Author Archives: christine

Winning!

Up against powerful vested interests and a government that supports (or shares) them, campaigning for a better housing system can often feel like fighting a losing battle. But not this week!

On Monday, the government quietly dropped its controversial ‘Pay to Stay’ plans to impose unaffordable market rents for social housing tenants on incomes above a stingy minimum. This policy was introduced earlier this year as part of the regressive Housing and Planning Act, which members of Radical Housing Network (RHN) joined with the Kill the Housing Bill campaign to organise against.

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We occupied a building in Kensington and helped build a march of thousands in protest against the Housing Bill

Then in yesterday’s budget, it was announced that letting agents will be banned from charging fees to tenants. Letting agent fees can often be £500 or more, making the already high costs of moving house impossible for renters to afford.

RHN members have for years have been calling for the law in the rest of the UK to be brought in line with Scotland, where this form of profiteering is already outlawed. As Hackney renters’ group, Digs, wrote yesterday:

“To be a renter is very often to feel totally powerless. But today’s announcement shows what can be achieved when communities get organised and turn up the heat on those who hold power.”

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F*ck fees! Digs’ action against letting agents’ fees, discrimination and other dodgy dealings in July 2013

These changes come hot on the heels of other local victories across London. Following concerted campaigning on the Aylesbury estate in south London, Southwark council have been prevented from evicting leaseholders after the government refused to grant compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) to force them to leave. In west London, the local council recently refused a planning application by housing association Affinity Sutton which would have seen the Sutton estate demolished, resulting in a loss of social housing. And last week, RHN’s meeting was hosted by the inspiring campaigners on the Butterfield estate in Walthamstow, who shared how they have fought off evictions and attempts by their landlord to make huge rent rises.

Of course, there’s still a long way to go. Social housing is still under attack on many fronts, and millions are stuck renting sub-standard insecure and unaffordable homes from private landlords, while Southwark council are appealing against the decision to block their CPOs on the Aylesbury estate (you can donate to the residents’ crowd-funder to fight it here).

But this week shows that by organising together we can win victories that make real differences to people’s lives – and the bigger we can build our movement, the more we will win!

Why we need you to support our crowdfunder

by Jake, Digs – Hackney private renters group

This blog is mostly being written because the alternative, according to my to-do list, is to call my landlord and ask when he’s booked the bailiffs for our eviction. There are other reasons, like the need for a Radical Housing Network part-time coordinator, but these pale in comparison with not talking to landlords and not thinking about bailiffs. Unfortunately it seems that, rather than inuring you to housing crisis, being a housing organiser makes you think about place and community a hell of a lot, and what happens when you lose them. For young people such as myself, this connection to place is becoming almost mythical, as we anaesthetise ourselves to yet another change of borough. But we’re not quite doped up enough, and the loss of relationships, with friends, shopkeepers, doctors or favourite parks, contributes to our generally aggrieved air, along with my knowledge of the work required to placate yet another new jobcentre advisor. Of course it’s not just the youth who are precarious these days, but many older people have some experience of what it’s like to belong to an institution of some sort – a church, community centre, or trade union. As institutions with the capacity to organise have broken down, so has the power of communities to create the cities they want and need.

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Schooled in precarity, indignant about rents, younger generations over the past few years have joined forces with older more settled communities to fight displacement and the sell-off of our city. This has been a potent alliance, bringing together private renters and squatters with council tenants and leaseholders fighting ‘regeneration’. Once a byword for long Old Labour meetings of (dedicated) white men, the housing struggle has become a housing movement, and is slowly beginning to reflect the breadth of those affected. With the passage of the Housing and Planning Act a few weeks ago, these fertile coalitions will soon need to come to fruition to fight what is likely to be the biggest sale of public housing stock ever conducted in the UK. As tenants and residents associations regroup, the Radical Housing Network’s eviction resistance group trains new local networks, and private renters continue along the road to a London private tenants’ union, we are preparing for the long haul.

In the Radical Housing Network, we have grown over three years to nearly 30 groups in London. Granted, some are smaller than others, but that’s exactly why we need the network. It’s committed to supporting member groups with trainings and contacts, and in educating ourselves on the latest ruses from the state and developers marketising housing, and our latest successes in stopping them. It can be hard to see out of the housing bubble sometimes, as our successes dwindle proportionate to its inexorable growth. But if we are to rein it in, we’re going to need new institutions that can both speak to people’s needs, and organise them to build community power.

