AROUND 1,500 Londoners gathered in Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park on Saturday 30th January for a rally and march to protest at the Housing Bill currently making its way through Parliament. The march was organised by Lambeth Unite Community branch with other housing groups such as Defend Council Housing.
This Bill will accelerate the social cleansing process now going on throughout London and many other cities in the UK, whereby the costs of renting or buying a home are rising beyond the reach of most working class people and the middle classes as well.
The Bill will promote the right of council tenants to buy their homes – a process that has seen millions of council homes transfer into private hands and end up in the hands of corporate landlords charging thousands of pounds in rent a month.
The Bill also aims to end council housing altogether by urging councils to sell off “high value” homes if they become empty and to reinvest the money in building “high quality homes” – which no ordinary people can afford.
London is already now full of beautiful private estates and tower blocs, with many apartments standing empty because they have been bought by investors from around the world who are counting on the price of housing in London continuing to rocket.
The rise in house prices and private rents has been extraordinary and economists warn that this is a bubble which has to burst at some time. People are being forced to pay hundreds of pounds per week to rent a mattress in a cramped cupboard.
There are no controls on rents nor on the quality of the accommodation being offered, and racketeering slum landlordism is on the rise again.
Dozens of giant council estates have already been demolished to make way for these luxury estates and the tenants have been forced to move well outside London, sometimes hundreds of miles away from their families, communities and schools – or face life on the streets.
Small traders are also affected by their rents tripling within a couple of years. The traders operating fruit and vegetable stalls from under the railway arches in Brixton market are being forced out to make way for up-market dining places.
Speakers at the rally included Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and some local Labour councillors.
These councillors were given a rough ride by the crowd – they were the ones who had decided to hand over their entire housing stock management to a local estate agent and to go ahead with demolishing council estates such as the Aylesbury to make way for luxury homes.
Hecklers challenged speakers repeatedly about a series of evictions of protestors at the Aylesbury Estate. This estate is being torn down by a partnership of Southwark Council and the Notting Hill Housing Trust (NHHT). The NHHT is one of a new breed of housing associations turned property developers, who specialise in knocking down council housing and replacing them with shared ownership private homes or apartments at “affordable rents”, that is at up to 80 per cent of private sector rents.
Its chief executive, Kate Davies – pay £205,000 a year – is on record as saying that “council estates are ghettos of needy people” and that “private ownership is preferable to state provided solutions”.
Not to be outdone, the leader of Lambeth Council Lib Peck, member of the right-wing Progress group in the Labour Party, also turned up on the march. Peck also has a record of evicting tenants and destroying housing co-ops that ran short life properties in Lambeth.
The Housing Bill will also introduce a pay-to-stay tax if a household earns more than £40,000. Council tenancies will be reduced to last between two to five years and will be continually reviewed, giving no security of tenure.
Various housing community struggles were represented such as the Cressingham Gardens Estate group battling with Lambeth Council, which wants to demolish their homes, and Central Hill Estate involved in a similar struggle.
Lambeth tenants and activists were joined by others from Southwark and Lewisham and from across north London to march over Westminster Bridge to rally outside one of David Cameron’s many homes at 10 Downing Street. On the way some young marchers tried to invade local estate agents but did not succeed.