The Housing Act Remains a Threat

by Glyn Robbins,  from Unite housing workers, Defend Council Housing and ‘Axe the Housing Act’

The partial U-turn on ‘Pay to Stay’ is very welcome, but it’s not enough.  The Housing and Planning Act remains a threat and must be repealed.  Instead of imposing rent hikes on council tenants themselves, the government is letting local authorities do it instead!  We must be very wary of councils using the legislation to fill funding gaps and push out tenants they think should be paying more for their home.  The same applies to housing associations (HAs), so-called ‘social’ landlords the Act is enabling to behave even more like private developers.

The delay in extending the Right to Buy to HA tenants – and therefore the envisaged sell-off of empty ‘high value’ council homes – is further evidence that the ill-conceived Act is falling apart.

But until the Act is axed, there’s still the danger that thousands of social rented homes will be lost, at a time when we need thousands more.  Although the Tories have done some back-tracking on Starter Homes, they still want them to replace genuinely affordable homes on new developments.  Likewise, the statement announcing the retreat on Pay to Stay indicates that the government will push harder to abolish secure tenancies for future council tenants – a massive threat to the stability of working class communities.  More council estates are still at risk of being broken-up by being re-designated as ‘brownfield’ sites.

But the fact that the government’s housing policy ‘flag ship’ is sinking is testament to the accumulated pressure of a united, concerted campaign against it.  Certainly, other issues have been factors, not least Brexit.  But this weak, divided government isn’t ready to take on the opposition to the Act, either inside or outside Parliament.  It’s announced a housing White Paper before Christmas, a sure sign – along with the concessions in yesterday’s Autumn Statement – that it’s feeling the heat on housing.

With the Tories’ housing policy in disarray, it’s vital that campaigners develop a real alternative.  That’s why the Axe the Housing Act alliance has produced its own Autumn Statement.  Even if the entire Act was dropped tomorrow, we’d still have a massive housing crisis, the product of an ideology that sees a home as a commodity.  We need to unite around the core demands of controlled rent and secure homes for all and build a broad, cross-tenure movement to demand a fundamental change in housing policy.

 

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!

Gyms, tiny rooms and massive rent – what we learned about student housing at MIPIM.

by Pearl Ahrens, UCL Cut the Rent

While some of us were outside MIPIM asking delegates to Give Us Back Our Fucking Rent!, others were inside seeing what deals were being done, what people were saying – and what’s going to happen to housing in this country.

Private rental sector and excusing higher rents.

“[We’ll see a] total convergence in real estate generally of housing and the rental sector, of life, work and play not as separate sectors”.

This, according to Matt Yeoman, Director BuckleyGrayYeoman, is the direction of travel for the private rental sector (PRS). He was speaking on a panel about the ‘Future of student housing’.

The upshot of this panel? The future of the PRS is about an increasing similarity with hotels and the hospitality industry. Making renting not about just having a place to live, but about providing a whole inclusive life-experience from the apartment block. This will have a knock-on effect on the private student accommodation sector, and that in turn will impact university-owned halls.

Property providers know the housing crisis is something they have created – Bruce Ritchie, CEO at Residential Land spoke of the “frustration of aspiring young people… most people know where they want to live, it’s just whether they can afford it”. And so, they reap the benefits of their own actions by renting instead of selling, by using the provision of extra services as an excuse to raise rents even further. In the private rental sector, ‘affordable’ doesn’t mean affordable. Affordable Rent means “subject to rent controls that require a rent of no more than 80% of the local market rent (including service charges, where applicable)”[1]

