3 ideas for a rent strike

Following on from Ben’s call to action, here are some reflections on how to develop a genuinely effective rent strike, from Hackney Digs. If you’d like to share any thoughts on rent strikes, get in touch with rentstrikenow@gmail.com

rent strike

1. The safety net needs to be put up before anyone has to step out on to the tightrope.

At the presentation of the fantastic film ‘Si se puede’ at the PEER gallery in March, one of the speakers described how he had faced eviction and gone to his first meeting of the PAH (Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca). He powerfully recounted how he had been given two promises by those he met there: 1. You will never be alone and 2. You will never have to sleep on the street.

Some kind of solidarity infrastructure needs to precede any actual striking, and people who will not be in the firing line during the first wave of striking, or people who may not need to strike at all, need to sign up as volunteers and make specific promises to house others who may be evicted, (“I can take two people for 6 weeks”) so that people can be paired up ahead of time and reassured that they will be supported if they need it.

2. Identify and mass against a specific enemy

It would be far more effective to identify a single rich landlord, (ideally a Tory MP who receives millions in Housing Benefit), and to attempt to network amongst his tenants and persuade as many of them as possible to strike at one time. Obviously, the set of people willing at present to take action as drastic as striking is likely to be small. The chance of finding people in this small set who also sharing a common landlord is not great. The intersection in the Venn diagram: ‘shares enemy’ and ‘shares motivation to strike’ may have only a few members. However, if such an overlap can be found, and momentum can be built around it, there is an enhanced chance of scoring a concrete win in the short term: it is much more likely to be feasible to force a specific landlord to cut his losses (court costs, bad publicity, cash flow crisis caused by immediate loss of income etc.) and take a rent reduction (see below), and as New Era showed, there is nothing that builds confidence and momentum like victory.

3. Every tenancy is a social tenancy

When the PAH take over and squat bank-owned buildings to rehouse people as part of their obra social (social work) programme they fix a social rent and ensure that the people moving into the blocks immediately begin paying it. Normally this is set at between 1/3 and ¼ of the person’s wages. Although complete non-payment in the short term may be effective to force the landlord to the negotiating table, I think a powerful generalisable demand that will gain resonance, is the insistence that housing costs should never exceed 1/3 of a household’s income.1 It links housing costs to wages, is inclusive of all tenants and amounts to bottom up direct action enforcement of a completely respectable and totally achievable rent-capping policy. Perhaps strikers could pay their social rent into a separate bank account, with an assurance to the landlord that he will get it all straightaway, the minute he caves in and agrees to fixing rents at this level henceforth.

1. Or 30%? Or 25% – This may require specifying more precisely. Data is provided at p.61 of the GLA Housing in London 2014 report, (albeit from 2011-12 that is probably now out of date), but points out that there are various ways of counting household income: “ Looking only at the income of the household reference person and their partner and excluding benefits, the typical private renter in London spends 46% of their income on housing costs, compared to 41% for social tenants and 16% for owner occupiers with mortgages. But many private renting households include more than two earners, and taking the income of all household members into accounts brings the figure for private renters down to 38%, while taking benefits into account lowers it
again to 36%.

London: It’s time for a rent strike

By Ben Beach, originally published on Vice

There are two types of vehicles that strike a particular fear into the heart of London’s neighbourhoods: police vans and Foxtons Minis. Synonymous with gentrification, the Foxtons car represents the vanguard of the housing crisis, expanding sky-high rents into fresh territory; “discovering” an area before returning to the ubiquitous plasticky offices and their smarmy drinks fridges to market another slice of the city at exorbitant prices.

In an age when you can’t trust what politicians tell you, the fortunes of Foxtons’ share price offers an unintentionally honest barometer of current housing policy. Just hours after the Conservative election victory, Foxtons’ share price had surged by 13 percent. It seems reasonable to assume the housing crisis will soon follow the Labour Party in reaching “Defcon Fucked”.

When so many of us are already anxiously asking the question, “Where are we going to live?”, the triumphant rally of Foxtons makes clear which side of the property market will benefit from the present administration. With inheritance instead of wages once again the real decider of lifetime wealth, it’s probably not going be you. International real estate consultants Cluttons are predicting rent hikes of nearly 20 percent in the next five years – with a 25 percent increase in renters forecasted for the same period. With prices already unaffordable for so many, just how socially damaging this outcome will be is already apparent. We quite literally cannot afford to let these forecasts become reality.

The origins of the present housing crisis are as varied as they are complex. David Harvey suggests they can be traced back directly to the recessions of the 1970s and the neo-liberal economic restructuring that happened afterwards.

