Check out this brilliant new report where RHN members Focus E15 took part in some participatory action research all about how HOUSING IS A MENTAL HEALTH ISSUE!
Check out this brilliant new report where RHN members Focus E15 took part in some participatory action research all about how HOUSING IS A MENTAL HEALTH ISSUE!
Written by RHN member, Doug Thorpe
In July 2017 Haringey Council is proposing to sign a contract to hand over its land, property, and buildings including much of its Council Housing to a private company created jointly with private development company Lendlease. The Council and Lendlease will each own and control 50% of the company.
Councils have a genuine problem with providing housing. The Right to Buy has led to the selling off of much of the existing housing stock. Cuts in funding, restrictions on the use of money from the sales, and government caps on the amount councils can borrow has all but stopped any new council house building, and restricted the money available to refurbish estates falling into disrepair.
For the Tories this is a deliberate strategy to eradicate social housing. But 13 years of Labour Government also failed to reverse this process, or even to try. Instead, what funding there was, was channelled towards Housing Associations. These are increasingly moving towards the private sector. The majority of Labour Councillors in areas such as Haringey have either embraced the mythology of a third way, where private developers work jointly with local authorities on public projects. (PFI anyone?) Or, they are so demoralised they see no alternative to the market.
The significance of the Haringey plan is its vast scale – £2billion of public assets being handed over – and the loss of control over the venture. The ownership will be 50:50. No other Council has risked a local development venture on this scale. It is wholesale privatisation of the Council’s housing and public assets. If it goes ahead it may provide a model for the abandonment of Council housing in other areas, particularly other London Boroughs.
The principal is that the Council will put land and property assets into the deal – 17 housing Estates (including large estates Northumberland Park and Broadwater Farm), Schools, Health Facilities, Library, and 500 commercial properties. The private partner will match that with finance and “expertise”. In theory they will share the profits and risks equally. The idea is that 50:50 control will create a ‘deadlock’ in decision making if the partners cannot agree, preventing the private developer making decisions the Council disagrees with. The Council hopes to develop new ‘affordable’ housing and to share in profits that can be ploughed back into Council services. The practice: on housing, profits, risks, and control is likely to be very different.
This is a transfer of public and community assets built up over generations into the private sector – the property, including any new development will be owned by the HDV not the Council. It will be private property.
All the details about how the ‘sharing’ will work have been kept secret (Commercially ‘privileged’ under the tendering process). We do not know how the Council’s property has been valued. You would think that the Council would want to maximise the valuation of its assets, so Lendlease would have to match that with finance. But the Council fears a high valuation would scare Lendlease off. So they are likely to be selling the community short. For instance Northumberland Park Estate has been valued at minus 15 Million (ie the Council effectively will be paying the developer £15 million to take the estate!)
The Council says 40% of new properties will be “affordable”. But that includes “affordable” properties for sale. “Affordable” rental properties will be a much lower proportion, maybe 25%. In reality, experience shows that private developers eventually deliver much lower levels of “affordable” housing than the original plan. They argue the development needs to be viable. In planning terms this means the developer is entitled to take at least 20% profit from the development before passing any on to the Council. They will also use this requirement to ratchet down the amount of social housing well below the current targets. Most of the new build will be private housing for sale at market value.
“Affordable” housing is itself a misnomer. It can mean up to 80% of market rent or property sale value. Local Housing Allowance average rent valuations for Tottenham are £255.34pw for a two bed flat, £315.12pw for a 3 Bed – 80% of these is £204.72pw & £252.09 respectively, actual market rents are higher. The Council may ‘try’ to offer lower rents – but this shows what could be considered ‘affordable’. Worse however than this, the whole profitability of the venture is based on development forcing up property and rental prices in the area still higher. So the eventual ‘affordable’ levels will need to be even higher, or the project faces losses. Existing Council tenants are not guaranteed that they can return on the same rent and security of tenancy. The Council only says it will make best efforts to ensure this. But if it means what it says, it could write this into the contract with Lendlease. The reason it won’t, is it knows the need to make profits will be the driving force in the project, and Lendlease will not agree “guarantees” that would restrict its ability to make those profits at the expense of any other consideration.
The risk is huge. Post Brexit, and with London property ‘overheating’ slowing down, a continuing rise in property prices along the lines of recent years is not sustainable. The projections for this have not been audited. The Council’s own Scrutiny Committee recommended further evaluation. But the Cabinet ignored this. If the venture fails, 50% of the losses would have to be paid by Haringey Council Tax payers. Croydon Council Urban Regeneration Vehicle (CCURV) was a similar 50:50 project expected to be about half the size of Haringey’s. But Croydon has backed off from the agreement and is instead using its own housing company for current development. A smaller 50:50 Joint Venture by Tunbridge Wells with John Laing collapsed after 4 years with Council Tax payers having to pick up the debt.
