Housing & Community Groups Demand Southwark Council Reconsider Attendance at MIPIM Property Fair

Dear Peter John,

We were extremely concerned to discover that the London Borough of Southwark will be attending the MIPIM property fair at Olympia, London from 15 to 17 October. As you will know, given your attendance at MIPIM in 2013, which was paid for by Lend Lease, the developers of the Heygate site, MIPIM has been held every year in Cannes in France and is to take place for the first time in Britain this October. Alongside Southwark Council, MIPIM will be attended by developers, lawyers, banks and investors.

Since the MIPIM website says that it is ‘the first UK property trade show gathering all professionals looking to close deals on the UK property market’, we were wondering why Southwark Council would go and what kind of ‘deals’ will the council be seeking to strike and how will these deals benefit tenants and local council residents?

In consideration of the harm the deals struck at MIPIM are likely to do to local residents, Hammersmith and Fulham, the host borough, has, following the defeat of local Conservatives and Labour taking control of the council, pulled out of the fair and is attempting to recoup its stall costs. The Tower Hamlets Council Assembly last week resolved not to attend MIPIM and condemned the profit-driven housing policy that it represents and furthers.

As well as their role in pushing up rents for private tenants and destroying council housing, the attending developers have a shocking record of affordable housing provision, reflected in the workshop title “Affordable Housing: Is it Worth It?”

As members of a number of groups from across the borough and from various housing tenures who are concerned with housing and the effects of ‘regeneration’ which has, to date, failed to provide any benefits whatsoever to residents and areas being ‘regenerated’ we call on you and the London Borough of Southwark to reconsider your attendance at MIPIM and show that you are fully committed to a housing policy in the interest of local people and NOT those of private profits.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours Sincerely,

Southwark Tenants
People’s Republic of Southwark
Southwark Notes
Elephant Amenity Network

Southwark Defend Council Housing

London Renters Groups extremely disappointed by Wandsworth’s Use of Community Benefit Clause to build Homes for Private Rent

We are extremely disappointed by Wandsworth Council’s decision to use a planning provision that should be used in the interest of the local community, for example by providing social or other genuinely affordable housing or facilities, to encourage a developer to build more expensive privately rented housing. We are also concerned that other councils in London may seek to repeat this.

Wandsworth Council have used a Section 106 agreement, which is supposed to ensure that private developments do not run counter to community’s interest by making developers to contribute to offset negative impacts of development. London Renters believes that the developer, Bellway’s, building of 114 units of privately rented housing at market rents is not of benefit to the community. Wandsworth Council believe that attracting more “young, upwardly mobile singles and couples” to the borough represents a community benefit, this parallels statements by other London councils seeking to attract a “better class of tenant” to their borough. We do not believe the social cleansing of the old, poor and children is of benefit to communities in London.

As renters in London, we know that for tenants private renting is highly exploitative and very rarely meets our needs- indeed research conducted by Shelter shows that only 6% of renters would stay in the PRS given the choice. We do not believe that local or central government should be encouraging the building of more of these homes.

Activists occupy Department of Communities and Local Government in protest at evictions

Housing campaigners from London Renters today occupied the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in protest at evictions and insecurity of tenure. The campaigners bedded down in sleeping bags in the department’s lobby to highlight how being evicted by a private landlord has become the leading cause of homelessness. [1]

The protest follows reports of a workshop held by DCLG about ways of making it easier for landlords to evict tenants. [2] The campaigners want secure tenancies for all tenants, and in particular an end to ‘no fault’ evictions. [3]

Members of the groups behind the protest have themselves been evicted for asking for repairs to be done or joining a local tenants’ campaign. Recent research by Shelter found that 1 in 33 renters had been a victim of retaliatory eviction, and one in eight were so fearful of it that they did not ask for repairs to be done.[4]

Emma Bradshaw, one of the activists, said: “It is already easier to evict a tenant in the UK than it is in any other European country and it is disgraceful that the government are thinking about making it even easier.Landlords ending private tenancies are now the main cause of homelessness and the number of evictions has been soaring since 2010 [5]. Instead of making it easier for landlords to evict tenants, we need secure tenancies to reduce homelessness and allow people to build lives in their communities without fear.”

As part of a consultation on property conditions in the private rented sector, there has been a proposal to prevent landlords evicting tenants where they have complained about serious disrepairs. [6] However, this would still leave tenants at risk of eviction for things like being involved in private tenants groups or questioning a rent increase. There is also no guarantee that this proposal will be implemented.

Raymond Ambler from London Renters said: “While we would welcome restrictions on the ability of landlords to issue section 21 possession notices where a property is in disrepair or needs improvements, we consider that alone this is not adequate to address the wider problem of insecurity of tenure in the private rented sector. For example, tenants also fear evictions for joining or being seen to be involved in private tenants groups or other housing campaigns, questioning rent increases or asking permission to make changes to their home or living arrangements like hanging pictures or keeping a pet. We consider that section 21 should be removed entirely, and private tenants should have the same rights and security as social tenants with secure tenancies.

“In the case of preventing retaliatory eviction in response to a tenant’s request for repairs, we consider that the restriction on the use of section 21 possession notices should cover any complaint about property conditions, not just where serious disrepair or the need for major improvements is found.”

For more information, interviews and images, contact letdown.action@gmail.com

Notes to editors

  1. The end of an assured shorthold tenancy (AST – the standard private tenancy) was the single greatest cause of homelessness in 2013, accounting for one in four cases, up from one in nine cases in 2009.Source:https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/homelessness-statistics
  2. Source: http://blogs.channel4.com/cathy-newman-blog/government-plans-evictions-easier-leaves-tenants-fearful/489
  3. Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 enables landlords to evict tenants without any reason with two months notice after the initial term of an assured shorthold tenancy. For more information, seehttp://england.shelter.org.uk/get_advice/eviction/eviction_of_private_tenants/eviction_of_assured_shorthold_tenants
  4. Source:https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/283979/Review_of_Property_Conditions_in_the_Private_Rented_Sector__2_.pdf
  5. Source: http://www.crisis.org.uk/news.php/495/private-tenants-see-eviction-orders-soar
  6. See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-of-property-conditions-in-the-private-rented-sector

Renters Occupy Luxury Tower in Elephant and Castle

Housing campaigners today ‘moved in’ to a luxury flat in the Strata Tower in Elephant and Castle, South London to protest against the participation of Boris Johnson and a number of local authorities in the MIPIM real estate fair this week in Cannes. Developers and local government representatives have been there to discuss property deals which will drive up housing costs and contribute to social cleansing in London. [i]

We protest

 

Last year’s MIPIM was attended by Peter John, leader of Southwark council and Southwark’s Chief Executive Eleanor Kelly, both of whose €1600 entry fees, travel costs and expenses were paid for by Lend Lease, the developer of the Heygate site in Elephant and Castle.[ii]  Lend Lease have attended again this year.

The Heygate estate was home to 1,200 families, most of whom were council tenants. Since 2007 all of these families have been evicted from their homes and neighbourhoods, as Southwark council demanded a “better class of people” live in the area. [iii] The site has been sold at a loss to Lend Lease[iv], which will be building just 71 social rented homes on the new site.

Urbanaut

It was claimed that the Strata would offer homes for a number of former Heyagte residents allowing them to stay in their neighbourhood. However, ultimately only five former Heygate leaseholders have moved in to tower, with the architect stressing, ‘Southwark council were keen Strata was not for families.’[v] The developer has boasted that ‘Strata’s ideal resident is an altogether wealthier breed of pioneering urbanaut.’[vi] Instead of providing homes for local residents, 75% of the Strata flats were sold off-plan (before they were even built) to investors who had no intention of living in them.[vii]

BedParty

 

Rents for a one bedroom flat in the Strata begin at over £1,500 a month[viii], meaning that they would only be affordable to a couple with a combined income of nearly £70,000 a year. [ix] The average household income in Southwark is around £17,000.

Raymond Ambler from Southwark Tenants said, “Southwark doesn’t need more luxury developments which we could never dream of affording. It needs more public housing like the public housing which used to be on the Heygate. If our public housing continues to be sold off so developers and investors can make a quick buck and nothing is done about spiralling rents, living in shipping containers like those currently on the Heygate site is likely to be one of the few housing options left for many people in London.” [x]

Anne Mason from Lambeth Renters said, “the Strata tower was the beginning of the social cleansing of Elephant with long-term residents driven out of London to make room for Southwark council’s ‘better class of people’ and allow investors who will never even see the homes they’ve bought to make huge profits while we struggle to find anywhere to live.’