End of halls

Students who don’t get into university-owned halls end up in the private rental sector – a far cry from the ‘halls experience’ where they meet their friends and have the traditional first year of university. Phillip Hillman, chair of JLL UK Alternatives, sees this as a gap in the “immature” private rental market which private student accommodation is filling. For providers, private student accommodation is a great investment – it’s like the fast-growing private rental sector but with a more stable, Brexit-resilient stream of available tenants. Again, the idea is to provide lots of hospitality and built-in services – group study spaces, gyms etc. and cut back on everything else. That students can’t afford these premium apartments is a nuisance providers get around – according to Richard Gabelich, CEO at UK Campus Living Villages (CLV) with this “big focus on affordability, you can get away with smaller bedrooms if you’ve got great study space”. Companies like Richard’s are taking advantage of this opportunity at an extraordinary rate – the proportion of student accommodation administered by private providers went from 18% in 2006 to 41% in 2015/16.[2]. The trend towards providing other services also exists here, as Matt Yeoman said at the panel – “It’s entirely hospitality driven. [If not, it] will fail. [If we keep] upping the bar, [we] will be fine”

This drift towards hospitality ventures means private student accomodation, with these stark takeover rates, are ‘leading’ the way.  “Every PRS scheme we are working on feels like student housing eight to ten years ago”, Yeoman also said.

The problem with all this isn’t simply the provision of social spaces. It’s the social spaces being offered as a ‘luxury option’ and the hike in rents which this necessarily entails. This increase in rent is supposedly legitimised by the expansion of the provision of services, though there’s nothing to stop private student accommodation providers raising the rents to a price above and beyond what it costs to provide those services, and way above and beyond what most students can afford before they are forced to live in dire poverty.

How this relates to universities.

On the part of the universities, it’s difficult to provide enough spaces for all their students in the halls they own, and with gross underfunding from the government, the halls’ rents seem like the perfect source of income, ready and available to tap.The mere existence of private student accommodation allows universities like UCL to excuse their extortionate rents, driving up prices in all accommodation. For example, UCL over-prices all its accommodation to make a surplus which they plough back into the UCL Estates pot. While ‘higher quality means higher price’ attitude of private student accommodation providers is to be expected, one would expect better of universities, considering their duty to students.

If universities were properly funded by the government they wouldn’t have to scrape the pockets of their students to find research funding. However, with talk of lifting the £9000 cap, and with top unis like UCL actively lobbying for less funding from the government, it’s unlikely that they will be adequately funded any time soon. UCL’s former Provost Malcolm Grant was quoted advocating lifting the then £3000 cap all the way back in 2006, so to think that lifting the (now £9000) cap on tuition fees is a sustainable or just solution to funding problems is absurd.

Some of the time, universities and private providers work directly together – in public-private partnerships. The trick of underfunding the public sector until it needs to be ‘saved’ by the private one is at play here, and was acknowledged by the panel. Hillman said that underfunded universities run halls with “half [of student accommodation] well below the standard that universities say is desirable, and the universities have no money, [so] they look to the private sector”. Gabelich, too is fully aware of the difficult situation the government put universities in. He mentioned how the cap on tuition fees is generating funding worries for universities, so private student accomodation provides “an avenue in which they can get capital from the private sector to invest in other areas (like research)… universities are cottoning on more and more to that”.

[1] http://planningguidance.communities.gov.uk/blog/policy/achieving-sustainable-development/annex-2-glossary/

[2] http://www.nusconnect.org.uk/resources/nus-unipol-accommodation-costs-survey-2015

[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/student-judges-student-accomodation-awards_uk_580f0d40e4b0f479c0d79810

For the right to housing and the city!

Check out the latest bulletin from the European Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City, a group that Radical Housing Network are involved in.

RHN delegates are heading to Dublin for the next of the coalition’s meetings this months, so keep your eyes peeled for an update from their meeting on housing organising across Europe!

Student Housing – the facts

Check out our infographic on the reality of student housing. No wonder grads had to ask MIPIM delegates for spare change, or camp out in Unite’s offices.

MIPIM Occupied!