So if the plan works, working class residents won’t be able to afford the new housing; and if it fails, the people of Haringey will be saddled with an unpayable debt. A two Billion Pound Gamble where the existing working class community loses, whatever the outcome.
To add insult to injury, the Council has just confirmed its preferred development partner is Lendlease. A simple Google search reveals Lendlease to be embroiled in corruption cases in Australia & New York. One of its other London developments is at Elephant & Castle – the former Heygate Estate, perhaps THE classic example of social cleansing and dispersal of the community. Lendlease has a history of blacklisting unionised building workers. It claims this was only related to Bovis, a company it swallowed up. But there are more recent reports of Lendlease itself using the blacklist.
There has been no meaningful consultation. The Council claims it has consulted through planning and strategy consultations. This buries the question in much larger documents. Effectively what emerges is that residents were asked whether they wanted better housing. Of course they want better housing, better spaces. But nowhere have residents been consulted on demolishing their estates and moving them to a private company.
There has been no ballot of tenants. Even the Council decisions are being made by the smaller Cabinet. The HDV has never been put to the full Council.
The proposed control structure for the HDV is a board of 3 from Lendlease; and on the Council side: only one elected councillor + 2 Council officers. This is supposed to provide a ‘deadlock’ where neither partner can make a decision without the other’s agreement. But few believe that the Council representatives will be able to match the expertise and legal resources Lendlease will have to argue their case, and ensure it skims off the profits it wants to ensure the ‘viability’ of the project.
One of the main campaigning demands against the HDV is for a ballot of all tenants and leaseholders before any estate is put into the scheme, or scheduled for demolition.
Existing Council tenants will be offered Council tenancies somewhere else in the borough away from their existing community. Even if a right to return is offered, by the time new properties are built the tenants will have put down roots elsewhere. The new rents are likely to be prohibitive. Experience from the Heygate Estate in Southwark was that of 1200 tenants with a ‘right to return’ only 46 did so. The rest were dispersed around the borough or moved away.
Compensation for leaseholders will not be enough to buy one of the new flats, or anything comparable in the area. Private tenants renting on the estates will have no rights and will be made homeless.
The scheme is based on forcing up property prices and rents, meaning even working class private sector renters will be forced out of the area. The Council’s own Equalities assessment says that most black residents will need to ‘get better jobs’ if they hope to remain in the area.
The existing Council tenants needing to be rehoused on other estates will take up all the available vacant properties for years. This will further reduce properties available for housing homeless applicants or those on the housing register. Homeless families will increasingly be exported to temporary accommodation outside London, away from their support networks. Even when new housing is eventually built, it will be beyond the financial reach of homeless applicants.
The plan amounts to social cleansing on a massive scale.
A broad based campaign against the HDV has formed that Left Unity is part of. Called ‘The Two Billion Pound Gamble’ it has united tenants, both Constituency Labour Parties, a third of Labour Councillors, Momentum, Trade Unions, the Green Party, housing campaigns and Resident and Leaseholder organisations against the scheme.
10 Labour Councillors who signed a call in of the scheme to the Council’s Scrutiny Committee have been threatened with disciplinary action by the Labour Group leadership. Both local MPs (Catherine West and David Lammy) have expressed concerns.
The campaign has organised several lobbies of the Council and a march, Public Meetings in the areas affected, door-to-door and tube station leafleting and street stalls. It is putting out information about the HDV that the Council has tried to hide, or lied about. Increasingly tenants and residents are joining the campaign.
The District Auditor has been contacted and is launching an investigation into the financing of the scheme. Applications for Judicial review of the Council’s decision making process are being lodged, and the barrister advising judges these to have a good prospect of success.
But all this takes money, an estimated £25,000 for the legal cases alone. The campaign is seeking donations to this JustGiving Crowdfunding Page to help make the legal challenge happen: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/Haringey-2bn-gamble?utm_id=2&utm_term=y6QAPnqnG
The campaign is organising more events, including public meetings on 18 and 25 April and a May Day event. Details of these and other campaign actions can be found on the 2 Billion Pound Gamble facebook page https://www.facebook.com/2billionpoundgamble/
The Haringey HDV has drastic implications for council housing in other areas, particularly across London. Any assistance that can be given in fighting it, either in people’s time or money, will help defeat it.
