Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Social housing not social cleansing

 Newham women occupied a showhome inside the East Thames housing association building, where they held a party. There isn’t room for parties at the temporary hostel they live in, so they decided the HA would be a good venue:

As one of the mothers says in the video at the housing office:
“Stop making people homeless. Stop making kids miss school. It’s not fair. You get to go home to your nice homes, while people here are struggling. People are here crying (they were – a woman in the office was crying, because she was homeless and trying to sort that out). They’re stressed, depressed. It’s not right. You’ve got a place here where you’re meant to help people. You’re meant to help people. You’re not helping people.”
That’s it in a nutshell, really.
At the moment, these young women live in Newham’s Focus E15 foyer – a hostel which has about 16 flats for young parents and about 210 flats across the complex. It’s supposed to be temporary accommodation. I’ve written about theconcerns the women have about the health standards at the hostel - the mothers say there are rats, mice and problems with mould and ventilation. Some of the children in the hostel are as young as three months. I’m having something of a bloody battle with the council and HA myself about this. More on that topic soon.
The women’s options for permanent housing are not good. They are having to deal with so many of the problems that face people who are either on low incomes, or benefits (surely, too, these must also increasingly be problems for people who are on reasonable incomes. Nobody is securely housed unless they own something freehold).
Their options are these:
The women can try to find social housing in a borough which has 24,000 people on its waiting list and recently changed its allocations policy to prioritise ex-servicepeople and people in work over people not in work. So that isn’t much of an option.
Or they they can hope to be housed in private accommodation – in an era where private landlords like Fergus and Judith Wilson are asking their housing benefit tenants to leave because, as Fergus Wilson loftily informed the Guardian recently: “”All the landlords will tell you that there is so much default now with housing benefit tenants that you are just simply better off with somebody working.” Mothers like Jasmin Stone have told me that they’ve run up big phone bills calling around private landlords and letting agents – to no avail. So that option isn’t much of an option either.
The other option is that Newham will house the women many miles out of the borough – miles away away from the family members who could provide childcare while the women worked. Places like Hastings, or Birmingham, are often suggested as possibilities. Except I wonder if they are. I spoke to Jeremy Birch, leader of Hasting council last week. The facts are that Jeremy Birch is not keen on taking people who are benefits generally. He can’t stop London boroughs housing people in Hastings’ private rental sector, but he made it very clear that he wasn’t happy to know that was happening:
“We’re a deprived community in the south east, who are trying to reduce the amount of benefit dependency in our own borough. While we welcome anyone who wants to come to Hastings to move here, we are not happy that we would be taking further people who were benefit dependent. That is putting extra pressure on the services that we’ve got in the town.”
He also said – and this is important – that the council had specific housing projects which excluded people who were not in work.
I’ve got a lot more to post on this, but I’ll say for now that this is a very important campaign. We all deserve housing – and this campaign is proving that people are going to have to put up a hell of a fight for it. This is an era of monumental inequality and the political class is thumbing its nose at anyone who isn’t part of that class. MPs happily house their horses in heated stables courtesy of the taxpayer and expect taxpayers to fund their tennis court repairs and housing upgrades and sales. They watch a show about people with nothing and encourage the world to laugh. Clean, warm, decent housing is a right – and not just for horses. Councils and Housing Associations should not be surprised to see people turn up in their offices who refuse to leave without an answer.
Another important point: At the occupation, a lot of people who were waiting in the housing offices to hear about their own housing options joined in conversation with these mothers. Connections were made. One woman who’d been waiting in the queue even started to cry – she revealed that she was homeless. Another woman who had a young baby with her said she’d been told she’d be sent to Birmingham, miles away from anyone she knew.
Other people who were waiting in the queue cheered and applauded when the protestors arrived and explained their campaign for housing. So many people are affected by this. People everywhere, with nowhere secure to live.
(originally posted by Kate
acknowledgements to Martin Francis and Alan Wheatley)

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