Posts Tagged ‘Thatcher’

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.


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Housing: Focus E15 – Newham Show 2016

Saturday, July 10th, 2021

Housing remains a major problem, with many people and families in London still having to live in inadequate and often dangerous conditions. It isn’t that there is a shortage of homes, as many lie empty. There is a shortage, but it is of homes that people can afford to live in.

What London desperately needs is more low-cost housing. Council housing used to provide that, and by the late 1970s almost a third of UK households lived in social housing provided on a non-profit basis. Post-war building programmes, begun under Aneurin Bevan, the Labour government’s Minister for Health and Housing led to the building of estates both in major cities and the new towns that provided high quality housing at low rents, attempting to provide homes for both the working classes and a wider community.

Successive Conservative governments narrowed the scope of public housing provision towards only providing housing for those on low income, particularly those cleared from the city slums, reducing the quality of provision and also encouraging the building of more high-rise blocks, something also favoured by new construction methods of system building. Housing became a political battle of numbers, never mind the quality.

It was of course the “right to buy” brought in under Mrs Thatcher that was a real death blow for social housing. As well as losing many of their better properties, councils were prevented from investing the cash received from the sales in new housing – and the treasury took a cut too. Tenants seemed to do well out of it, getting homes at between half and two thirds of the market price, but often having bought their homes found the costs involved were more than they could afford, particularly when repairs were needed. Many of those homes were later sold and became “buy to let” houses.

Around ten years ago I passed an uncomfortable 25 minutes of a rail journey into London when a young student with a loud public-school voice explained to two friends what a splendid scheme “buy to let” was. He was already a landlord and profiting from it. You didn’t he told them actually have to have any money, as you could borrow it against the surety of your existing property – or a guarantee from Daddy – at a reasonable rate. You then bought a house and let it out, through an agency to avoid any hassle of actually dealing with tenants. Even allowing for the agent’s fees the rents you charged would give you a return on your investment roughly twice you were paying on your loan. It was money for nothing. And so it was for those who could get banks and others to lend them money, though recent changes have made it a little less profitable.

New Labour did nothing to improve the situation, and even made things worse through encouraging local councils to carry out regeneration schemes, demolishing council estates and replacing them with a large percentage of private properties, some largely unaffordable “affordable” properties and usually a token amount of actual social housing. The situation has been was still worsened since then, both by extending the right to buy to Housing Association properties and also by changes in tenure for those still in social housing. Successive governments have also driven up both house prices and rents by various policies, particularly the subsidies for landlords provided by Housing Benefit.

I’ve written before about Focus E15, a small group based in Newham whose activities have prompted some national debate. Begun to fight council moves to close their hostel for single mothers and disperse them to privately rented accommodation across the country (like Katie in ‘I, Daniel Blake who gets sent to Newcastle), having succeeded in their fight to stay in London they widened their scope to help others fight for decent housing – particularly in Newham, where the Labour council under Mayor Robin Wales was failing to deal with some of the worst housing problems in the country – while keeping large numbers of council properties empty.

Eventually Newham got rid of Robin Wales (and their campaign almost certainly helped) but the housing problems remain. A few days ago Focus E15 tweeted

Brimstone house in Stratford is the former FocusE15 hostel, now run by Newham Council as temporary and emergency accommodation.

One of Robin Wales’ big PR operations was the annual ‘Mayor’s Newham Show’ held in Central Park. Focus E15 were stopped from handing out leaflets inside or outside the show and on 1oth July 2016 set up a stall and protest on the main road a few hundred yards away. After handing out leaflets to people walking to the show for an hour or so, they briefly occupied the balconies of the empty former Police Station opposite Newham Town Hall on the road leading to the show ground in a protest against the Mayor’s housing record and policies.

Haddo

Sunday, May 26th, 2019

I woke up early this morning worrying about this picture, and that below of the Haddo estate in Greenwich, around Tarves Way off Norman Road close to Deptford Creek and Greenwich Station.

How is it that an estate which seems so neat and tidy and so well-loved both by the council and the residents behind their trim net curtains some 15 or 20 years after it was built in the 1960s (I can’t find the exact building date) had deteriorated to such an extent that the Haddo Estate around Tarves Way was one of the first to be ‘regenerated’ under New Labour with the homes emptied and demolished only 20 years later around 2003 at a cost of £90m?

Back around 2000, and to some extent now, politicians indulged themselves blaming the architect of these and other schemes, though more often it was perhaps the builders or system developers who were at fault for disasters such as Ronan Point, a short distance across the river. But many of the estates that have been or are being demolished were well designed, decently constructed and basically sound, perhaps good for at least another 50 years.

Many of the faults were faults of their time, which could have been prevented by proper maintenance or corrected with relatively inexpensive melioration – new windows, insulation etc. Resident caretakers and appropriate security systems – like those that turned Trellick Tower from sink to highly des res could perhaps have saved Haddo. Instead even many estates that were built with resident caretakers lost them, replaced by the occasional quick drive-by visit from a man in a council van – and the occasional heavy-handed police raid.

More fundamentally we have to ask how it happened that a housing policy once driven by social justice and civic pride that built many fine estates changed over that period to one led by estate agents, developers and profit. It happened under a regime that sought to remove all power from local authorities by a process of pauperisation and emasculation, forcing them to sell off properties at cut price and preventing them from using the proceeds to replace them.

And of course it goes wider than housing. Under Thatcher and Thatcherlite New Labour, greed and personal ambition at the expense of others became the order of the day. Our ideas about community, strong after the war and the era of the welfare state which followed it where whittled away by a leader who stressed self-reliance and the individual (or at best the nuclear family) and told us there was no such thing as society. Back in the early 80s I could walk around estates like this carrying a large bag of expensive camera gear and never feel any danger, but fifteen years later things had changed.

Part of the equation was certainly the relatively high standards, both of internal space in the dwellings and the green spaces around the buildings which make them such delectable targets for demolition and replacement with properties at high market or near market (the unaffordable “affordable”) returns.

I don’t know much of the details of the Haddo estate, either before or after its replacement, but have seen what has happened and is if anything now accelerating at other council estates in London, the majority in Labour-run boroughs.

Plans outlined in the building press showed ‘New Haddo’ was to have 510 homes, around half built for market rate sale, a third for some kind of so-called “affordable” rent and 85 for shared ownership. In most such regenerations by the time they come to completion, ways have been found to increase the proportion at market rates, by claiming that the developer cannot make sufficient profit – a figure set ludicrously high.

There appear to have been no homes in the new development at real social rents which most of those in the properties in my pictures will have been paying, and which will almost certainly have been sufficient to have paid off the council’s investment in building the estate.


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