Savills: scouting for capital

Cressingham
The banner here was made by Andrew Cooper with young people in Brixton from threatened housing estates for a youth housing march from the centre of Brixton to Cressigham Gardens (threatened with demolition) with the RCG and the rapper Potent Whisper.

Savills presents itself as ‘a global real estate services provider’, with 700 offices and associates and 30,000 staff operating in the UK, the Americas, Europe, Asia, the Pacific, Africa and the Middle East.  It functions as a scout for international capital, identifying land and property where surplus funds can be profitably invested. In January 2016, Savills delivered a report to the British government on the future of council housing estates in London and it has been commissioned by London boroughs to survey and advise on their council housing stock and estate management. Savills presents what it claims are solutions to London’s housing crisis that have to appeal both to local authorities and expand the role of private finance in housing provision. The housing crisis and land prices provide opportunities for profits with the sale of public land that Savills and the corporations it serves cannot resist and towards which London’s councils are lured. TREVOR RAYNE reports. 

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Housing in briefs

Boundary House mothers fight social cleansing

Families housed in inadequate temporary accommodation, many of them single mothers, are leading the fightback against Waltham Forest Labour council and private management company Theori Housing (see FRFI 252) with the support of the Focus E15 campaign and the RCG. Having been socially cleansed from East London and now living in Boundary House, which is managed by Theori in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire they are challenging the legality of their temporary accommodation.

Boundary House was never designed to house families. Damp and cockroaches fill these bedsits, with narrow windows only a few feet from the ground, which can’t be locked and pose a safety risk to small children. Yet the Director of Housing for Waltham Forest Council says standards at Boundary House are 'legally acceptable'.

The residents are demanding safe and decent homes, and an official investigation into the suitability of Boundary House as family accommodation. They want the council to break off its contract with private management company Theori. Join the protest outside Theori on Friday 28 October, 11am-5pm, 840 High Road, Leyton E10 6AE.

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Who will build homes for the working class?

WalthamForest Fe15

In 1979, 42% of the population in Britain lived in publicly-funded housing; today the figure is less than 8%. One and a half million households are on housing waiting lists, while 630,000 homes in England lie empty. In the last year alone, 80,000 local authority and housing association homes have been lost to the private sector. British capitalism in crisis is no longer willing to meet the costs of state welfare for the mass of the working class. The decimation of council housing over the last 50 years has forced the poorest sections of the working class back into the insecure, substandard and overcrowded accommodation which has always characterised its living conditions under capitalism. Cat Wiener asks: ‘Who will build homes for the working class?’

Housing crisis: the capitalist norm

Today, evictions in England and Wales are at their highest levels ever; homelessness is increasing, with rough sleeping up by 30% in the last year alone, and thousands of households living in shoddy temporary accommodation. In the private sector, overcrowding, vermin, damp and cold are rife, and harassment, theft and negligence by private landlords are commonplace. The most vulnerable, such as migrants and young people, are easy prey for unscrupulous landlords renting out garages, sheds and even stairwells.

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Pay more to stay – no way

From April 2017, 130,000 council tenants whose annual household income exceeds £31,000 (£40,000 in London) will have to pay 15p extra rent for every pound by which their income exceeds these thresholds. Councils must hand the surplus that they receive over to central government. The measure is voluntary for housing associations, but as they can keep the extra money, it may be lucrative for housing associations in London and the South East. The 15p per pound taper was a grudging concession by the government which originally wanted tenants whose incomes exceeded the thresholds to pay a full market rent; for London tenants this would have meant an average hike of £1,000 per month.

The government claims that this measure will ensure that the rents of ‘high income’ tenants are not subsidised by the ‘taxpayer’, and that it is only right that they should pay more. Yet ‘household income’ is defined as the joint income of the two highest-paid household members. A couple each working full-time on the government’s National Living Wage, as it is likely to stand in April 2017, will be earning over £31,000; on the current Living Wage Foundation’s living wage of £8.25 per hour outside London they will be earning over £34,000. These are not ‘high income’ tenants by any stretch of the imagination: but when it comes to defining who is poor and who is rich the government has a variety of yardsticks. A household on £85,000 is deemed to be too poor to buy a home, and so can get support to do so under Shared Ownership or Help to Buy. Tenants eligible for the Right to Buy extension will be eligible for a discount of over £100,000 regardless of their income, an amount which will be a huge subsidy for the better-off.

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Victory for Aylesbury Estate leaseholders

On 13 September leaseholders on south London’s Aylesbury Estate won a significant victory against Southwark Council and the Notting Hill Housing Trust (NHHT) over plans to demolish their homes with minimal compensation. In a damning judgment delivered by Inspector Lesley Coffey on behalf of the Department of Communities and Local Government, the gov-ernment rejected the compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) on their properties.

Coffey cited an abuse of the leaseholders’ human rights by the council and a disproportionate impact on black and ethnic minority residents. This ruling will provide ammunition for all those fighting against the demolition of their homes.

NHHT plans for the Aylesbury – one of the largest council estates in the country – would involve razing 2,700 council homes, to be replaced with nearly 3,000 homes for private sale and 2,288 for ‘affordable’ – ie 80% of market – rent. Southwark Council says it will appeal against the ruling and in the meantime demolish the estate around the leaseholders’ homes. Now is the time to step up the fight to save the Aylesbury.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 253 October/November 2016