As manufacturing industries collapsed across Western economies, traditional investment opportunities disappeared, leaving phenomenal amounts of money all dressed up with nowhere to go. In Britain, Margaret Thatcher’s monumental privatisation of state-owned land and housing stocks, coupled with the removal of currency controls, saw this surplus capital flood into urban property markets. Instead of providing homes for everyone, the function of Britain’s housing switched, and it became an international investment opportunity promoted by successive governments, promising little risk and lavish returns.

The soaring inflation of property that resulted has become the basis for increasingly abstract financial jiggery-pokery; spawning secondary and tertiary markets in complex debt products, securitised on our homes and neighbourhoods. With these markets worth trillions of pounds, financial institutions are so tied up in them that any collapse in property prices risks triggering another 2008-style economic crash.

Put simply: the maintenance of the current financial system depends upon you having to pay eye-watering rent for an eyesore of a house.

A housing campaigner in Clapham, South London (Photo by Chris Bethell)

Away from the spreadsheets, the story of Hoxton’s New Era Estate provides a potent illustration of what the financialisation of our homes looks like in reality. Built in the 1930s by a charity intent on providing decent housing for all, New Era is home to 93 families living on an island of controlled rent amidst a sea of gentrification – making it a perfect target for investment. In 2014, notorious New York investment firm Westbrook Partners spotted the opportunity for some quick cash and bought the estate, planning to refurbish the flats and triple the rents from £800 to £2,400 a month. Unable to afford the astronomical increases, the tenants were handed eviction notices weeks before Christmas.

It’s difficult to imagine the full intensity of the stress and desperation that must take hold when you are a single parent, a carer for a stroke patient, a pensioner or a young family, suddenly informed that you are to be violently forced from your home, your support networks and your life. But it’s not difficult to understand why under the present government, cases like the New Era one are becoming the norm: Westbrook’s initial partner on the deal was Richard Benyon – a Tory MP.

In the run up to the general election the Conservative party received huge donations from scores of property moguls: Lord Fink – a director of a real estate investment company – has personally contributed more than £3.1 million, while a developer named David Rowland has contributed £3.4 million. Elite donors such as these are invited to partake in the “Conservative Property Forum”, a little known dining club with access to senior politicians. Presumably, for £3 million, they talk about something a little more substantial than the weather.

Little wonder then, that for all the talk of free market economics, state intervention in the housing market has seldom been higher. It has never been more apparent who really benefits from this. Between 2010 and 2014 alone, the social housebuilding budget was slashed from £2.3 billion to £1.1 billion, yet the government spent over £115 billion on subsidising the profits of private landlords through tax breaks, build-to-let schemes and housing benefit. The scale of government subsidy to the housing market is so vast that the entire country’s monetary policy is geared towards it: the Bank of England’s £375 billion quantitive easing programme is specifically designed to keep interest rates low enough to avoid any slowdown.

The current housing minister – alongside one in four MPs – is himself a landlord, working for a party significantly funded by landlords. Thinking that the government is going to directly undermine its own economic interests by lowering rents is farcical. If we want to see any meaningful action, we are going to have to do it ourselves.

While the contemporary housing crisis is particular to the present, Britain has faced periods of intense housing struggle before. In 1915, tenants across Glasgow found themselves facing astronomical rent hikes for their slum accommodation. The response was swift: housewives across the city bound together to declare a rent strike – they simply refused to pay their rent.

As landlords instructed bailiffs to evict the strikers, housewives spied on their movements across the city, operating en masse to prevent evictions taking place. If an eviction was successful, the strikers would immediately reopen the house, reinstating the family and their furniture and getting into fist fights with any policeman who attempted to intervene. As support for the strike swelled, soldiers were confined to their barracks out of fears they would defect. The result was that rent controls were introduced across the city.

Far from being an isolated incident, the success of the Glasgow rent strike saw the tactic added to a common repertoire of dissent in times of housing stress. Colin Ward, a noted housing commentator, believed that a society based on profit will never provide housing that working people can afford – precisely because that doesn’t generate profit . The answer, he claimed, was to take immediate action to force the hand of the state. He puts the widespread social housing construction that happened after the Second World War in part down to a massive, countrywide rent strike that happened in 1938.

The effectiveness of rent strikes in reducing inordinate housing costs makes them a tactic that increasingly cannot be ignored. The Sheiks and oligarchs who are putting their loot in British housing markets are doing so because of a favourable political climate that creates a stable environment for investment at a time of international uncertainty. Anything that undermines this sense of stability – even the simple threat of rent strikes – will likely have far-reaching consequences.

The notion of rent strikes is becoming increasingly plausible, in no small part because they’re already happening. Sick of conditions described as “unbearable”, hundreds of students at four Central London halls of residents have withheld rent over grievances ranging from appalling facilities, cockroaches and rodent infestation to incessant noise from building works .

