Focus E15 campaign: Social housing not social cleansing

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The Focus E15 campaign, which with the support of the RCG and other organisations fought a successful campaign to prevent young mothers being forced out of Newham last year, continues to play a leading role against social cleansing in London. Whether it is the increasing numbers of individuals approaching the campaign for help with housing issues, or acting in solidarity with the growing number of campaigns for social housing and against gentrification springing up across the capital, Focus E15 has shown that it is possible to fight back – and win.

Intentionally homeless

Newham’s Labour council once again showed its inhumanity on 16 January when Zineb and her three young children were forced to sleep on the floor of Forest Gate police station, after being forcibly removed from the council housing office at Bridge House. The family had been evicted at short notice by their private landlord. Newham Council offered Zineb housing in the north London borough of Barnet – nearly two hours by public transport from her work as a cleaner for Newham Council and from her children’s school. When she turned down the offer, they declared her ‘intentionally homeless’ and called the police. At the police station, the toilets were locked and the family was refused food or water – ‘This is not a hotel’, Zineb was told – and turfed back out on the streets at 7am.

Under the Localism Act 2011, councils need only make one offer of housing, however unsuitable or far away, in the private sector, to homeless people to whom they have a housing duty. If it is refused, the person is deemed intentionally homeless and the council washes its hands of them. This is key to the social cleansing being carried out by boroughs like Newham, which rehouses more homeless people outside its borders than any other inner-London council.

Luckily Zineb knew where to find the Focus E15 campaign, which holds a regular stall on the streets of Stratford every Saturday. The campaign immediately mobilised to provide the family with emergency housing over the weekend, contacted the media and rallied supporters to protest outside Bridge House first thing on the Monday morning. The council responded by shutting down the housing office for the whole day and calling the police. Zineb was forced to accept a property in Barnet for the night to avoid having to sleep rough with her children. But in the face of the campaign’s continuing protest, the following day, the council suddenly discovered it was able to find a privately-rented three-bedroom house in Newham after all. Meanwhile at least 400 council properties remain empty on the nearby Carpenter’s Estate.

Focus E15 street stall – a hub of resistance

Zineb is just one of the increasing number of people affected by the housing crisis who have come to join the Focus E15 stall. It remains the backbone of the campaign, a hub of community-led activity and radicalism. It is supported by housing activists from around the country, as well as from abroad, and includes communists and socialists. It forms a consistent central organising space for the fight for decent council housing and against gentrification.

In turn, the Focus E15 campaign works in solidarity with others who are fighting for their homes. In January, the campaign co-hosted an action with the campaigners at the Fred John Towers in Leytonstone, who are fighting Waltham Forest’s redevelopment plans which would slash social housing in the blocks. Supporters gathered at the towers to mobilise resistance, knocking on doors and handing out leaflets.

Along with the victorious New Era campaign from Hoxton (who won their battle against the exorbitant rent rises that would have forced them from their homes), Focus E15 supported a day of action by the Our West Hendon housing campaign in Barnet. The huge estate has been handed over to private developers Barratt Homes and Metropolitan Homes for ‘regeneration’, Hundreds of council tenants face being rehoused miles away from their community: only 12.5% of the 2,000 new homes that will replace the 679 residences being demolished will be classed as ‘affordable’ (an unaffordable 80% of market rent) – a net reduction of 199 homes classed as affordable or social on the site. ‘We are being forced out of our homes, our housing torn down, our presence eradicated, in order to make way for luxury developments, from which we are excluded,’ campaigner Karim Khalick told a public inquiry challenging the plans. ‘What can you call that, other than social cleansing?’

Saskia O’Hara and Jasmin Stone

Newham’s Labour mayor shows ‘lack of respect’ for the public

Newham mayor Robin Wales, has been found guilty of showing a lack of respect to the public, in breach of the council’s Members Code of Conduct. The council’s investigation arose from Wales’s response to Focus E15 mothers at the Newham Mayor’s Show in July 2014. When approached by the campaigners, Wales became apoplectic with rage and aggressive, and had to be physically restrained by a member of staff. Local activist Kevin Blowe submitted an official complaint after viewing video footage of the event (www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsPxa ncNiqk&hd=1). Wales, who refused to co-operate with the investigation, will now be advised by Newham Standards Committee on his future conduct when dealing with members of the public. This is a victory for everyone who has been on the receiving end of Wales’s arrogance and contempt towards working class people. It is time for Robin Wales, who has ruled Newham council as his personal fiefdom for 13 years, to go.

Housing crisis in London

Central London is a construction site, as luxury flats for wealthy, predominantly overseas investors continue to spring up, driving up house prices and rents and forcing the working class out of the capital. 80% of units on four recent Thameside developments were bought by overseas investors. Developers Berkeley Group were forced to withdraw one of their adverts for the properties, which showed a buyer flying into London in a private jet and sipping champagne before snapping up a bijou property as a surprise gift for his girlfriend. Berkeley Group is now developing a 50-storey tower at Blackfriars Bridge, where flats will cost up to £23m. In Greenwich in southeast London, developers used the fact that they had – with council collusion – managed to wangle their way out of providing any social housing at all in a luxury riverside development as a key selling point. Greenwich is the eighth most deprived borough in London.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 243 February/March 2015

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