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Photo: The Guardian.
Sister Brigid Arthur, 86, and Anj Sharma, 16, are among a group who secured a judgment from the Australian federal court that found the government has a duty to protect young people from climate change.

If you ever feel powerless to do anything about climate change, consider how an 86-year-old nun and eight Australian teenagers stopped a massive new coal mine in its tracks by persuading a court that the needs of youth need to be addressed first. Fingers crossed that the success is more than temporary.

Adam Morton writes at the Guardian, “The federal court of Australia has found the environment minister, Sussan Ley, has a duty of care to protect young people from the climate crisis in a judgment hailed by lawyers and teenagers who brought the case as a world first.

“Eight teenagers and an octogenarian nun had sought an injunction to prevent Ley approving a proposal by Whitehaven Coal to expand the Vickery coalmine in northern New South Wales, arguing the minister had a common law duty of care to protect younger people against future harm from climate change.

“Justice Mordecai Bromberg found the minister had a duty of care to not act in a way that would cause future harm to younger people. But he did not grant the injunction as he was not satisfied the minister would breach her duty of care.

“David Barnden, a lawyer representing the children, said it was a historic and ‘amazing decision’ with potentially significant consequences.

“ ‘The court has found that the minister owes a duty of care to younger children, to vulnerable people, and that duty says that the minister must not act in a way that causes harm – future harm – from climate change to younger people,’ he said outside court.

‘It is the first time in the world that such a duty of care has been recognized, especially in a common law country.’

“He said Bromberg had indicated he would now take submissions before making further declarations about what the minister’s duty of care may mean for whether the mine extension could go ahead.

“Whitehaven Coal had a different interpretation of the judgment. In a statement to the stock exchange, it did not mention the duty of care finding, and said it welcomed the court dismissing the teenagers’ attempt to block Ley from approving the mine extension. …

“Speaking for the children, 17-year-old Ava Princi said it was ‘thrilling and deeply relieving’ that the justice had recognized the minister had a duty of care. …

“She said though an injunction was not granted the case was ‘not over yet. … There will be further submissions on what the duty of care means for the minister’s decision and the mine.’ …

“The court heard the expansion of the mine could lead to an extra 100m tonnes of CO2 – about 20% of Australia’s annual climate footprint – being released into the atmosphere as the extracted coal is shipped overseas and burned to make steel and generate electricity.

“In his judgment, Bromberg said the evidence presented to the court showed the potential harm the children could face due to global heating ‘may fairly be described as catastrophic, particularly should global average surface temperatures rise to and exceed 3C beyond the pre-industrial level.’ ” More at the Guardian, here.

It may not be over, but a finding for children and their future is important, and when added to other recent judicial decisions described in the Guardian article, there’s some reason for hope.

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Photo: Anthony Fomin
Is it time to revisit the idea of letting tenants buy their buildings?

In Massachusetts, the Covid-related eviction moratorium will expire October 17 with no plan to help tenants who have lost their jobs and can’t pay rent. The C.D.C. moratorium is in effect, but with many stipulations. Landlords need relief, too, but there has to be a better way than eviction court, where it will all end up. It’s especially worrisome given some new research showing many tenants lose in court because they haven’t received notice of their court date and therefore don’t go.

Clyde Haberman at the New York Times revisits the possibilities of a tenant-to-ownership program.

“Even before the coronavirus pandemic rang down the curtain on much of the U.S. economy, times could be tough for the roughly 110 million Americans living in rental housing. … Nearly four million eviction petitions were filed each year. On any given night as many as 200,000 people were without a home.

“In the pandemic, losing shelter is an ever-present threat on a far bigger scale, by some estimates potentially affecting upward of 30 million cash-strapped tenants. A calamity of that magnitude has been averted, for now, under a moratorium on evictions imposed through 2020 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But equitable and compassionate solutions to America’s chronic housing problems will clearly remain an elusive goal long after the coronavirus is conquered.

“One method with promise is explored in this video from Retro Report. … The underlying premise is a familiar one: giving people a genuine stake in their apartments and houses by turning renters into owners. The video focuses on two situations separated by half a century: in San Francisco, where the idea was not able to get off the ground, and in Minneapolis, where it has taken flight, albeit with an uncertain future.

“The San Francisco story dates to the late 1960s on Kearny Street, in a neighborhood known as Manilatown because of its many immigrants from the Philippines. There, the three-story International Hotel was home to 150 people, principally Filipino laborers who rented rooms for about $50 a month, about $380 in today’s dollars. In 1968 the hotel’s owners handed tenants eviction notices. …

“After nine years of turmoil and with the courts’ blessing, the owners evicted the hotel residents in 1977. … But the outcome could have been different. A year before the evictions, San Francisco’s mayor, George R. Moscone, suggested a new approach, proposing that the owners sell the hotel to the residents, who were to get the necessary money through a government loan. ..

“The mayor’s idea never really got rolling. … But the concept behind the Moscone plan had resilience, and in 1980 it became embodied in legislation passed in the District of Columbia: the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, or Topa. It gave tenants or allied developers the right to be first in line to buy any building about to be sold by its landlord. Once tenants made clear they were interested, the landlord had to give them time to make an offer and raise the funds.

“Studies show that several thousand units of affordable housing in D.C. were preserved this way, for less than it would have cost to build new housing. …

“One place that has made the idea a reality is a low-rise complex in Minneapolis that houses 40 families. As recounted by Retro Report, the landlord sought to push out the tenants so that he could sell the buildings. But while lawyers duked it out, the residents took action, forming a collective to buy the complex, aided by city officials and an activist group called United Renters for Justice. The sale, for $7.1 million, was completed in May. A nonprofit group put up the money as a loan, and will manage the property for three years while the residents pay back the debt.

“Tenant leaders like Chloe Jackson expressed confidence in their ability to keep up the payments. Still, success is not assured, especially when millions across the country are out of work. If people who lose their jobs can’t cover the rent, why would they be in a better position to repay a loan?

“Some landlords have their own concerns. They are hardly real-estate giants. On the contrary, they are so-called ‘mom and pop’ owners with maybe a building or two. But they account for nearly half of all rental units in the United States. …

“What will happen once the C.D.C.’s eviction moratorium ends is anyone’s guess. Even before the pandemic, millions of Americans were crushed by their rent burden. … That is one reason Ms. Jackson embraces her new status, inherent risks notwithstanding. Yes, the loan must be repaid, she said. ‘But we are thinking as owners, our mind-set is as owners, and we’re ready to do it.’ ”

More here.

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