In the vacuum, Radical Housing Network groups are trying to kick-start these new organising institutions. Without them, not many of us will still be in town in a decade, but with them we can turn renter grumbling into widespread and consistent renter power. With them, I know that when I’m evicted, I can land on my feet with a contact in the private tenant’s group in the borough I move to. Without networks to link housing struggles, our successes don’t teach us much, but with them, we grow stronger through mistakes and victory. The new part-time co-ordinator for the Radical Housing Network will free up time for organisers to spend more time skillsharing, strengthen our regions, and take care of ourselves in this often harsh city. Please help us raise the last £1,000 to pay them London Living Wage plus holiday.

Whatever Sadiq Khan proposes, the housing crisis will only really be over when more secure communities and precarious people fight together to defend their places. When we win, we can all become as settled as we like, and then we’ll have organisations up to the task of radically restructuring our city.

Donate to the crowdfunder here: https://www.youcaring.com/radical-housing-network-568231


Why we love council housing, and hate the Housing and Planning Bill

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Right now, our government is trying to legislate the beginning of the end for council housing, whether that’s a home rented direct from the council, through a housing association or as part of a co-op.

Tomorrow, MPs will again meet to debate the Housing and Planning Bill, a debate which could end with them voting the bill into law. Not only will the bill force councils to sell off council homes, whilst even more are lost as right-to-buy is extended to housing association tenants, it will pave the way for more council estates to be demolished.

The government is smearing council estates as run down ‘sinks’ of crime, and trying to persuade us that the bill will make it easier for everyone to have a home. But we in the Radical Housing Network know that council housing is one of the best ways to provide people with safe and secure homes, and that the bill will worsen the housing crisis for the majority and only benefit investors, developers and the rich. Here’s why people across the network love council houses.

They’re *actually, actually* affordable

“For someone earning just above minimum wage, I have a secure family home at an affordable rent and don’t need to claim benefits. This is a proud tradition in the working poor.” Linda Taylor.

Council and housing associations tenancies are designed so that people can afford them, 70% of a property’s rent is based on average local wages. Private rents are based on how much a landlord can squeeze out of a tenant. Surprise, surprise then, that the average social housing rent across London for a two bed is £104 a week, whereas privately it’s £320 a week.

More social housing would actually save the government money too. Housing benefit costs us £24.4 billion a year, much of which is going into private landlords’ pockets, and homelessness and health problems caused by housing problems are expensive, as well as immoral. Management of council housing is paid for by rent, and extra profits stay as public money. Selling off public land to private developers may bring in a quick buck, but building council homes on it is an investment that will pay us back for decades, even centuries, to come.

You can settle in

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Hackney renters group Digs protesting against private renters being discriminated against because they’re on benefits.

“I’d love council housing because it would provide me with my own secure and affordable flat, unlike the room I rent in shared accommodation, where I can be kicked out with two months notice and which costs the same amount.” Glenn McMahon, Tower Hamlets Renters.

Councils or housing associations have to have pretty good reasons from evicting you, such as not paying the rent or illegal activities, but a private landlord doesn’t even have to say why they’re kicking you out.

Council tenancies are given out based on need rather than wealth or anything else, and if you lose your job and have to go on benefits, you won’t be discriminated against and can keep your home. If you rent privately, it’s a different story, and many landlords or letting agents will turn you away.

You don’t have to lock yourself into a lifetime of debt

With the average house price for a first time buyer in London getting on for £400,000, and with KPMG figuring out last year you’d need to earn £77,000 to get on the property ladder here, for most people owning a home is a joke. But even if you do somehow manage to scrabble onto the bottom rung, you’re locked into a mountain of debt, and risk losing your home if interest rates shoot up, you lose your job, or for whatever reason you can’t pay.

They let people build communities

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Barnet Housing Action Group protesting evictions at Sweets Way Estate.

“Cheap rent and life long tenancies are what people need in order to thrive and be part a community. Social housing means children can access regular schooling, people can hold down jobs if they are not moving all the time and they can receive health care from local services if needed. This is what housing stability brings – it enables us to get on with life.” Ayesha Taylor, Focus E15 campaign.

A tenancy for years to come or for life means you don’t have to worry about being forced to move away from your job, family and friends just because rising property prices or rents in the area have got too much.

…and themselves

When times get tough, a secure home can be a life saver.