2 Billion Pound Gamble campaign
Last week, the GLA’s window for responses to their ‘Estate Regeneration Good Practice Guide’ – which can be found here – closed. The final document will set out principles that local authorities, housing associations, city hall and developers should look to when considering estate ‘regeneration’ projects – and the ways in which residents can hold them accountable.
Residents, community and campaign groups within the Radical Housing Network, and from the wider housing movement, sent in their responses. This blog summarises some key issues that came out in the responses from groups within and outside of our network. If you sent a response to the GLA which you’d like featured here, get in touch email@example.com.
The (Draft) Guide
The guide sets out three key areas: the purpose of estate regeneration, recommendations about how to consult with residents and the overall ‘deal’ that tenants and leaseholders can expect in regeneration projects.
Responses: Some Key Issues
Demolition Last Resort
Though the guide does outline demolition as one of a range of options for regeneration – it doesn’t do enough to push back against the current practice of ‘demolish first, ask questions later’ that developers are carrying out all over London.
Submissions, like that from Demolition Watch, stressed that other options for regenerating estates – like upgrading and improving homes, funding the community and repairing local infrastructure should always come first. Demolition should always be a last resort. And when demolition does happen – no social housing should be lost. The guide does make some commitment towards this – but says only projects funded by the GLA will be beholden to the rule of ‘no loss to social housing’ – this needs to be broader and the terms set out clearly for residents to know what kind of power this commitment really has.
The London Tenants Federation pointed out the demonisation of estate residents as scroungers, embodied in policies like ‘Mixed and Balanced Communities’ (London Plan) – where areas with a high number of social housing residents have to be ‘diluted’ with wealthy neighbours – went unchallenged. Policies like these embolden developers to demolish people’s homes without accountability.
Several submissions addressed the vague commitments to residents’ democracy, and the importance of resident support for regeneration projects. Though the guide dismissed ballots as an ineffective way of gauging resident support, several submissions pushed back and demanded resident ballots on all regeneration projects. This practice would make concrete commitments to ‘democracy’, ‘support’ and ‘consultations’ that have systematically failed estate residents thus far.
Demolition Watch even set up a popular petition to the Mayor demanding resident ballots. They still need a few more signatures – and you can sign here.
Clarity – What’s the Use and Application
Sidestepping concrete commitments like these, and trading in vague language, the guide left little clarity about how the final document will actually be used – and what kind of power it really gives residents at all. How will developers be sanctioned if they don’t comply, for example? Several submissions, including that from Fuel Poverty Action, covered different areas of this topic – something Sian Berry’s submission to the guide also looks at.
Transparency was also raised – with groups arguing that data around the plans and implementation of regeneration projects must be made public.
Submissions criticised the guide’s lack of commitment to monitoring and addressing the impact that regeneration has on communities – Barnet Housing Action, for example, argued that councils should keep a duty of care to residents after they leave a borough if they have been driven out by regeneration.
Environmental and social impact – from the exploitation and environmentally damaging practices of energy companies to the destruction of the social and cultural fabric of an area, were also highlighted, and calls for the GLA to address these issues, with creative solutions for how they could do, were also raised.
Including All Residents
The guides’s focus on particular types of tenure – leaving out freeholders, for example – was challenged, particularly by Barnet Housing Action – who highlighted that this left people with particular types of tenure vulnerable, and encouraged splits in the community – something the guide said it wanted to avoid.
Demolition Watch, among others, pointed for the need to monitor the well being of people displaced by regeneration – so that data on the impact of regeneration of people’s lives can be made clear, and councils and developers held to account when people under their care are suffering.
A right to return to their areas, and cash compensation for those whose lives are disrupted, or who are permanently displaced – were also pushed for.
The expertise and campaigning work of grassroots groups affected by regeneration projects came out to shape the guide. Groups provided case studies, critical analysis and pushed for creative and simple policy the GLA could commit to if it really wants to support communities, regenerate rather than destroy areas, and commit to social housing , not social cleansing.
Watch this space to see what happens when the final guide comes out, later this year.