While two of the halls comprised largely of SOAS students ended their strike having successfully won compensation from their landlords, UCL management have resorted to threats of evictions and exclusion from the university. But it is increasingly likely this will backfire, with groups including the Radical Housing Network pledging to shut down UCL’s all-important open day to prospective students on the 3rd of July unless the strikers’ demands are met.

The success of the protesters at the New Era Estate shows that these struggles can be won. As Lindsey Garrett, a resident and single parent, stated at the beginning of the campaign, “When you’re a mother, if you’re backed into a corner you have no choice but to fight your way out.” The residents did just that, publicly forcing Westbrook to sell the estate to a social housing provider – who immediately froze the rents.

Leaflets arguing for a rent strike at a recent London demonstration (Photo by Chris Bethell)

In Spain, the PAH movement sought to bring an end to the housing crisis afflicting the country through resisting evictions, shutting down banks and re-occupying empty homes. Since the beginnings of the movement several years ago, the grassroots campaign has gone from strength to strength: one of its key activists has just been elected mayor of Barcelona on a platform on halting evictions.

This could happen in London, too. Lindsey Garrett has stated her intention to run for mayor in 2016 on a housing platform. If a large-scale street movement uses rent strikes to win against landlords, it is not inconceivable that she could win office and back up the street mobilisations with decent policy.

At a time when the situation is already intolerable, it is clear that the only action from a government of landlords will be to accelerate the housing crisis rather than solve it. But as the nascent social movement that has developed over the last five years begins to display a more mature range of strategies, the housing crisis could soon be over.

If we want to build a democratic movement sufficient to the task, we need to start a conversation in earnest. Today it is announced that the rents now average £1,500 a month in London and have increased by 12.5 percent nationally – there is little time to waste.


Timeline of RHN Direct Action 2015

Right to Buy is theft

The Conservatives’ plan to extend the so-called ‘Right to Buy’ has exposed their choices very clearly. They tell us there’s no money, but want to spend up to £8.5 billion on the biggest social housing giveaway in living memory.

Social housing is not theirs to sell. Generations of taxpayers’ money has created the social housing stock we currently have, and this comes just two months after the Tories’ plan to hand out homes for free to handpicked people – slammed by experts as a ‘breathtakingly stupid’ idea.

A sell-off will benefit no-one but the few. It is a charter for buy-to-let landlords, housing loan sharks and a tiny minority of tenants well-off enough to afford property (which is eye-wateringly expensive even when discounted.) The Tories talk about localism, but they want to order councils to flog off their most valuable houses forcing those on low-incomes further from city centres.

Last time they introduced Right to Buy, they forced councils not to spend money gained through Right to Buy on replenishing social housing. The fallout from past Tory and New Labour housing failures has led us to a crisis where 1.8million people languish on social housing waiting lists; for all the talk of a “property owning democracy”, home ownership is now at a lower level than before the introduction of Right To Buy.

They talk about helping people with mortgage deposits, but millions of people can’t even afford a rental deposit. This government has seen rough sleeping go up by over half, hundreds of thousands of working families made homeless, and its MPs have blocked a vote on stopping landlords from evicting tenants at random.

It is scandalous that homes lie empty, either abandoned, unaffordable or hoarded as assets by plutocrats.This is the real cause of the housing shortage and removing even more housing from the public sector and democratic control can only worsen the crisis.

On housing, the Tories are not for ‘working people’ but for unscrupulous landlords. And Labour have shamefully spent a great deal of time giving Tory policies a free rein. We say that decent shelter is a universal human right, one attainable in the world’s sixth richest economy. We will resist any attempts to sell our homes by any means necessary. We call on all parties to reject this transparent wealth transfer and invest in the good quality, genuinely affordable social housing that people so desperately need.

Radical Housing Network
Generation Rent
Lambeth Housing Activists
Lewisham People Before Profit
Lambeth United Housing Co-op
People’s Republic of Southwark
Save Earl’s Court Supporters Club
Trade Unionists for Housing
Michael Edwards, UCL Bartlett School of Planning
Bev Woodburn, Unite the Union Community Branch
Louanne Tranchell, Hammersmith Community Trust
Ben Beach, Concrete Action
Sibylle Mansour, Brixton Housing Co-op
Mary Robertson, University of Leeds


A beautiful house has been occupied on the Sweets Way estate in Barnet. Come down to check out the estate, chat to some local residents, and help create a community space!


The Sweets Way estate is in the process of a total decant, with about 15 households left of almost 160. The houses are in perfect condition, but are due to be knocked down by developer Annington Homes to double the density with only 33 ‘affordable’ units. Residents have no right of return. The estate has been used as temporary accommodation for Barnet Council via Notting Hill Housing Trust, in some cases for up to 6 years. The residents are at the beginning of their political action together, and are currently coming together to discuss their collective demands of the council.


