage many years of paying a very low rent. In order for us to keep our residential spaces affordable, we must rent our business spaces at commercial market prices". They ended their letter with the comment that the appraisement report that they had drawn up from a real estate agent, which the new rent increase is based upon, is not to be made public, "its an internal document".
In brief, without giving us any proper figures they assert that we (and the other 1200 commercial spaces from the WBA) must bleed to keep housing affordable. The WBA's (and their fellow housing cooperatives) policy of driving up the price from their commercial spaces will lead to (and has led to) a great number of idealistic organizations and small neighbourhood shops to leave their spaces (and the neighbourhood and than the city). That is not only sad for those who are involved with these organizations and small businesses, but also for the people living in the neighbourhood and for the city as a whole. As a result there will be less to choose from, everything will become the same, everywhere will have the same chain stores (Blokker, Albert Hein, etc.) You could call it the globalization of local areas. Small-scale initiatives can only find suitable space in the marginal areas of the city. Chain stores have nowadays so much influence that, for example, on Amsterdam's KNSM island Albert Hein went to the city council so that they would be the only supermarket chain allowed to set up there at this new housing project.
The WBA doesn't take into consideration the history of the founding of 'Het Fort van Sjakoo' on Jodenbreestraat 24. After the demolition to make way for the subway in the Nieuwmarkt neighbourhood, the city government let project developers take over a lot of the eastern inner city development, and the city government built themselves the Stopera. The English company 'Grand Vista' had bought a good part of the street around the Rembrandt house. The plan was to demolish everything and then build big office buildings. Through speculation the price of a piece of ground the size of a sidewalk tile rose to 270,00.
Jodenbreestraat 24 was empty and threatened with demolition. It was the last obstruction to be taken away before the construction of the office buildings. It was then squatted in August of 1975. Many times attempts were made by hired construction workers of Gran Vista to push their way inside the just opened bookshop to try and destroy it. Because of this a watch was started and when the alarm was sent out dozens of neighbours were there within minutes, even in the dead of night. When the squatters were threatened with a definite eviction, they had a breakfast party in front of the door. The eviction didn't take place. Then the real estate prices plunged and the city government came to the conclusion (very late) that a lively and liveable inner city is more attainable with small-scale projects than with concrete office towers. The city bought the property. Thanks to Sjakoo and her supporters. The rent prices were set corresponding to the selling price with the city of Amsterdam coming out of the situation favourably. Tenants and shops got hardly any maintenance done by the city; to keep the costs low they did most of the repairs themselves.
And now they use this against us. The WBA wrote 'that we've had the advantage of very low rent for many years'. The WBA goes on in this manner even though without the resistance of the bookshop and the neighbours living upstairs the building of cheap rental houses would never have been realised, and the WBA wouldn't have gotten possession of the block. This is how they thank us!!!
Legally Fort van Sjakoo has very little to expect. After a long and costly rent adjustment case the district judge will probably decide in favour of the rent increase that the WBA wants. Besides the court costs we'll also, possibly with a retroactive decision, have to pay the imposed rent increase for all the months the case will go on. The court case will surely cause Fort van Sjakoo to go bankrupt. We really don't want that to happen. We want to bring as much political and social pressure to this issue as we can.
In the coming weeks we have the following things planned. Het Fort van Sjakoo and ASCII will take part in the manifestation organized by the 'Vrije Ruimte' (http://www.vrijeruimte.nl) on September 26th. The borification and sterilization of the city will be dealt with by an actual Trojan horse by the Amsterdam City Hall. Besides this het Fort van Sjakoo and ASCII are planning a manifestation on Saturday September 22nd in front of the bookshop. People and groups who would like to help us out should contact us. At the same time we will continue to contact the WBA, the city council, the board of governors to see if there's any chance of creating an opening for us in this deadlock. That's it for this newsletter. If you have any questions, tips or comments for us please contact us and also let the WBA know what you think about their shameful intentions and send us a copy too by mail, fax or e-mail. We'll report to you again soon.
The address of our landlord: