Posts Tagged ‘right to buy’

Housing Crisis & the Carpenters Estate

Thursday, June 9th, 2022

Housing Crisis & the Carpenters Estate: Like many other areas, the 1945 Labour government laid the foundations of a sensible policy on housing which has now been lost. Among other things the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act brought in the need for planning permission and included a charge on developers which was assessed as the difference between the cost of the undeveloped land and its value after it had been developed. It gave local authorities the power to use compulsory purchase and either develop land themselves or lease it for private developers, and provided government grants to authorities for major redevelopment.

Housing Crisis & the Carpenters Estate
Focus E15 Mums protest at empty properties on the Carpenters Estate

Times were hard after the war, and there were shortages of material with so much needing to be done. Even so around 600,000 new council homes were built in the first five years, and built to high standards. One of the election-winning pledges made by the Conservatives for the 1951 election was that they would build 300,000 houses a year – something they managed under Housing Minister Harold Macmillan in 1953, including both private and council houses, but it was achieved in part by reducing the standards of properties.

Housing Crisis & the Carpenters Estate
All pictures in this post come from the Focus E15 Mums protest on 9th June 2014

The Tories made other changes, including removing the development charge and limiting government subsidies, which in 1956 became limited to the building of high rise flats. While Labour had seen council housing as a way to provide good quality housing affordably to all, the Conservatives increasing limited its scope to providing only for the least well off, with private development and private leasing providing good profits for building firms and private landlords at the expense of house buyers and tenants of private rented properties.

Housing Crisis & the Carpenters Estate
The Focus E15 mothers had brought life-size colour portraits of themselves

Although it was Labour who had first proposed the idea of ‘right to buy’ it was of course Thatcher who made it policy and introduced it in a way which was intended to severely reduce the amount of council housing, in particular forbidding the use of the receipts from sales to
build new council homes. Cash-starved local authorities were often unable to keep up proper maintenance of their housing stock and much was allowed to deteriorate.

Jessica

Labour under Blair and Brown continued the Tory policies, including the transfer of council run properties to housing associations, and amplified their effects with their programme of ‘regeneration’ which led to the wholesale replacement of large council estates – most still in sound condition which could have cheaply been repaired and brought up to current standards. But developers profited hugely from demolition and redevelopment for private sale and councils hoped also to cash in, though in some cases they made a significant loss, as at the Heygate in Southwark, where around 1200 council homes were demolished, the tenants and leaseholders displaced largely outside the area, and the two and a half thousand new properties built included only around 80 at social rents. Other Labour policies, including the disastrous Private Finance Initiative also worsened the housing crisis.

You can read very much more detail on the history of council housing on the website Municipal Dreams and in the book by the site’s author Municipal Dreams: the Rise and Fall of Council Housing published in 2019 which presents a detailed and balanced view.

The young mothers of Focus E15 came up against the the housing crisis when their Labour Council in Newham decided they should be evicted from their hostel. Most were told they had to move into private rented properties with little or no security of tenure miles away from families, friends and facilities in the Stratford area, some in Wales or the north of England. They got together and decided to fight the council, then run by elected Mayor Robin Wales and its policy of removing the poor from the area – social cleansing.

Newham is a borough with one of the worst housing problems in the country, and although there has been a huge building programme, partly around the 2012 Olympic site, this is largely student housing or private development. But one council estate close to the centre of Stratford had been largely empty for around ten years. Newham had ‘decanted’ the residents beginning in 2004 hoping to cash in on what would be a prime development site. The Carpenters Estate was a very popular estate, with low rise housing and three tower blocks overlooking the Olympic Park, a stone’s throw from the excellent transport links of Stratford Station and the town centre.

For some years Newham had hoped to sell off the area as a new campus for University College London, but local opposition and protests by students and academics at UCL led to the college abandoning the plans. In 2020 the council handed over the regeneration project its Housing Company Populo Living.