List of all submissions here:
London Tenants Federation: https://thtf.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/draft-response-london-mayor-regeneration-good-practice.pdf
Axe the Housing Act Letter to Mayor:http://www.axethehousingact.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/AtHA_letter_LondonMayor_Jan2017_A4_2pp_web.pdf
Demolition Watch: http://media.wix.com/ugd/395633_86a8c7e0ed214958b1bef55aeb9ed1be.pdf
Fuel Poverty Action:
Barnet Housing Action:
Sian Berry: https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/final_estate_guidance_response_sianberry_mar2016_0.pdf
This is a re-post from our friends at Axe the Housing Act. For the original see here: http://www.axethehousingact.org.uk/news/briefing-on-the-housing-white-paper-2017/
The government’s Housing White Paper released on 7 February, is called ‘Fixing our broken housing market’. We welcome the admission that the housing situation needs ‘radical’ action. But what the White Paper really says is ‘We know what we’re doing doesn’t work, but we’re going to carry on doing it’.
The Prime Minister’s preface says ‘our broken housing market is one of the greatest barriers to progress in Britain today…particularly for ordinary working class people’. But this government is attempting to push up rents, end secure tenancies and force councils and housing associations to sell-off social rented homes. The proposals in the White Paper would accelerate the privatisation of housing and the domination of property developers and speculators.
The government’s housing policy is in chaos. Under pressure from the campaign against the 2016 Housing and Planning Act, ministers are trying to introduce another wave of housing legislation and backtrack on significant aspects of the 2016 Act less than a year after it was passed (though mostly still not implemented). That Act remains a threat and the White Paper only adds to the layers of confusion and uncertainty.
These contradictions undermine the government’s suggestion that councils will be allowed to build homes again. We want to see this happen: it requires serious, long-term investment and all the threats in the Housing and Planning Act to be repealed. The main reason we have a housing crisis is that we’ve stopped building council homes and instead looked to private developers to build so-called affordable homes. This approach has failed miserably, but the White Paper continues to see the private sector as the solution.
There is one thing in the White Paper we fully support. It explicitly states that the housing crisis is NOT the result of immigration or because the country is ‘full’. We hope this will stop politicians using racist scapegoating to justify the lack of genuinely affordable and secure homes.
Below are some more detailed points from the White Paper.
Responses by 2 May 2017: email to firstname.lastname@example.org
The government says ‘Housing associations have been doing well’ and confirms a £7.1 billion budget for HAs to build ‘affordable’ homes, on top of the £23 billion they’ve received since the early 2000s. But HAs have not been building the homes we need. Throughout the 1970s, local authorities consistently built over 100,000 council homes a year. In 2015/16 HAs built 40,000 homes, but only 14% (5,464 homes) were for social rent. The remainder were ‘affordable homes’ at up to 80% of the market level (18,592) and shared ownership (8,767). HAs built more homes for private sale (5,205) than they did for social rent!
They’ve moved away from their founding ethos as ‘social’ landlords and increasingly resemble private developers in their culture and practice. The White Paper will continue that trend. It confirms that HAs will now be regarded as part of the private sector and will allow them to charge higher rents to existing tenants from 2020. This comes on top of the changes in the Housing and Planning Act which make it easier for HAs to switch between social and private housing sectors, weakens the level of regulation and ends the requirement for them to have local councillors on their Boards.
Local Councils, public land and regeneration
The White Paper says it wants to ‘encourage local authorities to build again’, but gives no commitment to the money needed for them to do that. It does say that £45 million will be available through a ‘Land Release Fund’ to build 160,000 homes on public land by 2020, but alongside the clauses in the Housing and Planning Act about the use of ‘brownfield’ sites, this could mean allowing private developers to use faster planning permission to build on public land homes that are unaffordable to most people. The White Paper also gives only vague commitments to protect the interests of residents living on estates ear-marked for large scale regeneration projects, where experience shows they are at risk of losing their homes.
The government says it wants to make renting fairer for tenants, but the White Paper gives no indication of how. It talks about ‘encouragement’ for longer tenancies, but there’s nothing specific to guarantee renters security or rent controls. The government is stalling on its commitment to end lettings fees, talking about ‘consultation’ instead of immediate abolition.
Private Investors and Developers
While it’s vague on commitments to protect tenants’ rights and build the homes we need, the White Paper says it wants to create ‘a long-term framework for investment’ for property speculators, particularly in the private rented sector. This opens the door to the kind of large scale institutional investors who dominate the housing market in the USA and elsewhere. The government says it wants to ‘diversify’ housing provision, but in fact it’s allowing big developers to control housing policy.
The Planning System
The White Paper suggests the slowness of the planning system is the main reason we have a housing crisis, but its own figures show that even when they have planning permission, private developers often don’t build. There are lots of ways the planning system could be improved, by making it more transparent, democratic and insisting that targets for social rented homes are met.
For the White Paper itself, click here.