“I have been lucky enough to have a council/social housing tenancy for 30 years. It has been the bedrock of my life and has given me the safety and security I needed to beat addictions, attend further and higher education, bring up my daughter in a safe and secure environment (I was able to swap tenancies and move to escape a violent partner) and to manage my mental health when diagnosed with ADHD and bipolar disorder. My home has always been my sanctuary, a place to be calm and to heal; a place I can shut the door on the world and feel safe.” Janette Walsh, Barnet Housing Action.

They’re quality (at least, more so than the private sector)

“My council home had three decent sized bedrooms, decent ventilation, a lovely back garden where me and my brother could run around, and it was always warm. When something broke, or if we got a leak, the council fixed it. Even though I grew up very poor, I never really experienced terrible housing conditions until I lived in the private sector.” Rebecca Winson, GMB Young London.

Council homes must meet certain standards to ensure they are safe and in reasonable condition, covering the dire stuff like dangerous electrics, to just making sure your bathroom’s been upgraded in the last 30 years. Private landlords don’t have to make sure their properties are up to the standards, but according to Shelter, if they did over a third of private rented homes would fall foul of them, and tenants and councils have few rights and powers to force private landlords to make repairs.

Council estates can be really nice, safe places to live

“Council housing can be wonderful places to live with strong communities. Every so-called ‘sink estate’ is an estate that was either badly designed or more likely has been poorly maintained and actively neglected.” Christine Clifford.

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‘Sink estate’ Broadwater Farm.

Heard David Cameron talking about Broadwater Farm estate recently, saying it’s the one of the causes of the Tottenham riots, and full of ‘criminals’ and ‘anti-social behaviour? Our friends at Architects for Social Housing (ASH) have blogged about the estate, highlighting that since it’s regeneration in 1985 it’s had one of the lowest crime rates of any urban area in the world, and now has a community centre, neighbourhood office, children’s nursery and health centre, social projects, sports clubs and youth programmes, murals and communal gardens.

If you’re lucky enough to have a place in a council housing co-op, you have even more control in building your community.

“Housing Co-ops are vibrant, autonomous communities. Members are responsible for setting their own rents, rules and policies, they are self-governed and democratically run. It’s not always easy or straightforward but co-ops can provide great examples of groups of people living and working together.” Claudia, London Cooperative Housing Group.

They can help fix the housing crisis. THEY CAN HELP FIX THE HOUSING CRISIS EVERYONE.

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The Kill the Bill campaign take it to the streets on the March for Homes.

Private rents taking nearly all of a pay packet. Homelessness going up and up and up. No hope in hell for the majority of owning their own home. Slum living on the rise, with people forced to live in smaller and smaller spaces, and in conditions so poor they cause ill health and even death.

Sounds familiar? It’s 2016, after decades of decline in council homes, but it’s also the early 1880s up to 1919, when councils started building homes after years of campaigning and action from tenants, workers and activists against dire housing conditions.

We need more council homes, not less. Homes that are built for the people that live in them, and for not landlords, investors, or developers. The Tories’ Housing Bill aims to destroy them, and will hit everyone trying to rent or buy on low or middle incomes. It condemns millions to a lifetime of insecure, expensive private renting.

That’s why we in the Radical Housing Network love council housing, and hate the Housing and Planning Bill. That’s why we’re protesting at the bill’s reading tomorrow, fighting evictions and demolitions, reclaiming public spaces, supporting tenants, and demanding that council homes are saved today and for the future.

PRESS RELEASE: Campaigners close pop-up social centre following successful week of action against Tory Housing Bill

Housing activists occupied the prime property – next to Harrods – to build support for the Kill the Housing Bill demonstration on Sunday 13 March, which saw up to 10,000 people take to the streets in central London.

Radical Housing Network, a network of grassroots housing campaigns, used the empty building – known as “Our House” – to host a community-led week-long programme of workshops, talks and performance in response to London’s housing crisis and its effect on communities. The week of action was reported by the Independent newspaper among others.

Today, the owners of the property, Brompton Estates, took legal action to evict the housing campaigners. Brompton bought much of the South Ken neighbourhood as part of a £41 million deal. In court this morning, Brompton were granted a possession order, and bailiffs are due at the property imminently.

Campaigners said: “We’re leaving today, but the fight for housing justice continues. This was a pop-up shop – we created a vibrant pop-up community. It’s been a fantastic, uplifting week of action. We’ve taken action against policy-makers, landlords and developers through mock-evictions and doorstepping local councillors. We’ve hosted practical sessions on mapping our struggles, eviction resistance and civil disobedience, and held lively debates bringing together local campaigns and beyond.

