NEWSLETTER NUMBER 2 FROM HET FORT VAN SJAKOO AND ASCII October 2001
Woningbedrijf Amsterdam (Housing Corporation Amsterdam) goes to the judge
In the summons from September 10th we had our already formulated objections thrown out. The WBA is simply interested in the "economic rental worth" and fattened up their summons with incorrect facts and distortions. The WBA claims that during the exploratory discussion "they had shown their willingness to except a rent that would have been substantially lower" than the above-mentioned f 5,140 per month. Such a remark would never have escaped our attention, just because that's exactly what we wanted. As far as the WBA is concerned the history of our space and shop and the arguments we had put forward, "are in determining the new rent level non-relevant points". Further, they clearly accuse us of having organized an action against their office building. During this action, as we already described in our first newsletter, the façade of the WBA office had been spray painted with slogans against the rent increase and plastered with some colourful paint bombs. According to the summons the WBA "reserves the right to recover the cost of the damage done" from our bookshop "which resulted in damage totalling approximately f 20,000. Our only response to that is: if one plays with fire, one can expect to get burnt. The summons concluded with the statement "in order to prevent the defendant (the bookshop) from being confronted considerable time after the 1st of September 2001 with a large claim, the plaintive doesn't want the defendant to get into trouble, both parties have an interest in a quick trial and verdict".
More communication with our landlord
On September 12th we sent the WBA a new appeal. Divided up into 10 points, we set apart why we can't come to an agreement with their rent increase proposal and how we think we can come to a solution. On September 19th we got a response from the WBA. Out of the ten points in our appeal they accepted none. The WBA's pet subject/obsession remains that all renters of commercial space must pay the market price and that organizations with "social interests" have the possibility to get a subsidy from the government. At the same time the WBA indicates that they don't want to correspond any more with us if we don't fit into their way of thinking. It's not completely coincidental that the WBA gave us an offer of another rental space just before the first day in court. Just as we suspected the WBA could -because it persists in its making no distinction between commercial and non-commercial space-offer us no suitable alternative place. A space was offered us with a surface area 30% of what we have now, and a square meter price, which is 815% higher than what we pay now, is for us unacceptable. "Social rent for social initiatives" remains our motto!
On Wednesday October 10th the session (in writing) in the district court took place. The Fort van Sjakoo collective spent a lot of time discussing if we want to use this court case just to win some time. Eventually we decided not to. A judge can only decide what the market value is, while we can only pay a social (rent control) rent. Plus a dragged out court case comes with the risk of a verdict which could have retroactive powers, which could put the future of our initiative in jeopardy. Therefore we've requested to the judge to end the case and to give a verdict. We feel that the WBA has a moral responsibility - after a rental relationship of 12 years - to work with us toward a solution. By going through the court the WBA shows us that they aren't prepared to do this. The result of the trial can only be guessed; we expect the yudge to speak on the 7th of october.
To the street
On Saturday September 22nd The Fort van Sjakoo and ASCII organized a manifestation, which took place in front of our door. Throughout the day a few hundred people visited us, learned about our objections, listened to performances from different sympathizers and looked at the exposition about the history of the neighbourhood and our building. On the following Wednesday hundreds of people marched to the city hall doors to nail to the door an accusation that a great number of Amsterdam "free spaces" will be lost forever. This action was organized by the 'Vrije Ruimte' (Free Space), an action group that is dedicated to the preservation, and the creating, of "free spaces'. In front of the city hall an enormous wooden 'Trojan Horse' was left behind which contained letters of complaint and a few suggestions for the city council. This action got us a lot of publicity.
We can't complain about the media attention. Soon it became clear that we weren't the only ones facing such a rent increase. A rent increase of more than 900% and the not so tactical attitude of the Woningbedrijf Amsterdam made sure that we quickly became a symbol of a much greater Amsterdam problem: marginalisation caused by commercialisation, through a policy that works purely and only for money. By the above-mentioned Vrije Ruimte (Free Space) group the symbol function has been successfully exploited to try and change the mentality of the Amsterdam city councillors. Although the question now is, if a change in mentality occurs will it be in time to save our bookshop at its present location? We're glad that things have started to heat up. The strategic choices that we'll have to make in our campaign will take this into account.
The city council of Amsterdam has in the meantime realized that something's going wrong with this sort of economic development in the city. After a motion in the council from Hansje Kalt (Amsterdam Anders) they're going to investigate the consequences of the market price renting of commercial space for the city. Although this investigation hasn't yet been completed, it looks like this development is threatening hundreds of organizations and initiatives. It appears that not only political initiatives will be the victims of this policy, but also for example community centres, health-care centres, etc. The council is aware of this, but a reaction in the form of concrete actions keeps waiting, and is being slowed down by the fact that this problem hasn't been taken into account in next year's budgets. It is now up to the city council to find a solution. You can say: where there is a will there is a way. Unfortunately we're not so convinced that the city council is ready to, or wants to, tackle this problem. So we'll have to put the pressure on. On September 10th we sent, together with the Latin Amerika Centre who are in the same position as we are, a statement to the city council in which we demanded that a moratorium on rent increases be set up until a policy on this subject has been developed. We also demanded that the city uses its influence with the WBA to help us reach a solution with them. The Bewonersraad (tenants council) also sent in the meantime a statement to the city. On October 4th we heard from the city that the problem is so big an issue that first a note has to be written by the alderman/womyn for finance. It looks like, thanks to all the city council bureaucracy, that the Fort will already be evicted by the time there's an answer to our demands.
Dozens of people and organizations in the meantime clearly showed their solidarity with our battle and wrote protest letters to the WBA. While earlier some eighty people from the book and publishing industry sent an open letter knocking the WBA's policy, het Parool (a newspaper) published recently an open letter that was signed by a number of well-known Amsterdamers appealing to the WBA to work with Het Fort van Sjakoo to come to a realistic rent level. It has really motivated us, that hundreds of people have meanwhile become members of our action-mobilization list and have signed the petition in our bookshop. We are afraid, having seen how rigid the WBA is, that we have to move quickly to use this momentum to our advantage.
Well that's it for this newsletter. Those who want to know more about the already sent correspondence, the written protest letters, what actions have taken place, articles from the newspapers, etc. can look at our website (which is unfortunately mainly in dutch): http://www.xs4all.nl/~sjakoo/protest/ Or come on in and ask or call.
If you have any tips or comments than please contact us and send the WBA, above all, a protest letter, if you haven't already, and let them know what you think about their disgusting intentions. Please send us a copy of your letter by post, fax or e-mail. We will report again soon. We will keep you up to date on what has happened and will be happening. If you want to get onto our e-mailing list surf to: https://squat.net/mailman/listinfo/sjakoo-announce
So long from the front
SOCIAL RENT FOR SOCIAL PROJECTS!