For the consultations associated with the White Paper, see Housing Law Consultations.
For a House of Commons Library briefing in respect of the planning aspects of the proposals in the White Paper, click here
For the response of the Local Government Association, click here
For the response of Shelter, click here
For the response of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, click here
For letters to The Guardian in response to the White Paper, click here
Three Radical Housing Network members respond to the Housing White Paper:
“The HWP is a huge disappointment, tinkering round the edges while London’s housing system burns. The Government needs to get real, stop listening to the Developer-lobby and put plans in place to fix our broken housing system. Until they recognise that the only way to solve the housing crisis is by massive public investment in public rental housing, affordable to people and families on low incomes, the housing crisis is only going to get worse.
In London more people in poverty live in the private rented sector than any other tenure, enduring the worst renters rights in Europe, and being squeezed by private landlords for most of their income. And the government and taxpayer spends billions subsidising this insanity through housing benefit, driven by a blind commitment to a free market in housing. The case for council housing – economically, socially and politically – is overwhelming, and yet this Housing White Paper continues to fiddle with the dials, expecting a different outcome. It’s beginning to look like the Government doesn’t care.”
“Today’s statements on ‘housing market failure’ not only fail to acknowledging the severity of a housing crisis that traps millions in poverty, but betray the free-market thinking of the Conservative’s solutions which lies at the root of the problem. This is not a case of ‘market failure’ but of four decades of political failure, which has seen Neoliberal governments allow a wealthy few to exploit the housing of many for personal profits. Any serious attempt to address this must – as a bare minimum – introduce immediate rent controls and a moratorium on evictions, with a long-term program of community-led, fully-funded social housing construction to return this basic human right to democratic control”
A guest blog from our friend Glyn Robbins at Axe the Housing Act.
Sadiq Khan said he would make his 2016 election campaign a ‘referendum on housing’. When he needed votes, Khan talked about the importance of council housing, the need to curb private landlords and property speculators and pledged to ‘fix the Tory housing crisis’. Less than a year later, there are already signs that Mayor Khan is retreating from some of his manifesto commitments and adopting policies that are worryingly close to those he claims to challenge.
Criticisms of Khan’s emerging housing policies arose almost as soon as he was elected, in particular his drooping of a pledge to push for a rent freeze. But this is just one of several examples of Khan seeming to care more about developers than people in housing need. His original aspiration to make 50% of new homes ‘affordable’ (even allowing for the elasticity of the term) has already been dropped to 35%. Promises to protect residents and social rented homes on estates faced with ball and chain regeneration projects have been diluted. Meanwhile, despite the enormous threat it represents, Khan has been virtually silent on the Housing and Planning Act.
A closer look at Khan’s policies give further cause for concern. He has a budget of £3.15 billion to deliver 90,000 new ‘affordable’ homes by 2021. But 65% of these will be ’home ownership products’ targeted at people with income well above the London median (£30,000). His much vaunted London Living Rent will be available to those with income up to £60,000, will be let on short-term tenancies and provide landlords with significant flexibility for increasing rents. People with income up to £90,000 will be eligible for his London Shared Ownership, a tenure that research (including by the GLA!) has repeatedly found fails to make a significant contribution to reducing housing need. Nowhere in Khan’s blizzard of new policies is there any commitment to build and invest in council housing, the only source of a genuinely affordable, secure rental home for most Londoners for generations.
Alongside his repeated civic boosterism of London as ‘the greatest city in the world’, it’s clear that Khan is preparing the ground for a continuation of the kind of social (and ethnic) cleansing of working class neighbourhoods that has characterised the last twenty years.
The Axe the Housing Act campaign is calling on Mayor Khan to do better. We want firm commitments to build the homes we need, which means thousands of new council homes, particularly on public land. We want him to fulfil his promise to help all private renters, not just a few. And we want him to get involved in the campaign against the Act which would make the housing crisis worse.
A copy of the open letter to Sadiq Khan is here. Please sign, share and return to email@example.com
This morning Oxford residents and local homeless people dropped an enormous banner from the front of the old VW garage on Iffley Road declaring “People need homes, empty spaces need people” as a new petition gains momentum and puts pressure on the owners, Wadham College, to support the plight of homeless people this winter.
The building, which has laid empty for two years, was opened on New Year’s eve providing shelter for rough sleepers in response to the growing homelessness crisis.