Students demand ‘Give Us Back Our Fucking Rent’ and occupy student housing provider as controversial property fair returns to London

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Students staged two eye-catching protests on 19th October against the growing ‘financialisation’ and unaffordability of student housing, at the MIPIM property fair in London. The actions were called by the Radical Housing Network and RENT STRIKE!, an organisation which has grown out of the successful UCL student rent strike this year.

Students in gowns and mortar boards accosted property investors and developers outside the conference centre, with charity buckets and t-shirts demanding: “Give Us Our Fucking Rent Back“. Students, angry about the effects of big finance on their homes, approached unsuspecting delegates and asked for contributions to a hardship fund.

Elsewhere, near the University of London, students occupied the sales offices of private student housing provider Unite Students, taking control of the building with tents and banners, chanting “If we can’t afford our rent, we’ll use your offices instead.” This action was part of the rapidly escalating rent strike campaign, coordinated by the collective Rent Strike, which at UCL succeeded in securing well over £1 million in rent subsidies for students from the university last academic year. The rampant privatisation of student accommodation is pushing students into poverty: as student debt is sky-rocketing, a crisis of mental health is taking its toll amongst young people.

Unite Students are taking up an increasing share of the student property market (currently 70% of Kings College accommodation is owned by Unite). In 2015, Unite Students made £355 million profit while charging up to £353/week for their halls.

The property fair, notorious for dodgy deals between councils and developers, returned for the third year to London, from 19-21 October. Previous years have seen extensive community opposition, with clashes between protestors and police.

The protests focussed on the ‘financialisation’ of student housing. Student halls, traditionally provided by Universities, have become increasingly privatised. They are now a highly sought after asset for investors, with £5.2 billion invested in the sector in just the first five months of 2015, the majority from North America.
Research by the NUS suggests that the effect of this has been to push prices rapidly upwards, with the average student halls costing 95% of a student loan:

  • Students are left with on average £851 annually for food, living costs and academic expenses
  • The average rent for a studio (bed-sit) in student halls is £1212 per month, significantly above student loan value
  • The average rent for student housing rose 97% between 2002/3 – 2012/13

A spokesperson for the Radical Housing Network said:
“MIPIM represents a housing system that puts an obsession with profit over people’s right to a decent home. The UK is currently in the midst of an acute housing crisis, and yet MIPIM and the system it props up benefits only the global rich, while destroying our communities, and pushing ever more people into housing hardship.

“For as long as our towns and cities are being carved up over champagne and caviar, we will be here, saying no to MIPIM, yes to housing justice!”

A spokesperson for Rent Strike! said:
“The financialisation of student housing is pushing more and more students into poverty and hardship. Student halls are now international assets traded by financiers, and are no longer the affordable places to live we need while we get an education.

As MIPIM returns to London, we decided to spoil the show, demanding: give us back our fucking rent!”

These actions were taken in coalition with housing groups across Europe in a month of action throughout October. The European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City is coordinating action in ten cities across the continent.

Notes

  •    MIPIM UK is taking place at Kensington Olympia on 19-21 October
  •    NUS’s report on the unaffordability of student housing is here
  •    Information on the student housing sector can be found in this report by Savills
  •    The Radical Housing Network is a coalition of community groups fighting for housing justice in London
  •    Rent Strike! is a student organisation working to build resistance to unaffordable housing
  •     The  European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City is a coalition of groups in 17 countries across Europe fighting financialisation and evictions.

MIPIM – Give us back our f***ing rent!

by Harriet Vickers, Housing Action Greenwich and Lambeth, Katya Nasim and Becka Hudson, Radical Housing Network @radicalhousing  

We’re in the midst of a global housing crisis – and MIPIM is the command centre. A motley crew of private developers, speculators, politicians and councils gathered today in West London at property show MIPIM, only to be met by graduates holding collection boxes, saying ‘Give Us Our F****ing Rent Back!’, just one of the eye catching protests for housing justice that took place across the city.

