Why we need you to support our crowdfunder

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

image

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

image

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.

image
‘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.

image
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

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.

Image

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

SWEETS WAY OCCUPATION

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!

sweetsway4

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.

sweetsway1

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

sweetsway2
sweetsway5sweetsway6sweetsway3

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

bha
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.

Signed

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

MIPIMF

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!
Why?
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
When?
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
Where?
Olympia London, Hammersmith Road, Kensington, London W14 8UX,