A group, which included Oxford University students and alumni entered the building after finding, to their amazement, the front door had been left open. A member of the group, Sandra Philips said,
“We have made a temporary home for some of the homeless and rough sleepers of Oxford because council cuts have forced the closure of night shelters and homeless people are dying on our streets. This building lies empty whilst hundreds are without a home or even a roof over their head. We all have an obligation to do what we can to help this situation, everyone is affected by the housing crisis in some way.”
The group have sent a formal letter to Wadham College requesting that they allow the building to remain open as a temporary shelter for homeless people for the next three months, until the worst of the winter has passed.
Oxford University and its colleges own dozens of unoccupied buildings across the city, some of which have been empty for almost a decade.
Latest figures show rough sleeping in Oxford has more than trebled in the last five years. The situation for rough sleepers is now at fever pitch as government cuts force the closure of night shelters across the city. 61 beds were lost in 2016 with the closure of Lucy Faithful which had been offering support to rough sleepers in Oxford for 30 years. A further 202 beds will be lost over the next 12 months as deeper cuts will force the closure of Simon House and Julian Housing.
Neo, a local man living on the streets for over 25 years, who has been staying at the new shelter said,
“A group of us have been staying quietly at the Old VW garage since New Years Day. It’s been a roof over our heads and a break from the frost and rain. This space alone could house every homeless person in Oxford. It’s winter and so now is the time people on the streets need a safe, secure and dry space to help the most vulnerable. Having hot water, kitchen and toilets makes a big difference.”
Local resident Al Chisholm said,
“We’re delighted to finally see the building being put to a good use. It’s been a horrible car garage for years and then just lying empty for the last couple of years, which seems crazy when there’s such a critical need right now for shelter and social housing in the city.”
Jason Spratzel, another member of group involved in opening up the garage for shelter said,
“homeless people are on the frontline of Oxfords housing crisis, but everyone is affected in some way by spiraling rents, runaway house prices, rogue landlords and poor conditions. Although I have a place to rent and a roof over my head I feel the effects, everyone does. So many of us live on the edge – if you lose your job and can’t pay your rent, or have a relationship breakdown, you could so easily end up on the streets.’
The group have set up a petition and are asking the public to sign up and show support for their request to Wadham College to keep the building open for rough sleepers until the winter is over. They have also made a callout for help from volunteers to give up time to run the shelter and to donate tents and blankets.
Wadham has long term plans to demolish the current garage, office buildings and private flats and replace them with 117 students flats, without space for local community or any social housing. The group occupying the space have said that there temporary occupation will not affect Wadham’s redevelopment.
A similar situation occurred in October 2015 when a large building in Manchester, bought by footballers Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville for renovation and the creation of a luxury hotel, was squatted by a group of homeless people before its reopening, saying they just needed somewhere to stay for the winter. The group were given permission by its owners to stay in the building over last winter.
Local residents and businesses have repeatedly approached Wadham and the previous owners of the building to suggest temporary uses for old garage which would create local social enterprise or temporary accommodation for homeless people, yet each proposal has been declined.
The old VW garage became empty in January 2015 and was acquired by Wadham in May 2015. It was previously rented by supermarket Mid-Counties Co-op to Ridgeway VW garage.
The building is currently being transformed from an empty dilapidated shell into a welcoming shelter with kitchen, toilets, hot water, washing facilities and sleeping spaces.
Sign their petition! Here:: www.change.org/p/tell-wadham-college-to-do-the-right-thing-for-homeless-people-this-winter
Guest post with thoughts from Jacob Wills, co coordinator of European Network for the Right to Housing and the City, a network of which the Radical Housing Network is a member.
The discussions in the UK’s anti-authoritarian left since Brexit have rightly focused on anti-racist and migrant struggles. These are struggles we foresee with our own government, and with extra-parliamentary racist movements. New popular formations will surely emerge over the coming months to reflect this new priority. These will need to bring large numbers of white non-migrants into an experience and practice of organising in solidarity, led by the demands of migrants and organised people of colour. At the same time, we need to strengthen these struggles transnationally in order to counter isolationism. Despite our good intentions, our organisations are as guilty of this UK separatism as anyone else. Too often we fail to reach out to other European countries and their movements. Meanwhile, nationalists are creating a paradoxical sense of an international groundswell.
It’s understandable, given our newly cemented political identity, that most of our discussion has focused on the UK. A notable exception is the recent Black Lives Matter solidarity demos, which fused anger over the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile with that of UK people of colour. At many times like these people of colour express a transnational identity that allows for bonds of solidarity that cross borders and continents.