The activists from Southwark Tenants and Lambeth Renters are calling for more genuinely affordable housing and controls to tackle spiralling rents.

Strata-spheric

For more information, images and interviews, contact:  southwarktenants@hotmail.com


[i] Held annually in Cannes, MIPIM brings local politicians together with investors, bankers and property developers to sell off public land and approve “regeneration” plans for hotels, offices, luxury property development and shopping centres.

[viii] Information from rightmove.co.uk

[ix] Shelter’s http://england.shelter.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/425708/London_Rent_Watch.pdf studies are based on rents being affordable if they take up no more than 35 per cent of net income.

[x] Shipping countainers are already being used to house the homeless in Brighton: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2521879/Shipping-containers-open-temporary-accommodation-homeless-Brighton.html

Interview on Let Down Renters Action

On Saturday 16th November, as part of Let Down, along with other members of private tenant groups in London, Southwark Tenants were involved in occupying a flat in Stratford Halo in protest against the government’s Build to Rent policy and more generally at the failure to address any of the problems that private renters face in London. Tom Gann,  a Southwark Tenants member, was interviewed by Dazed Digital, who edited the interview quite extensively so I thought I’d post my original answers here. 

 - So, why did you occupy a luxury flat in East London, and whose idea was it?

The flat we occupied is being let by Genesis who are applying to receive large sums of government money through the Build to Let scheme. Build to Let provides subsidised finance that because of the low rates of interest charged (below even the rate the government can borrow at) is going to cost the public at least £90 million. The cheap money is being offered without any demand from the government that the properties built are genuinely affordable. From a freedom of information request we made it seems almost certain that the properties being built are likely to be very similar to the one in Stratford Halo which we occupied. The rent on a two bedroom flat in Stratford Halo is £1700 a month, in order even to be allowed to view the property a group of four of us had to pretend our annual income was £150,000 a year. Instead of a considerable subsidy to big developers to build more unaffordable houses the government should be addressing the housing crisis by building more council houses (the £1 billion being loaned to developers at a loss to the public could have built 10,000 new council houses), reintroducing rent controls and making tenancies more secure. We noticed too that the policy had attracted almost no criticism so wanted to draw attention to it, since our action Owen Hatherley has written an excellent critique of Build to Rent for the Guardian.

The inspiration for our protest was a French militant housing group Jeudi Noir who, as well as other actions, have occupied expensive rented properties (Thursday is the day rental adverts appear in Paris) and held parties in them to highlight France’s housing crisis. We thought if public money is subsidising Genesis we should move into our homes and have a housewarming party.

- Who was involved in the protest, and how many took part?

The protest was carried out by Let Down which is a campaigning group born out of London Renters, it includes members from Digs (Hackney Renters), Haringey Private Tenants Action Group, Tower Hamlets Renters, Lambeth Renters, Southwark Tenants, Camden Federation of Private Tenants and Advice for Renters (Brent). About 15 of us occupied the flat and held a housewarming party, ten more people held a solidarity demonstration outside the tower and handed out leaflets to the public.

- Why do you think private renting and property development is in trouble? 
-  Who do you think is to blame for the situation?

I think it probably makes sense to group these questions together.

I don’t think property development is in trouble- at least in London and the South-East (and one reason for the problems private renters face is the concentration of wealth and jobs in London); private renters are, however, and the two are linked. On one level nobody is to blame, except for the rump of remaining council housing, housing in Britain operates within a capitalist system, this is becoming even more acute as housing associations abandon, with some encouragement from the government, a social duty in favour of a logic of profit. For a tenant a house satisfies a need but for developers and landlords properties are capital, and an extremely good source of income, and given the problems in the British economy one of the only good sources, at least in London and the South-East. This also means as private tenants we experience our house in a radically different way from our not only our landlords but also a media and government obsessed with growth through increasing property prices. Housing being a vehicle for profit is not restricted to “British” capital, the new “luxury” properties (although they’re going to be much smaller than the council houses they replace) in the Heygate in Southwark are being marketed first in Singapore and Guangzhou (China’s most neoliberal city). Unsurprisingly developers and landlords want to make as much money as possible so not only are extremely resistant to any policies that will bring down rents but also influence the government (and the current government are very happy to be influenced) to introduce policies that will help them make more profits. Build to Rent is an example of this, it’s not exactly a free market policy, it involves government intervention to favour big developers, if I were a small landlord I’d be up in arms about the policy too.

