Tag Archives: council estates

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.

kensington-occupation march-march

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.”

town-hall-group

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!

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….