Jasmin Stone

Focus E15 came to the Carpenters Estate on Monday 9th June 2014 to highlight the scandal of the empty homes, bringing with them life-size or larger colour portraits of the mothers which they pasted on the shuttered windows of a small block of flats at the centre of the estate, along with posters stating ‘We Could be Here’, ‘This home needs a family’, ‘These homes need people’, ‘You could be here’.

Sam Middleton

The protest gained some publicity for their campaign, which had moved on from being simply about the mothers to a much more general ‘Housing For All’ campaign, which still continues, with the group holding a weekly Saturday Morning stall on Stratford Broadway, supporting homeless families in getting proper treatment from the council and preventing evictions in the area.

I returned with Focus E15 to the Carpenters Estate a few months later in September when on the first anniversary of the start of their campaign they occupied this low-rise block of flats on ‘Open House Day, gaining national publicity, staying in occupation for around two weeks, and have photographed various other of their events.

Focus E15 Mums Expose Carpenters Estate


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Focus E15 Mothers Party Against Eviction 2014

Monday, January 17th, 2022

Focus E15 Mothers and children party in the show flat – 17th January 2014

Focus E15 Mothers Party Against Eviction 2014
Housing remains one of London’s larger problems, with sky-high house prices and market rents. At the start of 2022 the average flat rent in London is over £360 per week – around £19,000 per year, while the average property price according to Zoopla is £681,427.

Housing has always been a problem in London, but in the 1950s, 60s and 70s things were beginning to improve, largely due to both Labour and Conservative councils building council houses and flats. By the 1960s over 500,000 new flats were added in London and nationally around a third of UK households lived in social housing.

The government’s minimum wage for 2022 will be £9.50 per hour from April – an on that rate you would need to work for around 38 hours a week just to pay for a flat – and of course would have no chance of ever buying a flat or house. Things have got considerably worse since 2010, and in boroughs like Newham average rents now are 65% of average wages.

The building programme slowed down in the 1970s as governments made it more difficult for councils to build, but the real watershed came with Margaret Thatcher’s 1980 Housing Act which gave council tenants the right to buy their properties at between 33-50% of market value – and stopped councils from using the proceeds to built more properties.

Further housing acts under Thatcher led to the transfer of much social housing to housing associations, which were allowed to access private finance while councils were very much restricted in their borrowing. Housing associations continue to build some new properties, but the numbers are small in relation to demand, and much lower than those built by councils in the 1950s-70s. Official figures for 2019 show only 37,825 new homes built for letting at below market rents while over 1.1 million households are on housing waiting lists – around 30 times as many.

So it is not surprising that councils such as Newham have a huge housing problem, and the council says it has the highest levels of overcrowded housing in the country, one of the highest proportion of people living in insecure private rented homes and in houses of multiple occupation and the largest number of homeless people – including those in temporary accommodation.

Newham was one of the first councils to get an elected Mayor in 2002, and Robin Wales held that post until 2018 when he was deselected as candidate. Many blame him for the particular failures over housing in the borough and point to properties on the Carpenters Estate in particular, some of which have been deliberately left empty for around 15 years.

The first group to organise and call out the council on their failures over housing were young single mothers who were threatened with eviction after Newham Council removed funding from East Thames Housing Association’s Focus E15 Foyer in Stratford. Newham Council had tried to get them to move well away from London, in Hastings, Birmingham and elsewhere, away from friends, families, colleges, nurseries and support networks. These offers were for private rented accommodation, with little or no security of tenure and would leave them at the mercy of often unscrupulous or uncaring landlords.

For once the group stood together and determined – helped by friends – to fight the council, not just for their own cases, but also for others whom Newham is failing to provide accommodation. Though they attracted national publicity and won their fight to stay in the London they continue to hold a weekly protest and advice stall in central Stratford every Saturday – I visited it again in late 2021. Their fight exposed the failures of Robin Wales and was certainly one of the factors in his losing support in the borough.

You can read more about the protes when a group of the mothers with their children went into the East Thames offices and held a party in their show flat on on My London Diary in Focus E5 Mothers Party Against Eviction. The East Thames staff who came to talk with them were generally sympathetic and attempted to reassure them but told them it was the responsibility of the council and not the housing association to rehouse them.


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Housing in Crisis – Newham 2015

Sunday, September 19th, 2021

Six years ago I posted about a march through Stratford on Saturday 19th September against social cleansing in Newham, where the council has been rehousing people in private rented properties outside the borough, sometimes as far away as Wales or Liverpool. The directly elected Mayor of this almost monolithically Labour borough until 2018, Robin Wales, made clear his views that if people couldn’t afford to live in London they shouldn’t expect to live there, and council policies appear to reflect this. But Newham – and London generally – needs large numbers of relatively low paid workers – and Covid has helped us appreciate their contribution. Many, even those in jobs well above the London Living Wage, can’t afford market rents and certainly not to buy homes.

Local people, many of whom have lived in the area for years and have developed connections in the area – friends, families, schools etc – who for any reason become homeless want to be rehoused close to these people and services and demand that local resources be used to house local people.

Newham currently in 2021 has 27,000 people on its housing waiting list and 7,000 children in temporary accommodation. Until very recently the few social homes that were available were allocated using a system that gave priority to those in work and the new system will instead focus on health, need and overcrowding.

But the real problem that there is simply not enough social housing remains, and this is more the fault of national government policies over the years, under both Tory and New Labour. The most obvious and and damaging was of course Thatcher’s ‘right to buy’ which has drastically reduced to number of social housing homes, and in particular removed many of the more desirable properties, but councils have also been largely prevented by successive governments from building new and much needed social housing, as well as being starved of the cash needed to properly maintain existing properties and estates.

Many existing council estates were transferred to housing associations, which increasingly seem to be catering for those able to afford the very high ‘market’ rents in London. Councils too, thanks to New Labour housing policies have been demolishing council estates and developing the sites together with private developers to produce mainly homes for sale at high market prices, with often a great reduction in the number of social housing homes available.

Newham has seen a huge amount of building housing in recent years, both on the former Olympic site and elsewhere, with more tower blocks every time I visit the area, but almost all are high rent properties suited to young professionals, mainly working outside the borough, residencies for wealthier students, or expenive investment properties – usually bought with no intention of being lived in but simply to benefit from the increases in London property prices.

In 2013, Newham announced it was going to close a hostel for young single mothers who would then be dispersed in rented flats across England. The women decided to fight and the Focus E15 campaign began. Backed by members of the Revolutionary Communist Group and others who supported them in direct actions that often gained media coverage their fight succeeded and they became well-known nationally and developed into a much wider campaign for proper housing, particularly supporting others in the area with housing problems. As well as holding a street stall in the centre of Stratford every Saturday they accompanied people to the housing offices, gathered to prevent evictions and more.

The march in 2015, two years after the start of their campaign attracted the support of over 40 other organisations, mainly small local groups from around London and the South-East also fighting housing problems. Fortunately not all of them had speakers at the rally before the march but there were quite a few before it moved off from Stratford Park to march around the Town Centre.

As the ‘Housing for All’ march passed Foxton’s estate agency in the centre of Stratford, Class War rushed inside with their ‘New Homes for the Rich’ banner and staged a brief occupation while most of the marchers supported them from outside. They caused no damage and left after a few minutes for the march to continue.

There was another brief halt outside LB Newham’s Housing Office at Bridge House, which was closed. The marchers held banners and posed for photographs and Focus E15 spoke briefly about how their interventions here have prevented homless people from being sent to unsuitable private rented accomodation hundreds of miles away, getting them re-housed in London.

The march ended in the square on the Carpenters Estate in front of the block of four flats which Focus E15 occupied for four weeks as a protest a year earlier. This had made the national news and had ended with the council promising to bring some homes back into occupation – though a year later only 28 of around the 400 empty homes had been re-let. There were a few more speeches and then a party began.


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