MIPIM is an exclusive marketplace where public land and property that should be used to provide truly affordable homes is secretly sold off – or even given away. With a ticket price of £500, and with many deals being done around champagne-laden dinner tables few people know exactly what is said between universities and investors. When these deals do become public the consequences are stark with private halls costing students an average of £1212 a month – more than their student loan.

With a session entitled ‘Student Housing: Coming of Age’, our efforts this year focus on the ‘financialisation’ of student housing.

It is becoming routine that people who want to get an education in the UK must accept living in poverty whilst private companies bloat their rent and rake in millions a year.

Student halls are now prime investment opportunities, with £5.2 billion invested in the sector in just the first five months of 2015. Universities are acquiescing to this – selling so much accommodation that private landlords now make up 41% of all student housing provision and, as negotiated at events like MIPIM, this number is rising.

Whilst investors profit from the land-giveaway, ordinary people are being evicted, priced out of their communities, forced to live in poverty and made to live on the streets. Here’s why we protested MIPIM and what it means for students…

1.If the dodgy deals at MIPIM continue, only the very richest students will be able to get an education:

NUS research shows that the average student halls use up 95% of a student loan, leaving students with small amounts of cash to cover all living expenses, including food, clothes, travel and books. If student housing continues to be sold off at MIPIM, the only people who will be able to survive in higher education will be the richest people who can easily access significant extra financial support.

2. MIPIM is anti-democratic and unaccountable, and it makes student housing just like it: Over half of all universities don’t consult with students when setting rents, and almost half have no policies on supporting low income students with their rent. As they sell off housing to private companies with no accountability to students, these problems only gets worse, narrowing the scope for students to have their say and leaving them shut out of decisions that can drive them into poverty.

3.MIPIM means housing is bought only to be left empty. There are nearly 60,000 empty homes in London while almost 50,000 households are homeless, relying on temporary accommodation such as B&Bs. The number of young people sleeping rough in the capital has doubled in the last five years and the number of rough sleepers as a whole is higher than ever. Squatters and council tenants with a spare bedroom face sanction – while investors are free to leave their properties empty, waiting for the price to rise.

4.Developers say they’re giving students choice, when they are forcing them into poverty: At the moment, students are left with an average of £851 a year to spend on all living expenses after rent. Private accommodation already costs more than university owned alternatives. The more halls sold to private investors at MIPIM, the less money students will have to survive.

5.MIPIM means housing is used for greed, not need. The international property fair began over 25 years ago, and now meets regularly in Cannes, Japan and London. Investors buy up public land of all stripes for developments not intended as homes, but as piggy-banks for multinational investors.

There is an alternative. The anti-MIPIM demo was organised by the Radical Housing Network and UCL Cut The Rent.

The first is a network that brings together over 30 grassroots groups to demand that housing is a right not a privilege, and to fight against social cleansing and for decent homes for all. UCL Cut The Rent are the campaign for lower rent at University College London, whose success with rent strikes this year is galvanising cut the rent campaigns with students across the country.

Today, we forced delegates to face those affected by the housing crisis they are creating.

Today’s demo is part of a housing movement that’s building across Europe, linked to The European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City. Trade unionists, tenants, campaigners and students are coming together, join us to ensure no people are without homes, and no homes are without people.

We’re hiring! Part-Time Coordinator: application deadline extended to 28 August.

Are you passionate about housing justice? Do you want to work for a community-led grassroots network? With the fight for our homes more urgent than ever, Radical Housing Network is looking for a part-time coordinator to support the growth of the network as we look to develop sustained and effective housing campaigns. The coordinator will perform essential administrative tasks and help organise events and training for network members.

The ideal applicant will have strong administrative and communication skills and some knowledge of community struggles and housing issues. You will need to be organised and able to work independently. The role is a good opportunity for someone looking for flexible work within a motivated activist community.