Equally, most other countries, including most states in the USA have government policies that ameliorate the worst capitalist aspects of housing such as having more social housing, various forms of rent controls and longer and more secure tenancies. I don’t think we grasp how odd our housing situation is in comparison with other countries and successive British governments have made the housing situation much worse for the vast majority: Thatcher’s for abolishing almost all rent controls and selling off council housing especially as it was sold off in such a way that councils couldn’t replace it, Blair’s and Brown’s for doing very little to address the situation and the current government for making a horrendous situation, particularly for families, worse through Housing Benefit caps and the Bedroom Tax.

- For you personally, when did you realise that something needed to be done? Was there a personal encounter you had, or a tipping point? 

Actually, unlike a lot of private tenants in London I haven’t had any abnormally awful experiences, my landlords have usually been personally quite pleasant. Like any private tenant in London, though, despite the pleasantness of most of my landlords I have had to move house at short notice, had my rent increased considerably, had to pay extortionate fees to letting agents, struggled to find a home I could afford, lost some of my deposit and had difficulty getting repairs done. All of the members of Southwark Tenants have had similar and often much worse experiences renting in London.

- What did the protest involve, and how long did it last?

You can see on the video we made and in the photos. We occupied a flat for just over an hour and held a party with cheap sparkling wine (a few people, thinking it was actual champagne have criticised our Bollinger Bolshevism, though, actually, on my salary I can afford very occasional bottles of champagne, I certainly couldn’t afford the rent in Stratford Halo) The weirdest thing was that the letting agent was showing someone round while we were holding our protest. When the police arrived and turned off the music we cleaned up to avoid being arrested for criminal damage and left.  Genesis described the protest as “relatively peaceful”. I’m not sure where that relatively comes from.

- What did the police say when they came to break it up? Did they seem sympathetic? 

The police seemed fairly sympathetic- much more sympathetic than at other political action I’ve been involved in. I think some of this is due to the fact it would be increasingly difficult to live in London on a police officer’s pay. We asked one police officer whether he would be able to live here and he said he wouldn’t but then said that was “just the way of the world”. I think that long-suffering attitude is what we need to fight against.

- What kind of future do you envision, if the situation continues at the same pace? 

I think it’s pretty obvious, everything that’s happening at the moment will continue but will intensify- the catastrophe is just that it goes on like this. There will be more street homelessness, which will be compounded by cuts to shelters and women’s refuges. Much of London will become affordable only for the very rich, particularly as housing benefit cuts take effect. For all London’s flaws and injustices one thing it has had is that rich and poor have, unlike in say Paris, lived in fairly close proximity to each other. However, because London needs ordinary workers people will have to commute long distances or live in “houses” that are crowded to the point of being deeply unsafe- the housing conditions of a lot of workers in London will look very similar to those of the workers in Guangzhou who are generating the capital used to buy up a lot of developments.  It will be close to impossible for all but the very rich to raise a family in London. Finally, and compared to these it’s much less significant but vital to the “character” of the city, living any sort of creative or artistic live will become close to impossible. All of this is happening now but it’s going to get much worse.

- What should regular people like you and me do to help the situation? 

Organise. If you live in Southwark, Lambeth, Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Camden, Brent, Haringey or Islington get involved with the excellent private tenants groups there. If you don’t, set one up, it’s not too difficult, any of the existing groups will be happy to provide advice. Familiarise yourself with your rights as a tenant, you don’t have many rights but landlords often do break the law and exercising your rights won’t only help you but also discourage landlords from some of the worst abuses more generally. We’re doing research at the moment that suggests perhaps up to 40% of tenants haven’t had their deposits protected, it’s possible to get quite a lot of compensation for landlords breaking the law here.  Southwark Tenants are going to be running a joint event in early 2014 with Lambeth Renters to help tenants know their rights. Lobby government, especially local government, a number of local councils including Southwark are introducing or considering introducing forms of landlord licensing which, whilst it won’t resolve all the problems private renters face will improve things if it’s introduced. There are council elections in 2014 which gives you a bit of power. We’re going to be asking Southwark Council candidates to establish a not for profit letting agency which will hopefully undercut the absurd fees most letting agents charge.

- Are you planning to occupy more luxury condos in the future? 

Given the problems private renters face aren’t going to be solved soon we’re going to be taking more action.

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