This is yet another case of developers manipulating the class composition of an area to increase their profits. Residents who have been in Barnet for decades are being forced out, aided by council policy to force up rents to 80% of market rates. They are looking for support in this battle, so if you can get on the Northern line we are only 26mins from Kings Cross.

Here’s our wishlist if you can help out with bringing anything. Check Barnet Housing Action Group and the Radical Housing Network sites, as well as @SweetsWayN20 twitter for updates.

First and foremost, it is the solidarity of people coming and helping out that will win back the homes in this community.

Can donate any of the following?

  • lightbulbs
  • lampshapes/lamps
  • bucket
  • Electric heaters
  • flipchart/paper
  • blackboard paper
  • chalk
  • towels
  • cutlery
  • cleaning supplies
  • space heaters
  • furniture – table chairs beds
  • sleeping bags/bedding
  • cleaning stuff
  • sponges/liquids/sprays
  • blue tac
  • extension cables
  • torches
  • paint and brushes

VIDEO: the children of Sweets Way speak up


Radical Housing Network Week of Action: story so far

It’s the Radical Housing Network week of action! It’s been a mad few days – here are some updates…

Saturday 14th February

Saturday was “Love Council Houses / Love Your Estate Day”.

In Lambeth, with Lambeth Housing Activists, a stall and a film screening in the day ended with a bang as one of the borough’s many threatened estates was occupied. The Guinness Trust Estate near Loughborough Park is being evicted, to make way for Guinness to demolish the blocks and build luxury apartments which will go on sale at full market rate. Of course none of the tenants being evicted can afford to buy the new flats and are facing leaving London, jobs, schools, friends and their community to find somewhere affordable to live. But many residents are saying no and refusing to go.

The occupation is building by the day, and the occupiers would love support with people, publicity and stuff – check out the wishlist if you can help!

Tower Hamlets Renters went on a walking tour of the borough’s council housing, discussing its history, politics and future. The tour took in
th arnold circus

1. The Boundary Estate: Europe’s first social housing project funded by the state, although interviews and references were required to ensure only the ‘deserving’ working class became tenants.
2. Sivill House: built under a Tory government after they were re-elected in 1951 having pledged to build more social housing than the previous Labour government. They built 100k a year for 13-years.
th tower
3. Keeling House: the first council block to be listed, however, badly built it lay empty for years as it decayed until it was sold off. Flats now go for £500k with rents for a two-bed around £2,300.
4. The Minerva Estate: built in 1948 by the post-war Labour government which built 1m homes in five years!

Lpb4p paint

Lewisham People Before Profit celebrated the last large-scale council house building project in the borough of Lewisham with a photoshoot and leafleting of Deptford Wharf. Virtually everyone we spoke to signed our petition calling for all new housing in the borough to be Council housing until there are no families in emergency B & B accommodation – there are currently 600 homeless families and countless other people who aren’t entitled even to emergency accommodation.

lpb4p group

Unfortunately a bereavement meant we didn’t have the lovely RHN posters, but we made a quick substitute with “Big Money is Moving In” placards.

This follows on from the action three weeks ago when we built a “House of Cards” at the Town Hall drawing attention to the problems of homelessness and the unwillingness of Lewisham Council to enforce its own targets for “affordable” homes:

People Before Profit: Build a house at Lewisham town hall from Lee Barham on Vimeo.

At Our West Hendon there was a special Love Your Estate dinner, as well as a screening of the Spirit of ’45, and a cheeky action plastering Barratts with our messages…

owh jannete

South London’s other occupied estate, the Aylesbury, hosted an activity day, including a practical barricading skillshare, a teach-in on the politics and history of regeneration in Southwark, and a planning discussion on the ‘poor doors’ campaign in Whitechapel.

The Aylesbury is next in line for the kind of all-out social cleansing Southwark Council is known for, most infamously on the Heygate estate were thousands of low-income homes have been lost and are being replaced with luxury developments. Read the statement from the occupiers here.

focus 14thfeb
And Focus E15 were out in force for “Love Carpenters Estate”, with a stall on Stratford high street.

Sunday 15th February

While momentum at the Guinness Trust occupation kept building, the Aylesbury Occupiers teamed up with Brick Lane Debates for a community debate: Is this the beginning of the end of the housing crisis?
brick lane debates
Speakers from FocusE15, Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth, Our West Hendon, Hackney Digs and more came together to discuss tactics for building a broad-based grassroots housing movement, with direct action at its core.
brick lane debate 2

Monday 16th February

Barnet Housing Action Group held an anti-eviction protest at Sweets Way Estate, resisting the eviction of four families, some of the last remaining residents in this site of social cleansing. The Bailiffs got scared off – showed up and drove away.
The FIGHTBACK has begun!!
sweets way
Residents moved on to Barnet House Council Office, getting it under lockdown for two hours: but Barnet residents and newly homeless were refused entry by security.
Two newly homeless people and a witness secured entry for a meeting with Housing Officers….who have promised (on video) that each affected family will be contacted for a meeting this afternoon and be offered suitable housing locally. More actions planned this week – help wanted, including anyone with legal/advocacy experience!

Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth held a protest at Lambeth Town Hall. Lambeth council is threatening to use powers under the Localism Act to force homeless families to accept private sector accomodation outside the borough or face homelessness. As in other boroughs across the city, they have found a way to evade their obligation to provide council homes for homeless families

The police turned up with tasers to scare the local residents away, but with the support of the Pensioners Action Group who happened to be passing, HASL occupied the offices for over two hours.

Meanwhile up in Tottenham, Haringey Housing Action Group handed out leaflets and chatted to residents, raising awareness of the same issues around homelessness and the Localism Act that HASL are trying to tackle in Lambeth. The new powers are a direct engine of social cleansing, and members of HHAG have reported being offered accommodation on the other side of the country, even though the council claims this is not their policy.

There was also demonstration outside court for the Aylesbury Occupation. Although the occupiers were slapped with an IPO (Interim Possession Order – a sneaky way to shut down protest) they won’t be giving up easily. Get down there at 6 this evening for a public meeting to plan next steps.

A demonstration at the Guinness Trust offices took place at 9am, but no sign of the Guinness folk! We’ll be going back every day at 9am – come down and support.

This evening

Join Tower Hamlets Renters for a screening of Si Se Puede, or get down to the Aylesbury to plan the forward movement for the occupation at 6pm, and then join the Guinness Trust occupation meeting at 7pm.

And the rest of this week?

See the listings here, and follow twitter for the most up-to-date info on actions across the city.

Dear Boris, stop going to Mipim

Letter from individuals and groups opposing Mipim, in the Guardian

This week the MIPIM property fair is coming to London. A breeding ground for property developers, investment bankers, landlords and sell-out politicians, MIPIM represents the celebration of a housing system that puts concerns of profit over people’s right to a decent home.

At a time when the UK housing crisis is causing homelessness, driving people out of social housing such as the E15 mums and forcing up rents for everyone, London Mayor Boris Johnson will be giving MIPIM’s opening keynote speech.

We feel that no Mayor of London should be attending this event and instead support the counter conference and mobilisation that has been organised to defend cities for people rather than profit. It is time to move away from treating houses purely as financial assets to be shuffled around for maximum gain, and instead ensure that we provide affordable homes that meet people’s needs.


Jasmine Stone (E15 Mums)
Natalie Bennett (Green Party Leader)
Grahame Morris MP (Labour, Easington)
John McDonnell MP (Labour, Hayes & Harlington)
Jeremy Corbyn MP (Labour, Islington North)
Cllr Rabina Khan (Cabinet Member for Housing, LB Tower Hamlets)
David Graeber
Darren Johnson (Green Party London Assembly Member)
Dave Wetzel (Labour Land Campaign)
Rev Paul Nicolson (Taxpayers Against Poverty)
Alistair Murray (Housing Justice)
Doug Thorpe (Left Unity)
Anna Minton (Author, Ground Control)
Rueben Taylor (Radical Housing Network)
Eileen Short (Defend Council Housing)
Pete Kavanagh (Unite London and Eastern Region, Regional Secretary)
Paul Kershaw (Unite Housing Workers Chair)
Owen Epsley (Digs – Hackney Renters)
Rachel Haines (Southbank Centre UNITE Branch)
Gerry Morrissey (BECTU General Secretary)
Bella Hardwick (Save Earls Court Supporters Club)
Zaher Aarif (Haringey Housing Action Group)
Joseph Blake (SQUASH Campaign)
Liz Wyatt (Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth)
Gerry Morrissey (BECTU General Secretary)
Christine Haigh (Lambeth Renters)
Liliana Dmitrovic (People’s Republic of Southwark)
Nic Lane (Brent Housing Action)
Alex Finnie (Our West Hendon)
William Allen (Southwark Notes)
Beth Lawrence – Corporate Watch
Barham Park Residents Resistance (Pieter Blankvaart)
Tanya (Southwark Defend Council Housing)
Leslie Barson (London Community Neighbourhood)
Andy Edwards (Oxford Tenants Union & Transition by Design)
Edward Daffarn (Greenfell Action Group)
Bill Perry (Wyatt Park Road Residents Group)
Michael Edwards (INURA)