“But most of all, we’ve had fun and supported one another. Our ‘pop-up squat’ has been a space of refuge and resistance for all those affected by the housing crisis. We’ve held a community kitchen and brilliant Open Mic nights bringing together locals and activists from across the capital.”

The occupation involved radical campaigns such as Focus E15, Movement for Justice and Sisters Uncut, a feminist group taking direct action over cuts to domestic violence services. Other groups involved included Our Brixton, Architects for Social Housing, Brick Lane Debates, as well as local West London campaigns Grenfell Action Group and Save Earl’s Court.

“Our House” was situated in the heart of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC). RBKC ranks in the top four London boroughs in terms of inequality and housing costs.Almost 100% of the 6,000 council homes in the borough are set to be sold off under the provisions of the Housing Bill.

A Radical Housing Network spokesperson (one of the occupiers), said: “People have the impression that Kensington is all about millionaires revving their sports cars outside Harrods. Yet it is in fact a prime example of the ever growing, extreme inequalities in our society. We occupied this empty building in Kensington to protest the Tories’ Housing Bill which will make the housing crisis much worse.

“The Housing Bill aims to destroy council and social housing. Crucially, it will hit affect everyone: It means higher rents, less security, and less chance of a home you can afford. It’s vital for communities to come together to organise against this pernicious legislation.

“We’re fighting for decent housing for everyone. This is not the end – this is just the beginning.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

PRESS RELEASE: Housing campaigners occupy prime property in Knightsbridge and open pop-up Community Centre in protest at Tory Housing Bill

The community-led occupation aims to build support for the national Kill the Housing Bill demonstration on Sunday 13 March in Central London.

Radical Housing Network, a network of grassroots housing campaigns, plan to use the occupied property – known as “Our House” – to host a week-long programme of workshops, talks and performance in response to London’s housing crisis and its effect on communities.

The occupation involves a number of radical campaigns such as Focus E15 and Sisters Uncut, a feminist group taking direct action over cuts to domestic violence services. Campaigners said the occupied site ‘was a pop-up shop – now it’s a pop-up squat’.

The week-long programme of events includes actions against policy-makers, landlords and developers such as mock-evictions and doorstepping councillors; and practical sessions on banner making and civil disobedience. The ‘pop-up squat’ aims to be a space of refuge and resistance for all those affected by the housing crisis, by hosting activities such as a kids’ kitchen and holding discussions bringing together local campaigns.

The owners of the occupied property, Brompton Estates, are taking the occupiers to court on Friday. Brompton bought much of the neighbourhood as part of a £41 million deal.

“Our House” is in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC). RBKC ranks in the top four London boroughs in terms of inequality and housing costs.¹ Within the borough, the gap in life expectancy extends as much as eight years.² Almost 100% of the 6,000 council homes in the borough are set to be sold off under the provisions of the Housing Bill.

A Radical Housing Network spokesperson (one of the occupiers), said: “People have the impression that Kensington is all about millionaires revving their sports cars outside Harrods. Yet it is in fact a prime example of the ever growing, extreme inequalities in our society. Homeless people live on the streets near Kensington Palace where Kate and Wills have a flat.

“We’ve occupied this empty building in Kensington to protest the Tories’ Housing Bill which will make the housing crisis much worse.

“The Housing Bill aims to destroy council and social housing. And, crucially, it will hit affect everyone: It means higher rents, less security, and less chance of a home you can afford.

“It’s vital for communities to come together to organise against this pernicious legislation – that’s why we’ve opened a pop-up community centre. We’ve already been visited by lots of local people who have come in to check out what we’re up to and to offer their support”.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

  • Occupation and press contact: 07985669174
  • Journalists are invited to visit the occupation between 1- 3pm when there will be housing activists and campaigners available to take part in interviews.
  • Occupation ‘Our House’ FB Event – please visit for week-long programme.
  • The address of the occupation is: 221 Brompton Road, Kensington, SW3 2EJ
  • The National Demonstration Against the Housing Bill is on Sunday 13 March. The march assembles 12 noon at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Please see: FB event and website. 
  • For Radical Housing Network please see website, FB Page and Twitter @radicalhousing.

¹ http://www.londonspovertyprofile.org.uk/key-facts/overview-of-london-boroughs/

²http://www.londonspovertyprofile.org.uk/indicators/topics/health/inequalities-in-life-expectancy/

³https://england.shelter.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/1187047/7862_Council_House_Sales_Briefing_v3_FINAL.pdf