Lewisham Council: stop making people homeless

In the face of rising homelessness in Lewisham, southeast London, the RCG is amongst those beginning to confront the Labour council through the Lewisham Housing Action Group (LHAG). On 16 June, along with Lewisham People before Profit and activists from Left Unity, we demonstrated outside the council building in Catford in support of local resident Sandra, highlighting the issue of the borough’s ‘hidden homeless’.

Sandra has been homeless since last year. She has been let down by the council time and time again since losing her privately-rented accommodation after she had to give up her job in the NHS for health reasons. Following her eviction – and despite a range of serious medical problems – she has been sleeping on a friend’s sofa. The council refuses to rehouse her, saying she is not in priority need; Sandra has been left to try private landlords, who discriminate against people on Housing Benefit. Lewisham Council no longer helps finance deposits, due to the local credit union pulling out of the deal. Sandra has started working again part-time but is unable to afford a deposit. She is one of hundreds of people we have encountered on our stalls in Catford who are excluded from the housing waiting list and struggle to get any help from the council at all. Since our protest, however, the council has agreed to reassess Sandra’s case.

We are also meeting many women with children, the majority single parents, who – despite being in what the council considers ‘priority need’ for housing – have been left in inadequate temporary accommodation such as bed and breakfasts and hostels for months, even years. Several are so angry at the council’s lies that they are getting involved in the work of LHAG.

The reality is that Lewisham Council has built just six council homes in the past 40 years, despite having around 18,000 households on its waiting list. There are currently 550 people housed in B&Bs, at a cost of £4m a year. Meanwhile the council continues to sell off public land to private developers. Lewisham’s flagship ‘Gateway’ development contains not even one ‘affordable’ unit (ie 80% of market rent). The new Barratt’s development at the old Catford dog track will contain 419 expensive private flats (one-beds start at £256,000) and 113 housing association homes at ‘affordable’ rent, but no properties for social rent at all.

Activists from LHAG confronted Steve Bullock, Mayor of Lewisham, at Lewisham People’s Day on 11 July about his policy of selling off land to private developers (a sponsor of the event was in fact L&Q – one of the housing associations responsible for the social cleansing and gentrification of Lewisham). We waved banners and interrupted the mayor’s speeches as he roamed around the fair, surrounded by security guards, schmoozing local businesses and charities (see video: https://youtu.be/LuVap8OkZyk). We have a regular stall under the Black Cat in Catford every Saturday from 12 to 2.30pm, followed by a LHAG meeting at Catford Constitutional Club – come and make your voice heard.

Anthony Rupert

FRFI 246 August/September2015


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