Say NO to MIPIM 2014


What is MIPIM?
MIPIM proudly describes itself as the world’s largest property fair, attracting around 20,000 investors, developers, local authorities, and banks each year.
It usually takes place annually in Cannes, France. This year will see the first MIPIM UK, to be held at London’s Olympia 15-17 October. Billed as ‘the 1st UK property trade show gathering all professionals looking to close deals in the UK property market’ – a gathering of professionals and elites looking to profiteer from UK land and property.
Join affected communities, the Radical Housing Network, the European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City, Defend Council Housing, trade unions and a range of other groups to say NO to MIPIM: YES to housing justice!
MIPIM promotes an unsustainable business-as-usual approach to housing and land use that is privatised and profit-driven for the benefit the richest 1% whilst destroying our communities and keeping millions in poverty.
We are facing a major housing crisis with prices spiralling out of control, cuts to essential housing support services, the bedroom tax hitting the most vulnerable, and public land being sold off to speculators. Meanwhile record numbers of homeless are forced to live on the streets.
Local authorities that attend are on the lookout for potential business partners and corporate interests who’ll collaborate on yet more ‘regeneration’ plans. We don’t want more boutique hotels, offices, luxury housing and shopping centres, we don’t want our neighbourhoods to be gentrified and entire communities evicted. We want quality affordable housing for all.
There are alternatives. We say ‘enough is enough’. We demand:
  • No more sell-offs of public land
  • A national programme of council house building
  • Rent control and more rights for private renters
  • The decriminalisation of squatting
Next organising meeting   Tuesday 9 September, 7pm – 33-37 Moreland St, EC1v 8BB Public meeting                     Tuesday 16 September, 7pm – 128 Theobald’s Road,                                                                  WC1X 8TN
MIPIM UK                            15 – 17 October, Olympia W14 8UX
Day of protest                      Wednesday 15 October from 9.30am
                                                Friday 17 October from 5pm
Olympia London, Hammersmith Road, Kensington, London W14 8UX,

Launch of “Staying Put: An Anti-Gentrification Handbook for Council Estates in London”

The 35-page booklet “Staying Put: An Anti-Gentrification Handbook for Council Estates in London”
was launched at Queen Mary’s University, Mile End on Thursday 12th June, to a packed lecture room of housing activists, campaigners, academics and those affected by the government’s social cleansing policies. Several speakers took the podium to present their campaigns in 10-minutes slots, with strict time-keeping by the facilitator. Those that presented included:

Just Space: pool knowledge & resources for communities facing displacement, and attempt to get academics to do useful research around planning policy. They are especially focused on influencing the London Plan (public hearing in September), which will see mega-development sites destroying many of London’s existing communities.

Elephant Community Network: made up local residents and businesses in the Elephant and Castle area, who have seen several waves of displacement already, eg with the decant of the Heygate Estate. Displacement in one area only creates a ripple effect of displacement in others as people are moved further out.

Research on Displacement at the Alyesbury Estate: a reading of the evidence/ research around tenants displaced from the estate, due to regeneration and social cleansing. Statistics about the people interviewed and voices of those affected were pretty powerful.

Walteron & Elgin Community Homes: a case study on the clever use of existing legislation intended to favour landlords (ie Right to Acquire/ Tenants Choice – repealed 1996) into an opportunity for the estates to create their own democratically-run and managed housing, much to dismay of the government. Hoping to replicate this strategy on the Gibbs Green estate using current Right-To-Transfer legislation.

Cressingham Gardens: their beautiful and vibrant estate on the edge of Brockwell Park has been earmarked for demolition by Lambeth council. They have been looking at various ways to save it (eg applying for conservation status) and fight the council decision. They will be running guided tours in September during Open House.

St Clements Community Land Trust: using the Right-To-Build, they are creating a self-build community in East London. However, the price of land was identified as the biggest stumbling block for any such development, and councils must be pressured into gifting land if more of this is to happen.

Other groups represented/ speaking:
Games Monitor: resource showing how mega-events like the Olympics are used for land-grabs and displacement
Our West Hendon: fighting gentrification regeneration in West Hendon, Barnet [Broken Barnet article on demo when MP Matthew Offord came to visit]

Some points raised during the discussion:

  • Getting organised can lead to positive, limited outcomes, which is the best that can be hoped for at the moment
  • In Newham, the council is fining landlords who house multiple occupants but this has only lead to small landlords forced out in favour of big housing associations, and an indirect form of social cleansing.
  • Commercial space is just as important as housing in sustaining local communities, and both are under threat from regeneration/ gentrification.
  • Need to pressure the Labour Party to commit to public spending on building and maintaining quality social housing for the general election
  • Tory ideas (anti-working class/ demonisation of the poor/ hate campaigns, eg London riots were started in council estates) have become entrenched with all parties/ a broad spectrum of the population. Campaigners need to use media tools to undermine this narrative in order to empower communities under threat.

