Social housing, not social cleansing: occupying a boarded-up east London council house

Tony Gosling tony at
Wed Sep 24 13:17:40 BST 2014

Why I’m occupying a boarded-up east London council house
A group of local mothers are squatting next to 
London’s Olympic Park to tell the government we 
need social housing, not social cleansing
    * <>Jasmin Stone
Tuesday 23 September 2014 15.11 BST
Focus E15 mums evicted from hostel

The Focus E15 mums when they were evicted from 
their hostel last year. They are now occupying a 
flat on the Carpenters Estate in east London. Photograph: David Levene

My daughter was 13 months old when I received the 
eviction notice. I was living in a hostel in 
Stratford, London E15. The letter said that we 
had two months to get out. We were homeless; 
that’s why we were in the hostel in the first 
place. We didn’t have anywhere else to go. There 
were 210 other young women living there. Now it’s 
luxury flats. The council said they would rehouse 
us, but it turned out they were threatening to 
move us hundreds of miles away, to Manchester, Hastings and Birmingham.

When we met Newham’s Labour mayor, Sir Robin 
Wales, he told us: “if you can’t afford to live 
in Newham, you can’t afford to live in Newham”.

We grew up in Newham. We find this attitude 
disgusting. No one on low wages or benefits, or 
even an average income, can afford to live here.

Newham is a place for a variety of people, not 
just one class. We know that Newham is not alone 
either – people are being displaced every day 
from boroughs all over London. This is why we 
formed the 
E15 Mothers campaign to fight for decent, local 
social housing for all those who need it.
People outside a boarded-up council house occupied by Focus E15

This weekend, the Open House event ran across 
London. It gave people the opportunity to go 
inside buildings across the capital that are 
usually closed to the public. We decided to 
participate by opening up a closed council house 
on the Carpenters Estate, a large public housing 
estate next to the Olympic Park. Many residents 
have been evicted and cleared out of here by 
Newham council, which is trying to capitalise on 
the Olympics by selling the land off to private 
developers. They have tried every trick in the 
book to get rid of the remaining residents. They 
even told them there was asbestos in the tower 
blocks to get them out before the Olympics, and 
then let al-Jazeera and the BBC use one of the 
blocks during the games. Now the estate remains 
empty except for a handful of people.

The boarded-up house we have opened is in 
beautiful condition. It has running water, a 
power shower, working gas and electricity. Just 
by adding a sofa, table and chairs and some 
plants, we have turned this house into a home, 
and solved the housing crisis for one of the 
6,500 rough sleepers or thousands of other 
homeless people in London. Newham council claims 
it can’t afford to house us, yet it found the 
money to hire dozens of private security guards 
on Sunday to try, unsuccessfully, to keep us out 
of the empty properties on the Carpenters Estate.

There are more than 2,000 other properties on the 
Carpenters Estate alone that could be made 
available as homes almost instantly. But the 
council leaves them to rot and deteriorate 
through weather damage, so they are in a bad 
enough way for the council to say they are in an unliveable condition.

Housing in London is now a commodity that the 
super-rich buy, like fine wine or art. It has 
been dubbed the “tax-haven on the Thames”. At 
least £122bn of property in England and Wales is 
held through companies registered in offshore tax 
havens, resulting in the loss of billions of 
pounds of tax that could be used to rebalance the housing market.

We wanted to participate in Open House to show 
how many houses sit empty in London and what an 
easy solution there is to the housing crisis.

This crisis, as it is usually covered in the 
newspapers, is one experienced by the middle 
classes, whose steady march from private renting 
to home ownership has been stopped in its tracks 
by the hugely inflated market. For members of the 
working class, however, the crisis is much more 
virulent. It involves not only the prospect of 
annual rent increases, the impossibility of home 
ownership and poor-quality housing, but also 
removal and displacement from the place in which 
you were born, leading to isolation in a place 
where you know nobody and opportunities for jobs are non-existent.

A new type of housing has been put in place 
housing”, which has replaced social housing. It 
sounds good, but affordable housing costs up to 
80% of the market rate – and is still 
ridiculously unaffordable. It makes no more sense 
to have a free market in housing than one in education, water or healthcare.

Housing, like these other things, is a basic 
human right, not a privilege. This is why we are 
demanding social housing, not social cleansing. 
In addition, rent caps to limit out-of-control 
rents, mansion taxes and higher stamp duty for 
the wealthiest would be simple reforms that have 
a dramatic impact on housing. Simply taking 
action to restrict the privileges of the 1% could 
result in a relatively fairer housing situation in London.

• The Carpenters Open House will run until 28 
September. All are welcome to come and view the 
house and engage in discussions about how to address the housing crisis
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