Focus E15 campaign: fighting for housing justice

Council housing not luxury apartments

Labour-controlled London borough New’ham, home of the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, is the second poorest borough in England; 25% of homes are overcrowded. A recent ONS report showed that Newham has one of the lowest levels of healthy life expectancy, at 57.9 years for men and 56.8 years for women – 20 years less than in affluent Kensington and Chelsea in west London.

But what does Labour Mayor Robin Wales care about poverty, inequality, and poor health? With a salary over £100,000 plus expenses last year totalling more than £80,000 and a stake in the council-owned home-building company Red Door Ventures, he can swagger around selling off Newham’s assets at property fairs while at the same time shamelessly distributing leaflets asking residents which essential services should be slashed for the council to make £50m cuts.

Newham has over 15,000 families on its housing waiting list, the fifth highest in London. It regularly sends those it has a duty to house out of borough and indeed out of London. This is social cleansing, ripping people out of their communities, forcing children to leave their schools, families and friends. 43% of households in Newham are private renters – the second highest of all London boroughs. A two-bedroom flat costs £1,160 per month to rent and £250,000 to buy, while the median annual salary is £20,498.

Meanwhile, more than 400 homes on the council’s Carpenters Estate are left empty, while Newham encourages the building of luxury apartments with little or no social or ‘affordable’ housing. In November, the chair of the Residents Steering Group on the Carpenters Estate spoke in the council meeting defending the rights of tenants on the estate, arguing that any redevelopment should take account of their views and be financially affordable. He was immediately knocked back by Robin Wales, who refused to listen to him speak of social cleansing.

Luxury apartments

Gentrification has been Robin Wales’s watchword since first elected in 1995; he dreams of ‘making Newham the new Islington’. Within spitting distance of the Carpenters Estate, the Stratosphere is a 36-storey skyscraper, owned and marketed by Telford Homes. The website boasts that residents will benefit from a 24-hour concierge, roof-top garden and gym. It is only partially built, yet 95% of flats have been sold off-plan. The remaining two- or three-bedroom flats are on the market for £750,000.

Focus E15 on the streets: fighting for housing justice

Bianca, from the neighbouring borough of Redbridge, regularly joins us on our weekly street stall in Stratford. In October, housing campaigners and members of the RCG joined Bianca and her family when they went to Redbridge housing office. Bianca has two young children but, for the second time, was facing eviction after a private landlord sold the property she was living in. She has now been in B&B accommodation in Newham for more than six weeks, the legal limit. She and her children are in one room, with two beds, a cot, a table and no floor space left, no stair gate on the landing and there are rats in the building. She received a letter from the Housing Options Officer at Red’bridge Council confirming that she is eligible for assistance, is homeless and in priority need, has not made herself intentionally homeless and has local connection to Redbridge borough – basically all the hoops you need to jump through to get within sniffing distance of social housing. Yet she is still waiting. We demonstrated inside the housing office and got immense support from the people in the waiting room, who told us their own desperate stories.

Joining the campaign has shown Bianca that she is not alone.

Hannah Caller and Jasmin Stone

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 248 December 2015/January 2016

 

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