Sunday, 15 February 2015

London's housing crisis: Occupation - campaigners intensify resistance to council house demolition

Campaigners for council homes gathered in south London on 15 February
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015
Focus E15 campaigner Jasmin Stone says occupations win concessions
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015

Has something changed?
A slight shift, perhaps.
A mighty oak might be far off still.
But a small acorn seems planted.
And, it grows by the name of, ‘Occupation’.

It's Sunday afternoon, (15 February), writes Paul Coleman.
Some 150 council house campaigners from across London convene at Pembroke House in Walworth, hosted by Brick Lane Debates and Fight 4 Aylesbury.
Campaigners report anger and despair rising each day across London.
Council tenants, leaseholders and private sector renters face eviction and displacement.
The tide of developer-led and council-endorsed demolition of council estates seems relentless.
An estimated 50 or so council estates across London stand to be knocked down, pardon the pun.
As powerless tenants' anger rises, activists accept they face a bigger challenge.
Marching on the street in protest isn’t enough.

'Direct action' is needed, they say.
Campaigners say they must occupy council homes on estates emptied by local politicians for demolition and developer-led ‘regeneration'.

Campaigner Jasmin Stone tells the gathering about the Focus E15 group’s occupation of the Carpenters Estate in east London.
Occupation contributed to Newham Council finally promising to house 40 households on a temporary basis in homes left empty.
“It’s an amazing victory,” says Stone.
“It shows we need to get on the streets.
“To talk to our neighbours, and fight back.”

Darius, part of 200 campaigners who occupied the Aylesbury Estate
© London Intelligence 2015
Council housing campaigners called for unity
 © Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015

"We didn't just want to march from A to B and go home," says Darius, one of 200 younger people who occupied part of the Aylesbury Estate on 31 January.
Southwark Council and housing association development partner, Notting Hill Housing, want to demolish the Aylesbury and replace council homes with mainly private housing.
Darius and some 2,000 other council tenants, residents and campaigners marched through central London on that rainy Saturday. 
They rallied at City Hall in protest against council house demolitions and tenants' displacement from London.
But after the March for Homes, the 200 took 'direct action' and occupied the Chartridge block on the Aylesbury.

On 16 February, Southwark Council starts legal moves at Lambeth County Court to remove the occupiers.
But even if Southwark removes them, this won't deter campaigners from future direct action and occupations.
"We're not winning," says housing author Lisa McKenzie. 
"Council estates give working people an identity.
"But thousands of people are being driven out of London and many elderly people are just left isolated."

"Council estates give working people an identity" - Lisa McKenzie (above)
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015

Inevitably, occupation of a council house, managed by a local authority, brings the citizen and council into conflict.
But campaigners hope to build a 'movement' for council housing.
A movement that can end demolitions.
And secure enduring ballots for tenants to decide the future of their estates.
Yet mass occupation of council estate blocks - primed for 'regeneration' - raises a political challenge against the power of the local market state (councils, developers, bailiffs and police). 

London has seen some of this before, of course.
The city had 30,000 squatters in the 1960s.
Occupations of empty homes continued throughout the 1970s in Finsbury Park, Holborn, King's Cross, Bloomsbury Square, Piccadilly and in outer London in Ilford and Ealing.
But London's 21st Century shortage of genuinely affordable homes presents new challenges and dangers.
London's intense cult of property ownership demands rapid and ruthless state intervention when properties are occupied either by the homeless or campaigners.

One younger campaigner tells the Pembroke House cluster: “All this talk of London’s ‘housing crisis’ is part of the media furniture.
“Why should there be a shortage of homes in London?
“London is full of houses.

A bitter irony underpins London's housing inequality - conspicuous scarcity for working people amidst surplus abundance for the affluent and 'High Net Worth' globetrotters.
Campaigners are working tirelessly to seek to harness tenants' anger at this inequality.
They want to spark a political challenge and construct a 'council housing movement'.
For the moment, London's councils, developers, corporate housing associations and property speculators seem blissfully dismissive of this brew bubbling in their 'regeneration' cauldron.

Food for thought: occupying emptied council homes
© London Intelligence 2015

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, February 2014

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