Resources & Feedback – Housing Weekender 2014

Saturday 26th April

Inequality Bus Tour

Video of the Inequality Bus Tour, as edited by K from Save Our Jubilee Sports Centre (See Saturday Programme for the route ). Everyone who got on or saw the bus was mightily impressed, except of course for Inside Housing/ Closed Circuit who had these nasty comments to make: “Over-egging it” (Inside Housing, 2 May 2014)

Digs in Hackney

From one of the DIGS crew: “The digs action went really well. We had about 50 people, and we managed to push the councillors on a number of issues, it was great to watch them squirm. I guess we’ll see how the terrain changes when we meet them next.”

Lambeth Housing Film Night

The Lambeth film night about the Brixton Fairies (and others) was organised by Lambeth Housing Activists with some help from Lambeth Renters. Around 50+ people attended, and the feedback from the event was that it was made up of a mix of groups and people, and atmosphere positive and encouraging. LHA have compiled a list of housing films that were shown, which can be found at the following link: http://housingactivists.co.uk/newsletters/films-housing/

Guest blog on the New Left Project by Christine from London Renters:
“Seeking a Resolution to the Housing Crisis” (New Left Project, 6 May 2014)

SE London Co-ops Forum in New Cross:

SE London Co-ops Forum Presents a Panel Discussion on:
How Can Local Politicians Help Co-operatives Solve the Housing Crisis?
At New Cross Learning, Saturday 26th April 2014

Local Politician [Cllr Paul Bell – Labour]: The council is open to co-operative solutions to its needs; need to engage in a dialogue with the council about what co-ops can offer, such as short life co-ops instead of property guardians (which profit massively from vacant buildings):

Housing Co-ops [Nicky – chair Nettleton Road, Jess – chair Sanford, Dermot – chair 3 Boroughs]: Living and working with others in a democratic manner is difficult and decisions may be slow, but it does enable and empower members of the housing co-op. Small, descrete housing co-ops are successful models of providing affordable and quality housing; people need to be able to consider it as a housing option, especially through embedding it in the housing sector and educating people about what they are/ how they operate/ how to do it. Co-ops should be small scale, therefore they have limited means to solve the housing crisis, but they are part of the solution. Existing co-ops are interesting in setting up more, but need local government assistance (esp. access to land/ properties); existing co-ops are able to lend money to start-up co-ops by buying loanstock from them, a feature of Industrial & Provident Societies.

Council Housing: council housing must be an option for people, where taxpayer money is able to fund quality, affordable provision. It has been under attack for many decades now, and we need to defend the existing stock, have more, secure funding for improvements and stop the decanting/ sell off of existing estates.

Mass house building must not just be about quantity, but also quality, including social and environmental sustainability.

Sunday 27th April

Side Event -Little Homes in New Cross

little homes

Little Homes was an event designed for children and families, aimed at reaching and including people who normally wouldn’t participate in activists’ actions. The event started with a funny and satirical puppet show inspired by Punch and Judy. The young widow Judy and her baby can’t afford the rent anymore, and are evicted from their house. They now have to face a merciless housing market, populated by greedy landlords and estate agents, they become squatters in their own house, and finally homeless. At this point children were asked to help Judy and her baby, by building together a new house for them… a very special house, totally made out of cardboard! The workshop went very well, and around twenty-five children between 5 and 12 had fun together for the whole afternoon.

Little Homes was organised by some members of the Sanford Housing Co-op, and the workshop was held together with the artistic collective We Love Cardboard.

Main Event – Moreland Street, EC1

Video

The Sunday Event was live-streamed and recorded by Obi from the Occupy News Network; many thanks for this brilliant archive of the day; please check their website for the full video selection as only a sample have been used here:
http://occupylondon.org.uk/the-housing-weekender-27th-april-2014-videos/

Introduction

Alternatives Panel

Panel:

Introductions then 3 Questions put to the Panel:

  • 1] What movements, recent or historical, have inspired you, or what can we learn from their strategies?
  • 2] What are the challenges and opportunities in the current housing crisis?
  • 3] How would you put “Radical” into the Radical Housing Network?