The booklet, put together by London Tenants Federation, Loretta Lees, Just Space and Southwark Notes Archive Group (SNAG), deals with three key areas:
1) What is gentrification regeneration? (background)
2) What can you do about it? (organising)
3) What are the alternatives? (strategy).

Free copies of the booklet were distributed to the attendees, and the pdf resource has been now been published; please print, distribute and generally make available, as this is a great resource:


The talks were followed by drinks and snacks in the courtyard outside, where mingling and networking happened in the cool, summer evening. Even though smoking was forbidden on the private Queen Mary campus, puffers took the liberty to spark up in defiance of privatisation. The event, feedback and discussion were all positive, but the road ahead still just as daunting….

Making Links between Housing and the Environmental Movement: 2nd Forum on Natural Commons

Attending the conference “2nd Forum on Natural Commons”, held on 2nd June 2014 in London, the author was looking for common ground between the housing and environmental movements, to see what links could be made in the future. Having missed most of the first half, took the following notes for the second:

Carbon/ biodiversity credits/ offsets are financial instruments to provide incentives/ monetary payments for “protecting” eco-systems. However these credits have mostly led to land- & green-grabs, such that areas rich in natural diversity have been turned into private conservation reserves, fenced off for offsetting credits and used to harvest “eco” consumer products. Market-based credits have simply become a means for the commodification of the natural environment, a collusion between science, finance and government based on the flawed assumptions of “the market”; this type of conservation sees all eco-systems as a homogenous mass (so that for example irreplaceable ancient woodland is considered equivalent to any other forest) and the only value of the environment as a means to making profit.

Credits have lead to a redistribution of power in areas affected, with green-grabs, enclosure and “fortress conservation”, in which the indigenous communities are marginalised, and any deliberative process and debate closed down in favour of making money. In Europe and the UK, “independent” (private) verification contractors are paid to create offsets, these offsets then used for speculation and gaming, and areas set aside as offsets are often built on a few years later (issues of maintenance). There are often perverse outcomes from this type of environmental protection, such as the growing desirability of land around national parks, created to protect natural eco-systems, but now the favoured sites for the rich to live in wealthy enclaves. Similarly, “experts” (eg ecologists, geologists) colonise these “commons” and landscapes with rules and regulations to “protect” them, thereby stopping local communities from deriving sustenance/ recreation from them.

Carbon Trade Watch have put together a short report on the global issue of biodiversity credits and their abuse in a “A Fish for a Tree: Understanding the (il)logic behind Biodiversity Offsets”

There is still plenty of land-grabbing in the EU and UK, especially around infrastructure, agricultural and energy policy, a constant battle between large corporates vs small producers, rights of possession vs rights to produce, etc. Resource issues are treated as a technical issue (monetary value), rather than a rights-based issue, and highly centralised land ownership leads to problems of access to land for everyone else. One recent example of this green-grabbing is that of a large solar farm in Sardinia, Italy, where 64ha of prime agricultural land was taken over for a private solar farm, with small farmers forced off the land and given small, one-off compensation payments, while the EU subsidised the solar project to the tune of Euro7 million a year.

Friends of the Earth and FERN have put together an excellent selection of case studies from the UK which demonstrate how biodiversity offsets are used by property developers to defraud communities of their ancient woodlands, green belt, meadows, etc.
“Case studies of biodiversity offsetting: voices from the ground” [foe, FERN; 2 June 2014]

In seeking to draw parallels between housing struggles and environmentalism, the first similarity is their opposition to the prevalent system of rapacious capitalism. Corporates and governments alike cynically manipulate instruments and legislation to promote and protect their own vested interests, using “institutional abuse” to break down resistance to their predetermined agendas; for example in the UK, Social Services currently threaten families under eviction with having their children taken into “care” if they do not comply. Secondly, the centralised and concentrated control of land, power, resources, etc means that there is little scope for alternative models, and where alternatives do exist, they are constantly under threat from encroaching resource-grabs (eg council housing taken over by housing associations and Right-To-Buy).

Governments and corporates are short-termist in their approach, preferring quick wins for profit, tax income, votes, etc. to the detriment of long-term sustainability and human rights; for example the current engineered property bubble will have dire consequences for the economy in the future, while state-backed extreme energy-extraction like fracking is already posing serious threats to human health, potable water resources, climate change, and the industrialisation of the countryside. The collusion between state and capital is global in nature, as illustrated  by two upcoming international summits that will see power brokers carving up common resources and selling them off without any public consultation; in the case of housing this will happen at MIPIM in London in October and in terms of environmental commons, is currently happening through the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), set to be codified into UK law with the Infrastructure Bill.

