The fight to stop London becoming a city for the rich
By Natalie Bloomer
Gentrification, social cleansing and regeneration are all terms that have been used to describe what is happening to many housing estates across London. But whatever you call it, the result is the same: working class and lower income families being pushed out of the capital.
Zena Kata has lived on the Guinness Trust estate in Brixton for the last eight years. The estate is now due to be redeveloped and Zena and her two young children are expecting to be evicted later today.
"I don't know what I am going to do. I can't move out of London, I'm a single mum and this is where my support network is. My six-year-old daughter has been complaining of stomach pains for days now. The doctor says it is from all the stress we are under. My kids are sick of it, I am sick of it. It feels as if nobody is listening to us."
Until now, Zena says she would never have described herself as political, but last weekend she took part in the protest organised by the Reclaim Brixton campaign. The group was set up to bring together the various housing campaigns around Brixton and amplify their stories. A member of the group says:
"I can't see any party that is speaking to me genuinely about this. And when they do present a policy that I might agree with, there has been so much back pedalling and failings by all parties that I cannot trust what they say."
In 2013, the Focus E15 Mothers campaign was formed when young mums and their babies were evicted from a hostel in Stratford, following local funding cuts. The group, which campaigns for decent social housing for all that need it, has received a lot of press attention, and similar campaigns have since sprung up all over London.
Although the aims of the campaigns vary, the one thing they have in common is a fight against councils or housing associations to protect the homes and rights of social housing tenants.
Video by TheSWLondoner
With estates being demolished to make way for luxury apartments, increasing rents, and families being stuck in temporary accommodation or forced out of London altogether, it is little wonder that many of the campaigners say they feel disaffected by mainstream politics.
The Focus E15 Mothers believe they were initially treated with contempt by their local Labour run council and that direct action was their only option. A spokesperson for the group says:
"None of the mums were political before they were handed eviction notices. If we hadn't set up the campaign, we would have been moved out of London. The political class is out of touch with how real people live, we believe it only represents money and big business. We have no faith in any of the major political parties."
But the campaign is commanding attention from local politicians. Last October the then-Labour MP for West Ham, Lyn Brown, wrote an article for the Newham Recorder in which she pledged support for the campaign saying:
"The powerful testimonies from members of the group have captured the public's admiration for their guts and determination. The Focus E15 women have come together to fight for a better future for themselves and their children."
And at a recent hustings, parliamentary candidates from all the main parties in the area also spoke of their support for the group.
Video by London Black Revs
Local Green party candidate Rachel Collinson often attends events which are held by the campaign. She says:
"The Focus E15 mums are the visible top edge of Newham's frankly squalid housing crisis. While out and about in Stratford I have seen some desperate situations – a working family of seven crammed into a tiny two bedroom terraced house, for example."
Conservative candidate for West Ham Festus Akinbusoye agrees that the lack of affordable housing is a major issue for local people.
"Presently, we are surrounded by towering cranes and glistening glass facades of high rise properties which local residents cannot afford to buy. People are being kicked out of their homes to pave the way for these big money developers."
In the run up to the general election, much has been said about the number of homes that need to be built to tackle the housing crisis. But there is little trust among many of the campaigners on the issue.
The Balfron Social Club was set up after tenants of the iconic Balfron Tower in Poplar were moved out to allow the building to be transformed into luxury flats. The campaign is calling for at least 50% of the new flats to be socially rented. A member of the group says:
"Following the general election and the subsequent Tower Hamlets mayoral election, we intend to increase pressure on elected politicians to not just make statements about the dismantlement of social housing but to actively get involved in ensuring it's terminated."
Social media has allowed many of the campaigns to link up and support each other and barely a week passes without a message on Twitter calling for fellow activists to attend a protest somewhere in London.
Video by Marvin Daley
The CBHA (Community Based Housing Association) is a resident-led organisation which has run four estates in Waltham Forest for 20 years, with the Peabody Trust as a parent body. Now though, Peabody is proposing to take on full responsibilities as landlord as part of restructuring plans. The campaign, Save Our CBHA, is hoping to prevent that from happening. Local resident and former Chair of the CBHA, Debbie Griggs says:
"It's about tenants having a say. We see these campaigns run by social housing tenants across London and it gives us hope that if we support each other we can make a stand. We have collected over 500 signatures from local people for our petition to stop the hostile takeover by Peabody and we presented that to some of their board members when we descended on their offices last week."
Peabody insists that residents will continue to have a say in matters affecting them.
Tessa Jowell, prospective Labour candidate for Mayor of London says that she understands the anger and frustration behind these housing campaigns.
"Your home is absolutely central to your life – we must never forget that. These people feel let down and ignored by a housing market that doesn't work for them and hasn't worked for London in years. There is only one guaranteed solution to the housing crisis, and that is to build more homes, but in particular more social housing."
Campaigners complain of hearing lots of positive talk from politicians but very little action. And it is clear to everyone that London is rapidly becoming a city only for the rich. One thing is certain though, if the housing campaigns continue to spread at the rate they are currently, whoever forms a government after May 7th will be forced to listen to them.
Natalie Bloomer is a freelance journalist specialising in social affairs, poverty & family matters. Follow her on Twitter.
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