Followed by open Q&A

Notes from Lost Soul:
The current state of speculation and land banking is having a terrible effect on access to land as an issue. There needs to be a change of values about land, from speculative/ profit driven to a duty of care for the land; need to create a non-market based approach to land/ housing. The main challenge for alternative projects is getting land at a reasonable price. Planners/ planning are a big part of the problem (planning system failures) but also part of the solution. Those who are tied into mortgages live in fear of losing what they have; should be engaged, since they have political clout. Alternatives cannot be considered outside of the much larger economic/ political issue of land ownership and power; alternatives face the same pressures from speculative systems which restrict their ability to be effective and establish stable projects.

Need to build a critical mass in order to affect a political change around housing. Local government is key for becoming enablers, such as gifting existing stock to grass-roots, education/ publicity, etc; the way to do this is “Do it!”, bang on doors, keep hassling, etc. There is a growing appetite for alternative solutions and recognition of housing as a right. Examples such as the continental co-housing movement are great examples of what can be achieved through co-ops, self-build, etc. Need to create non-market-based approaches based on democracy, resident control, etc, from which good ideas, empowerment, and tangible control come. Community action campaigns are important for applying pressure and taking control; examples such as Grow Heathrow and Brazilian land campaigns show how land invasions are a useful strategy; find a site, galvanise support and take it back into collective stewardship. Other useful London examples are Coin Street Action Group and WECH (Earls Court project).

Understanding the Crisis

Danny Dorling

Notes from Lost Soul:
There is currently a massive bubble in the housing sector, supported by a Tory government, creating false economies, subsidies for home owners and systemic pushing of undesirable groups out of prime real estate areas [Ed: social cleansing]. However there is a massive housing crash coming soon, most likely after the next general election; the system will be kept propped up to get Tory votes at the election, after which it is likely it can no longer be supported economically, leading to financial meltdown. Only 2% of the population are landlords (either amateurs who serve tenants badly or huge conglomerates (housing associations, private companies)); their effect on the housing system is disproportionate. The increase in the number of professionals and their purchase power are driving down densities in cities and forcing out those who would benefit from the spaces they occupy (eg poor families).

Liz Davies

Notes from Lost Soul:
There has been a massive dismantling of tenant rights over the last few decades, as councils hand over stock to Housing Associations (HA) and the Private Rented Sector (PRS), as almost all tenancies changed to Assured Shorthold Tenancies (AST), and the right of landlords to evict without reason using Section 21 (2 weeks notice). The effects of the Bedroom Tax are only just starting to be felt, with evictions and increasing arrears which cannot be clearly attributed to the tax. The tax has found to be discriminatory against the disabled (carers’ rooms taxed). Another tax that has come in to replace the Council Tax Exemption is the “Council Tax Reduction”, the “new Poll Tax”, driving people out of their homes by making it too expensive to afford. There is now no more Legal Aid for civil cases, and housing advice centres are being closed down everywhere. In rhetoric and narrative (political, media) there has been a massive shift to demonising the poor. Illegal evictions are on the rise and now commonplace (eg landlords send round heavies, police evicting with court papers).

Courses of Action:

The major parties do not differ much on housing policy (ie status qou), however Greens and Left Unity’s Housing Policies are worth noting for being more progressive; consider for local and national elections.

There needs to be collective resistance to the current housing market; these could include land invasions and rent strikes

There needs to be more social housing dotted across the city and a diversity of tenure in all areas; (Dorling) an economic reason for this is that house prices rise the further they are from social housing, therefore to keep prices down social housing should be spread across the whole city.
Need to name and shame big landlords and housing associations who are driving the social cleansing process

Squatting: need to shift the focus of criminal activity away from squatting and onto landlords.

Should engage with other local government services (eg Environmental Health) to censure landlords for bad practise (mould, poor conditions)

Organising and Actions

Panel:

Plenary and Closing

Thanks to everyone who attended, helped out, contributed and generally made the whole event an informative and constructive discussion