In housing, as in the environmental movement, there is a concerted and growing grass-roots resistance to the complete disregard for people and planet. In order to succeed, networks from both movements need to start co-ordinating strategies and tactics, share information and research, provide mutual support and find common targets from their respective angles. This unity of purpose created one of the defining moments of the ‘90’s anti-globalisation movement; in Seattle in 1999, during the WTO summit, separate marches of environmentalists, trade unionists, human rights activists, etc converged, united and took action to close down the summit just as state and corporate leaders were unilaterally agreeing the privatisation of national resources. With the latest summits on global privatisation, we are once again called upon to defend what we still have, and actively implement what could be.

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Radical Housing Weekender: Sunday videos

In case you missed it, or want to relive it, here are some videos from the Sunday of the Radical Housing Weekender. Many thanks to Obi and the Occupy News Network who livestreamed the event and uploaded all this to YouTube – top work!

Introduction to the Weekender


Featuring Jon Broome, a leading self-build architect who worked with Walter Segal; Rob Morris, co-founder of the Drive co-op in North London and active member of Radical Routes; and London Community Neighbourhood Co-op, an ambitious a live/work/community space in Westminster based on sustainability, affordability and accessibility.

Part Two: What are the Challenges and Opportunities?
Part Three: How do we put the “Radical” into Radical Housing Network?

Understanding the Crisis

Looking at the causes of the housing crisis and start thinking about some of the solutions.

Part One: Danny Dorling is Professor of Geography at the University of Oxford. His recent book, All That Is Solid (2014), argues that the solution to the housing crisis lies not in the construction of more homes, but in addressing the root cause: inequality.

Part Two: Liz Davies is a housing lawyer and Chair of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers. She is particularly interested in homelessness and social housing allocations, and is co-author of Housing Allocation and Homelessness (2012).

Organising and Action

How we can better organise across tenure and locality to develop a join-up opposition to housing injustice, and what kinds of organising and action work best for us?

Defend Council Housing, London Renters, Squatters Legal Network and Lambeth Housing Activists discuss their diverse tactics and experiences of organising in the face of the housing crisis.

Part One: Defend Council Housing opposes privatisation of council housing and is campaigning for the fourth option – direct investment. DCH is a tenant led campaign.

Part Two: Lambeth Housing Activists – a home is a right not a privilege.

Part Three: Lewisham and Southwark Tenants
Run for and by private tenants, we exist to improve the housing condition and rights of all private tenants in Lewisham and Southwark.

Part Four: Squatters Legal Network.

Closing Plenary

Sharing the events of the weekend, including the Saturday events in Hackney, Haringey, Lambeth, New Cross, and Barnet, as well as the sessions throughout the day.

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A Critical Analysis of Labour’s Rent Reforms

The post covers a host of links giving background to Labour’s Rent Reforms announced on the 1st May  in the lead up to the local elections soon and the general election next year. The general critique: “too little too late”, a half-hearted attempt to win some votes.

A Few Comments:
“The moves to ban letting agents fees being charged to tenants are welcome, but 3 years is still not a very long tenancy (London Renters have been demanding secure/lifelong tenancies which used to be the norm for council tenants), and the moves to limit rent increases are very weak (and won’t bring rents in much of the country down to anything like affordable levels).”///////
“We’re also a bit worried about the introduction of a 6 month ‘probationary period’ for tenants, which could potentially make us more insecure not less.”//////
“In my view, reforming private renting (if it happens and however partially) will be welcome, but only answers part of the problem. I thought the feeling at the RHN Weekender event on Sunday was very clear: private renters demand better conditions, but recognise the need for this to happen alongside investment in other forms of housing, particularly council housing. So far, I see little sign of the Labour Party having the political courage to challenge the home ownership orthodoxy and express the same pride in council housing as it does in the NHS.”/////

Background and Mainstream Media (MSM):

Labour Party Press: “Ed Miliband launches election campaign with rents pledge”
(The policy detail is hidden at the bottom of this document)

Owen Jones in The Guardian: “The foaming Tory response to Labour’s rental reforms stops any rational debate” (1 May 2014)

Inside Housing: “Miliband to announce Labour’s PRS plans today” (1 May 2014)
(comments worthwhile too; note: need to sign-in to access)

Thoughts/analysis from groups/ people involved in London Renters

Digs: “Labour’s rent proposal; too little, too late?” (1 May 2014)

Lambeth Renters:
“Labour talks of reforming renting” (2 May 2014)

Members of Southwark Tenants:

“Labour’s Rent Reforms” (A Handbook for City Renters)

“Rent Is Still Too Damn High – On Labour’s New Managed Rent Increases” (TMP, 1 May 2014)