Radical Housing Network is a London-wide solidarity network of over 30 housing groups founded on the principle that everyone deserves a decent home. We support a diversity of tactics from lobbying to direct action. We’ve organised occupations, eviction resistance and London-wide actions and protests against developers and politicians. With estate demolitions, evictions and soaring rents continuing unabated and the devastating Housing and Planning Act about to be implemented, we want to raise our game. For more about RHN please explore radicalhousingnetwork.org or find us on FB or Twitter.

Terms and conditions

The post is part-time 14 hours p/w (2 days pro-rata) and based in London. The rate of pay is £10.30/hr in 2016, rising to £10.70/hr in 2017.

Holiday is 5 weeks (pro-rata: 10 days) a year paid holiday (plus 8 bank holidays; pro-rata: 3.2 days). Up to 5 days a year paid sick leave.

Please note the role is offered initially for 12 months with possibility of extension (subject to funding).

Location of work to be negotiated – there is the possibility of working in Sylvia’s Corner, Focus E15’s space in Stratford. We may be able to support working from home. We will cover work-related expenses.

How to apply

To apply please send a CV and covering letter, referring to the Job Description and Person Specification below. The covering letter should be no more than one-side of A4 and should demonstrate how your skills and experience meet the person specification. You should also mention your motivations for applying the role and what you could bring to it.

The application should be sent to radicalhousingnetworkjob@gmail.com by Sunday 28 August.

Shortlisted applicants will be invited to interview during the week beginning Monday 5 September. We will make a decision by Monday 12 September, and hope that the selected applicant will start as soon as possible after that date.

The application process is being managed by a Coordinator Steering Group, made up of three network members. If you have any questions about the role please email radicalhousingnetworkjob@gmail.com

JOB DESCRIPTION 

Essential aspects

Administrative work:

  • Answering email enquiries
  • Oversight for website and social media (Twitter and Facebook). Regular social media and website updates, keeping London housing events/actions calendar up-to-date.
  • Email list administration, including moderation, adding new members and troubleshooting, and seeking ways of streamlining email load.
  • Ensuring monthly network meetings take place, are advertised, are minuted, and minutes are distributed.
  • Draft and send out monthly announcement email, ie digest of RHN and local events/actions/meetings etc plus summary of key news/policy stories.
  • Redirecting enquiries to appropriate people (including media enquiries).
  • Creating and maintaining resource pages for website.
  • Reporting to the steering group on a monthly basis, with a review every quarter.

Network building:

  • Taking a role in organising towards events organised by the network e.g. conferences, demonstrations.
  • Helping to organise or facilitate relevant trainings for network members’ development.
  • Supporting the activities of network members.
  • Responding to conversations on the email discussion list when they aren’t picked up by other members.

Addition tasks that may be done, time permitting

Administrative work:

  • Updating media contact lists
  • Recording useful links, case studies, details of active housing (and associated) groups and other useful information (e.g. cheap printers, activists, academics).
  • Monitoring key housing and political websites for new legislation being mooted, discussed or introduced, and sharing this information via website and/or monthly RHN monthly digest.
  • Assisting in funding renewal applications, seeking new sources of funding, and making sure RHN submits regular reports to existing funders (as required).

Network building:

  • Supporting the development of relationships with existing housing groups and between existing groups working on similar issues and/or in similar locations.
  • Helping create RHN materials e.g. flyers for events, generic flyers for different target groups (renters, bargees, etc) and ensuring that they are available for events and local member groups.
  • Assisting member volunteers representing RHN at talks/ events, prepare materials such as presentations and info sheets.
  • Assisting working groups (e.g. media, research, eviction resistance).

PERSON SPECIFICATION:

Essential:

  • Organised, flexible, and able to work independently
  • Able to use a computer and applications (word documents, spreadsheets)
  • Competent with using the internet, web and social media (or a desire to learn)
  • An able communicator (verbally, written)

Desirable:

·         Knowledge of the housing sector, and community struggles

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.

sweetsway3housing-demo

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

sweets way

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