Focus E15 campaign - Focus on the future /FRFI! 239 Jun/Jul 2014

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Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 239 June/July 2014

‘The campaign has grown majorly and we have noticed it isn’t just mothers being affected. We have decided to widen the campaign for everyone. We are introducing our new name – Focus on the Future. We are fighting for everybody with housing problems and offer our full support. We will fight for as long as it takes to stop the privatisation of London and stop social cleansing. We are fighting for social housing for all, a home that everyone can afford, where they feel comfortable and have the support network that we all need!’

These are the words of Jasmin Stone, one of the leading women in the Focus E15 campaign. The campaign has held a weekly street stall with open mic, petitioning and leafleting on the streets of Stratford, east London, every Saturday since September 2013 campaigning against social cleansing and for the right for everyone to be housed in long-term, secure, adequate council accommodation not the insecurity and unaffordability of the private-rented sector. The campaign began when Newham council withdrew funding from the Focus E15 young people’s hostel and mother and baby unit and East Thames Housing Association threatened the eviction of the young mothers. The campaign is challenging Newham Labour council’s policies of expelling the poor, vulnerable and needy out of London to towns and cities hundreds of miles away, claiming that there is no housing in Newham. This is a lie: thousands of properties lie empty and boarded up in Newham, not least of all is the Carpenters Estate.

Opened in 1970, Carpenters Estate occupies 23 acres of land in Stratford and has over 2,000 houses and flats with a shop and a pub and lots of green space; it is a lovely place which has been home to generations of families, young people and old people, couples and single residents – however now it is home to only a couple of hundred people as Newham council continues its attempt to empty the homes, remove the residents and demolish the estate, leaving thousands of empty flats in the tower blocks and boarded up maisonettes and flats in the low-rise sections. This has been going on for over a decade. In some phases residents were paid £4,500 to relocate and told they would be coming back, only to find out recently that they would have to pay the money back to the council to return. It is estimated that the council is losing £1m per month in revenue. Focus E15 campaign has met a woman with seven children who herself was brought up on the estate, now living in bed and breakfast accommodation with her children and whose childhood home was boarded up the day that her second parent died; she has no right of access.

One year ago, in May 2013, University College London was forced to withdraw from controversial plans negotiated with Newham council to build a £1 billion campus overlooking the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London, on the Carpenters Estate site. Despite a UCL spokesperson being quoted as saying that ‘This was an ambitious and extremely complex proposal and the process of intensive and lengthy examination has led us both to conclude that we cannot reach a commercial agreement’, the reality is that the deal was defeated by the militant and dedicated campaign by residents of the estate organised in Carpenters Against Regeneration Plans (CARP), alongside students from UCL. Focus E15 campaigners recently met Mary Finch, central to CARP, who has lived on the estate since it was built. She told Focus E15 that the future remains uncertain as Carpenters Estate is on prime land that Newham council wants for commercial and money-making purposes and does not care about working class communities, their homes or their security. The Carpenters and Docklands Youth Club, which used to be used by all the estate’s children is now rented out at commercial rates of £35 per hour for computer fairs.

The residents deal with the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) and at present are being kept in the dark about details of the future plans. Robin Wales, ruthless mayor of Newham, said of the Carpenters Estate situation: ‘It's always a balance if you want to do something for an area. What is the wider community getting at the expense of the inconvenience caused to local residents? People in Carpenters are concerned. I would be too. I completely understand that. But with UCL we would get an amazing, top university coming to the area. Our vision is for science and hi-tech providing jobs and skills. It would be such a good offer from the point of view of our kids.’

What hypocrisy, when the children of the mothers in hostels such as Focus E15, those in B&B accommodation, those falling into rent arrears because of soaring private rents and facing eviction, are being forced out of London into insecure expensive accommodation.

Meanwhile Focus E15 campaign is growing and reaching out. Having achieved victory with no mother and baby being housed outside of London, the task is to achieve the same for the 196 residents of the main block of the hostel who are facing eviction as the closure date nears. The battle is on to ensure that they are not sent out of London. East Thames Housing Association offers nothing and continues to build big new buildings with luxury apartments proudly boasting signs saying ‘affordable accommodation’ which is 80% of the unaffordable market rate. Newham council is being slippery with the facts, but it seems that under 35-year-olds are only entitled to a room allowance of £73 per week and that the financial support will only be short-lived. If they don’t find anything, and at that rate they are unlikely to, these young people are very likely to be subject to Newham’s social cleansing policies.

The battle goes on: the campaign is strong and is making links to radical housing groups and others in struggle. Follow the campaign on facebook (focusE15mothers) and get involved.

Victory to the Focus E15 campaign – social housing not social cleansing!

Hannah Caller