Join the ‘March for Homes’ in London This Saturday, January 31

29.1.15

The house made out of estate agents' boards erected outside Lewisham Council's offices in Catford, south east London, by the campaigning group People Before Profit, highlighting housing need in the borough (Photo: Andy Worthington).This Saturday I’ll be joining the “March for Homes” in London, as campaigning groups and individuals call for controls on the private rental market and protection for social housing — and, ideally, a massive, not-for-profit, social homebuilding programme. One group who will be attending is People Before Profit, who, at the weekend, raised this excellent little house outside Lewisham Council’s offices. Campaigners have been sleeping in it at night ever since, and in the daytime collecting signatures on a petition to Lewisham’s Mayor, Steve Bullock, and educating passers-by about the deplorable housing situation in Lewisham — replicated across London’s 32 boroughs, of course — and calling for local housing needs to be addressed, and not the profits of developers, who are all over Lewisham like a plague. Spokesman John Hamilton said, “We want all new housing to be affordable,” and also highlighted the 600 families currently living in temporary accommodation in the borough. “We need drastic action,” he added.

On Saturday, campaigners from across London — myself included — will be marching to City Hall — that odd little lop-sided egg near Tower Bridge, part of the horribly corporate More London development — to tell London’s addled Mayor, Boris Johnson, that drastic action is indeed needed on housing. That’s at 2pm, and is preceded by two marches beginning at 12 noon — one from south London and one from the east.

The south London meeting point (see the map here and the Facebook page) is St. Maryʼs Churchyard, just south of the Elephant & Castle, London SE1 6SQ (nearest tube/rail Elephant & Castle), the protected green space next to two new developments — to the north, ‘One the Elephant,’ a 37-storey tower — with no social housing component — that is being built by Lend Lease (the Australian developers who snapped up the Heygate Estate from the Labour Council for a mere £50m) and to the south, a 44-storey tower — 360 London — that Mace and Essential Living are building, which “will provide 462 units, of which 188 will be affordable” (but only once the word “affordable” has been twisted out of all shape to mean 80% of market rents; in other words, unaffordable for most ordinary working people). According to the London SE1 website, “It will contain one of the largest number of homes for long-term private rental in the country when complete.” In addition, “The Peabody Housing Trust has been appointed to manage the affordable housing element with 159 shared ownership and 29 rental units.”

The east London meeting point (see the map here and the Facebook page) is outside St. Leonard’s Church, on Shoreditch High Street, London E1 6JN (nearest tube/rail Shoreditch High Street). The organisers state that the East London march “is led by community campaigns from across the area including Focus E15. The route is from Shoreditch via Brick Lane.”

The housing crisis in London is out of control, but you wouldn’t know anything about it if you are seduced by the aspirational advertising for overpriced new builds — mostly in huge tower blocks that maximise profits for developers to an unprecedented degree — or if you took out a mortgage before the casino housing bubble madness began. That was around the turn of the millennium, under the Blair/Brown government, when houses were “earning” more than the average worker, and that bubble, insanely, was revived under the current Tory-led government after a blip following the recession that was triggered by the banker-led global crash in 2008.

So unless you’ve benefited from the crazed house price inflation of the last 15 years, in which houses have gone up in “value” by, I would say, at least 500% — or if you are, for example, a professional couple, each on London’s “average” salary of £35,238, enabling you to enter the market at the bottom rung of the ladder — then you’re probably someone for whom rental costs — and your treatment by your landlord — are of huge significance.

Even that professional couple highlighted above — on £70,000+ a year — wouldn’t get much for what they could reasonably expect to raise to enter the housing market — around £350,000 — as the average price of a house in London is currently £437,068.

Renters, however, are being hit even harder. With no protections against greedy landlords, the rental market is spiralling out of control. Many people are now resorting to sharing a bedroom with a friend, or even a stranger, just to be able to live in the capital, as the Guardian reported last week, and when we look at current rents — averaging, anecdotally, around £15,000 a year for a couple — it’s easy to see how, as the “March for Homes” organisers’ explain, “tenants spend an average of 40 per cent of their income on rent.”

A couple on the median income in London currently earn £33,308, slightly less than if they were each on the London Living Wage (£8.80 an hour), earning £18,300 a year, and rather more than if they were both on the minimum wage (£6.31 an hour), earning just £13,124 a year for a 40-hour week (figures from g15, representing 15 housing associations, and the Daily Telegraph).

On this basis, it’s easy to see how rents can easily consume more than 40% of income, and can actually devour up to two-thirds of a couple’s income. In addition, this is a form of very personal — almost one-on-one — exploitation that is, frankly, pretty unsavoury, as well as draining money from the economy as whole, and the local economy in particular.

Exempt from this unfettered greed are those in social housing — via councils, co-ops and housing associations — where rents (including my own) are closer to what I regard as acceptable for basic rented accommodation — £50 per adult per week. But this sector too has been infected by greed. New tenancies must now be at 80% of market rent, and housing providers are also in full-blown betrayal of their roots, either through pressure from central government, or through an ideological drift of their own, and are increasingly becoming more and more involved in new builds, with a significant proportion of flats being built for private sale, and many others in the part-buy, part-rent market that, for the most part, seems to be yet another racket for fleecing tenants.

With other problems also on the agenda — the Tory-engineered benefit cap, which is forcing people out of the capital entirely, on a scale never seen before, and with all the social damage that causes to families, and the Tories’ despised bedroom tax, which is also driving people out of their homes, even through there are no alternative properties available in the social housing market for downsizing — it is to be hoped that many thousands of people turn up on Saturday for the “March for Homes.” I certainly hope so, although I am also, sadly, aware that much of the population is paralysed by a fatalism that has been assiduously promoted by politicians and the media for far too long, or is still barking up the wrong — racist — tree, thinking that immigration and Europe are the problem (they aren’t) and that Nigel Farage can provide some sort of coherent answer (he can’t).

Personally, I think we need a massive social homebuilding programme, a structured deflation of the housing bubble (and I’d particularly like a creative debate about how we could deflate the bubble without ruinous negative equity), tight rent controls, stimulus for self-builds, both in urban and rural settings, limits on foreign ownership of UK property, and an end to unfettered foreign investment for the exploitation of British workers, but most of all I’d like to see these ideas and others being discussed widely rather than being perpetually hurled to the sidelines as the uber-capitalist orgy of greed continues, largely unchallenged.

The “March for Homes’ is organised by Defend Council Housing, the South London People’s Assembly and Unite Housing Workers Branch LE1111, with support from a variety of organisations including the two organisations who dragged the housing crisis into the headlines last year — the Focus E15 Mothers, who occupied flats on a boarded-up council estate in Stratford, and the New Era 4 All Campaign, tenants on an estate in in Hoxton who fought back successfully against a corporate takeover. I wrote about both those campaigns here and here.

Also supporting the “March for Homes” is Generation Rent, which “campaigns for professionally managed, secure, decent and affordable private rented homes in sustainable communities,” the Radical Housing Network, Digs – Hackney Renters, Tower Hamlets Renters and a number of tenants’ organisations.

I hope to see some of you on Saturday, and below I’m posting two — slightly tweaked — documents from the “March for Homes” website, which provide some more thoughts about what the housing crisis is all about — the open letter, which you can see and sign here — and a list of demands.

The March For Homes’ open letter

The poster for the "March for Homes" in London on January 31, 2015.Government policies are stoking up the housing crisis blighting the lives of Londoners, with subsidies to lenders and developers, while tenants’ rights are undermined.

Over 344,000 are on council waiting lists. The average house price is sixteen times the average Londoner’s salary. Expensive, insecure and often poor quality private renting has become the only option for a quarter of us.

Private property developers are driving policy of Ministers and the London Mayor, building homes that few can afford, while many are forced to move out of the city. Our broken housing policy is damaging our communities.

The March for Homes is demanding change. Tenants, trade unionists and housing campaigners from all tenures and all parts of London will call on Boris Johnson and London councils to start building the thousands of new council homes we need, control private rents and stop the demolition of homes currently threatening over fifty estates.

The March for Homes will be the next step in the growing fight for decent, really-affordable, secure housing for all Londoners. We will ensure that this is an election issue in 2015.

Signed:

Diane Abbott MP, Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington
John McDonnell MP, Labour, Hayes and Harlington
Jeremy Corbyn MP, Labour, Islington North
Darren Johnson, Green Party London Assembly member, chair of Housing Committee
Ken Loach, film maker, director of ‘Cathy Come Home’
and others

The March for Homes’ demands

Rent control

Rents for all tenures are out of control. In the unregulated private rented sector, they’ve risen by 13 per cent a year since 2010 and tenants spend an average of 40 per cent of their income on rent.

The introduction of so-called “affordable rents” by the government will push up rents to 80 per cent of the market level for some council and housing association tenants.

Not surprisingly, the housing benefit bill is expected to reach £25 billion by 2017, but 40 per cent of claimants are in work.

Forty per cent of housing benefit ends up in the pockets of private landlords, at a cost of £9.5bn.

An end to the demolition of good-quality council homes

Across London, scores of council estates are facing profit-driven redevelopment that will reduce the number of council homes and replace them with expensive private apartments.

Established communities are in danger of being destroyed because people can’t afford to live in them.

Scrapping the bedroom tax and benefit caps

The cynical Con-Dem government has tried to blame the housing crisis on poor social housing tenants, including people with disabilities.

But the hated bedroom tax is a failed policy. It costs more to collect than it raises and has done nothing to increase the supply of homes.

A national programme of council housebuilding

The real reason we have a housing crisis is that councils have been stopped from building homes and housing associations haven’t filled the gap.

In 1970, 350,000 homes were built in the UK, split almost evenly between councils and the private sector, with a tiny number built by housing associations.

By 2014 the number of homes completed had fallen by two-thirds, almost all of them built by private developers, only a quarter by housing associations and virtually none by councils.

Secure tenancies for all

As well as pushing up rents, the government is deliberately weakening the legal rights for social housing tenants by introducing fixed-term tenancies.

Meanwhile, private-sector tenants face the possibility of eviction every six months.

Short-term tenancies allow slumlords to profiteer and get rid of tenants who demand repairs they’re entitled to.

High turnover also damages our communities, while the housing crisis stokes the bigotry UKIP feeds on.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, the director of “We Stand With Shaker,” calling for the immediate release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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6 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    I’ll be on the ‘March for Homes’ in London this Saturday, marching to City Hall to tell our addled Mayor, Boris Johnson, that urgent action is needed to protect social housing and provide genuinely affordable homes for all those Londoners excluded by the capital’s insane housing bubble and the profiteering of the developers filling the city with wildly overpriced glass towers.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    In the article, I don’t just promote the march; I also present my detailed analysis of what is wrong with the housing situation in London, which is something dear to my heart. I’ve lived here for 30 years and have never seen anything like the inequality that burdens us today. The greed is out of control, and millions of people’s lives are impoverished as a result. A seismic political change is needed, to stop the greedy from dominating the narrative and pretending that their myopic self-obsession is somehow either moral or just or helpful.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s an interesting article from Sputnik (Russian radio) about the Lewisham protest house, quoting Lewisham People Before Profit saying that the council “has built six new council homes in 40 years and has 2,521 empty homes.” They say, “As a nation we spend £27 billion on housing benefit. More and more homes are going up in Lewisham not to support or deal with local housing need, but to boost the profit and wealth of overseas investors.” The same story is echoed throughout London’s 32 boroughs. See: http://uk.sputniknews.com/uk/20150127/1013392577.html

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Here are some useful graphs about the housing crisis in the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/jan/12/the-housing-crisis-in-charts

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Jamal Ajouaou wrote:

    Cuts on housing Cuts on benifets Cuts on everthing that hapened to be for the poor , what is wrong with people who forgot how to live an honest happy life ? because when you make people who trusted and you make them sad , you became sad all your life and money wouldn’t buy you hapiness , hapiness comes when you show good will to those around you you will feel happy , system is there to help everybody and not only for those who hapen to help themselves

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jamal. Very well put.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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