by Jake, Digs – Hackney private renters group
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.
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