Sustaining transnational identities is clearly an important task for people in the grip of a dominating isolationism such as ourselves. And though a European identity may well have been one of the world’s most pernicious, with liberal Europhilia to be avoided at all costs, those of us who live in Europe do have certain shared experiences around which we can organise. If there was ever a time for internationalism, this is it. We have all been incalculably affected by the EU – by its neoliberal ideology, and by its policies (which certainly weren’t all bad). Many, such as the EU Urban Agenda recently declared in Amsterdam, are vehicles for North-West Europe’s addiction to financialisation, to be brought to street-corners across the continent. There is an alternative to this state cooperation in the interests of transnational capital – grassroots internationalism.
This is the impetus behind the formation of the European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City. Uniting with groups in Eastern Europe fighting housing poverty is an under-emphasised form of solidarity and is crucially important. Supporting the struggles of those countries choked by the Troika or simply bound by the enforced austerity of the Maastricht treaty is all the more important as the UK opts out of these institutions that it spawned. This is work for local organisations too – how can we expect to support unorganised Romanian labourers to build their political power without contact with groups of Romanian activists, knowledge about the situation people may have left in their home countries, or diffusion of this knowledge to prejudiced Britons? Looking beyond Europe, many of our new arrivals have been displaced by huge regeneration projects of the sort London is now struggling against, a fact that primes them for engaging in truly intersectional organised communities.
It cuts both ways, too, as this isn’t just a solidarity struggle. We in Britain have an incredible amount to learn from all these groups across Europe, many of whom have spent decades organising in repressive conditions, and often against strong fascist movements. We may feel like we are stepping out into the unknown, but it is rarely true that no one else has fought our fight.
It is for these reasons that the Radical Housing Network sent people to actions at the launch of the EU Urban Agenda in Amsterdam. Though small, these demonstrations take us further than meeting together and into organising together. Urban struggles are by nature often more localised than, say, migrant or environmental struggles, so this process will take a while. But we think that we can lay the groundwork for major actions in the next few years, and are planning a long-term campaign around the financialisation of housing. We are taking action for the Europe we want to see – not the Europe that Britain helped to create, but our European vision which we trust many of its residents will fight for.
Up against powerful vested interests and a government that supports (or shares) them, campaigning for a better housing system can often feel like fighting a losing battle. But not this week!
On Monday, the government quietly dropped its controversial ‘Pay to Stay’ plans to impose unaffordable market rents for social housing tenants on incomes above a stingy minimum. This policy was introduced earlier this year as part of the regressive Housing and Planning Act, which members of Radical Housing Network (RHN) joined with the Kill the Housing Bill campaign to organise against.
We occupied a building in Kensington and helped build a march of thousands in protest against the Housing Bill
Then in yesterday’s budget, it was announced that letting agents will be banned from charging fees to tenants. Letting agent fees can often be £500 or more, making the already high costs of moving house impossible for renters to afford.
RHN members have for years have been calling for the law in the rest of the UK to be brought in line with Scotland, where this form of profiteering is already outlawed. As Hackney renters’ group, Digs, wrote yesterday:
“To be a renter is very often to feel totally powerless. But today’s announcement shows what can be achieved when communities get organised and turn up the heat on those who hold power.”
F*ck fees! Digs’ action against letting agents’ fees, discrimination and other dodgy dealings in July 2013
These changes come hot on the heels of other local victories across London. Following concerted campaigning on the Aylesbury estate in south London, Southwark council have been prevented from evicting leaseholders after the government refused to grant compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) to force them to leave. In west London, the local council recently refused a planning application by housing association Affinity Sutton which would have seen the Sutton estate demolished, resulting in a loss of social housing. And last week, RHN’s meeting was hosted by the inspiring campaigners on the Butterfield estate in Walthamstow, who shared how they have fought off evictions and attempts by their landlord to make huge rent rises.
Of course, there’s still a long way to go. Social housing is still under attack on many fronts, and millions are stuck renting sub-standard insecure and unaffordable homes from private landlords, while Southwark council are appealing against the decision to block their CPOs on the Aylesbury estate (you can donate to the residents’ crowd-funder to fight it here).
But this week shows that by organising together we can win victories that make real differences to people’s lives – and the bigger we can build our movement, the more we will win!
by Pearl Ahrens, UCL Cut the Rent
While some of us were outside MIPIM asking delegates to Give Us Back Our Fucking Rent!, others were inside seeing what deals were being done, what people were saying – and what’s going to happen to housing in this country.
Private rental sector and excusing higher rents.
“[We’ll see a] total convergence in real estate generally of housing and the rental sector, of life, work and play not as separate sectors”.
