Category Archives: Policy

Estate Regeneration and Good Practice

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 info@radicalhousingnetwork.org.

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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.

Resident Ballots

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.

Impact 

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.

Displacement

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:

http://radicalhousingnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Fuel-Poverty-Action-response-to-GLA-Estate-Regeneration-consultation.pdf

Barnet Housing Action:

http://radicalhousingnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Barnet-Haction-1.pdf

Sian Berry: https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/final_estate_guidance_response_sianberry_mar2016_0.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

Briefing on the Housing White Paper

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/

Introduction

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 planningpolicyconsultation@communities.gsi.gov.uk

housing

housing

Housing Associations 

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.

 

Private Renters 

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

Winning!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some points raised during the discussion:

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

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

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

http://southwarknotes.wordpress.com/2014/06/13/staying-put-an-anti-gentrification-handbook-for-council-estates-in-london/

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

A Critical Analysis of Labour’s Rent Reforms

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

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

Background and Mainstream Media (MSM):

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

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

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

Thoughts/analysis from groups/ people involved in London Renters

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

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

Members of Southwark Tenants:

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

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