This, according to Matt Yeoman, Director BuckleyGrayYeoman, is the direction of travel for the private rental sector (PRS). He was speaking on a panel about the ‘Future of student housing’.
The upshot of this panel? The future of the PRS is about an increasing similarity with hotels and the hospitality industry. Making renting not about just having a place to live, but about providing a whole inclusive life-experience from the apartment block. This will have a knock-on effect on the private student accommodation sector, and that in turn will impact university-owned halls.
Property providers know the housing crisis is something they have created – Bruce Ritchie, CEO at Residential Land spoke of the “frustration of aspiring young people… most people know where they want to live, it’s just whether they can afford it”. And so, they reap the benefits of their own actions by renting instead of selling, by using the provision of extra services as an excuse to raise rents even further. In the private rental sector, ‘affordable’ doesn’t mean affordable. Affordable Rent means “subject to rent controls that require a rent of no more than 80% of the local market rent (including service charges, where applicable)”
End of halls
Students who don’t get into university-owned halls end up in the private rental sector – a far cry from the ‘halls experience’ where they meet their friends and have the traditional first year of university. Phillip Hillman, chair of JLL UK Alternatives, sees this as a gap in the “immature” private rental market which private student accommodation is filling. For providers, private student accommodation is a great investment – it’s like the fast-growing private rental sector but with a more stable, Brexit-resilient stream of available tenants. Again, the idea is to provide lots of hospitality and built-in services – group study spaces, gyms etc. and cut back on everything else. That students can’t afford these premium apartments is a nuisance providers get around – according to Richard Gabelich, CEO at UK Campus Living Villages (CLV) with this “big focus on affordability, you can get away with smaller bedrooms if you’ve got great study space”. Companies like Richard’s are taking advantage of this opportunity at an extraordinary rate – the proportion of student accommodation administered by private providers went from 18% in 2006 to 41% in 2015/16.. The trend towards providing other services also exists here, as Matt Yeoman said at the panel – “It’s entirely hospitality driven. [If not, it] will fail. [If we keep] upping the bar, [we] will be fine”
This drift towards hospitality ventures means private student accomodation, with these stark takeover rates, are ‘leading’ the way. “Every PRS scheme we are working on feels like student housing eight to ten years ago”, Yeoman also said.
The problem with all this isn’t simply the provision of social spaces. It’s the social spaces being offered as a ‘luxury option’ and the hike in rents which this necessarily entails. This increase in rent is supposedly legitimised by the expansion of the provision of services, though there’s nothing to stop private student accommodation providers raising the rents to a price above and beyond what it costs to provide those services, and way above and beyond what most students can afford before they are forced to live in dire poverty.
How this relates to universities.
On the part of the universities, it’s difficult to provide enough spaces for all their students in the halls they own, and with gross underfunding from the government, the halls’ rents seem like the perfect source of income, ready and available to tap.The mere existence of private student accommodation allows universities like UCL to excuse their extortionate rents, driving up prices in all accommodation. For example, UCL over-prices all its accommodation to make a surplus which they plough back into the UCL Estates pot. While ‘higher quality means higher price’ attitude of private student accommodation providers is to be expected, one would expect better of universities, considering their duty to students.
If universities were properly funded by the government they wouldn’t have to scrape the pockets of their students to find research funding. However, with talk of lifting the £9000 cap, and with top unis like UCL actively lobbying for less funding from the government, it’s unlikely that they will be adequately funded any time soon. UCL’s former Provost Malcolm Grant was quoted advocating lifting the then £3000 cap all the way back in 2006, so to think that lifting the (now £9000) cap on tuition fees is a sustainable or just solution to funding problems is absurd.
Some of the time, universities and private providers work directly together – in public-private partnerships. The trick of underfunding the public sector until it needs to be ‘saved’ by the private one is at play here, and was acknowledged by the panel. Hillman said that underfunded universities run halls with “half [of student accommodation] well below the standard that universities say is desirable, and the universities have no money, [so] they look to the private sector”. Gabelich, too is fully aware of the difficult situation the government put universities in. He mentioned how the cap on tuition fees is generating funding worries for universities, so private student accomodation provides “an avenue in which they can get capital from the private sector to invest in other areas (like research)… universities are cottoning on more and more to that”.
Check out the latest bulletin from the European Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City, a group that Radical Housing Network are involved in.
RHN delegates are heading to Dublin for the next of the coalition’s meetings this months, so keep your eyes peeled for an update from their meeting on housing organising across Europe!