Standing up to housing cuts

Listening to a speaker at our new 'home'

Listening to a speaker at our new ‘home’, complete with net curtains

Yesterday we headed down to tax-dodgers Starbucks to protest the impact of the cuts on people’s access to housing. We were taking part in a day of action highlighting how the public sector spending cuts are hitting women hardest.

With 1m more women than men being affected by the housing benefit cuts and two-thirds of the public sector jobs being lost belonging to women, the impact is being unevenly felt.

'New home' muffins being passed round

‘New home’ muffins being passed round

Our plan was to ‘move in’ the Starbucks and hold a housewarming party – but unfortunately they and the police had other ideas – when we arrived, no one was being allowed in. But that didn’t stop our party.

With net curtains hung up in the window, soft furnishings arranged and a bathroom installed, the fifty-plus party goers enjoyed ‘new home’ muffins and lemonade, and heard from a range of groups involved in resisting the attack on housing – including Disabled People Against the Cuts, London Coalition Against Poverty, Fuel Poverty Action, Housing Solidarity and Eviction Resistance.

Signing our housewarming card telling Starbucks to pay up

Signing our housewarming card telling Starbucks to pay up

There was also a chance to take part in a ‘tenants rights’ quiz organised by Hackney renters, Digs, and to sign a hosewarming card to Starbucks, demanding they pay up.

Having prevented anyone from entering the store for an hour, we headed across the road to Foxtons, another far-from-innocent high street name, to protest their rip-off fees and role in driving up rents.

Getting straight to the point outside Foxtons

Getting straight to the point outside Foxtons

Of course, this isn’t the end, but the beginning of a long battle for our right to decent housing. Join us next week, ahead of a meeting by the Greater London Assembly housing committee to make sure tenants voices are heard. More details are coming soon, but in the meantime, add your renting nightmares message to our Christmas card now.

 

 

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Send this man a Christmas message

Len DuvallThis is Len Duvall. He’s chair of the London Assembly Housing and Regeneration Committee. Just a week before Christmas, on Tuesday 18 December, he and the rest of the committee members will hold the last meeting of their review of London’s private rented sector. The review is meant to come up with ways of tackling the high rents, poor conditions and insecure tenancies suffered by the majority of private tenants in London. But so far, ordinary private tenants have been given little voice in the process. Given that there’s over 1.5m of us being ripped-off and screwed over, this seems like a bit of an oversight.

With other private tenants groups across the capital, we’ve decided it’s time to make sure the committee get the message that private tenants are fed up, and want real action now to deal with the problems we face.

On the morning of the meeting, we’ll be heading down to City Hall to make our presence felt. More details will be posted here soon, but in the meantime, we’re looking for people to add a message to our Christmas card to Len, to let him know how fed up we are, and demand some real action.

Please use the comment facility below to detail your experience of being a private tenant, or email it (and any pictures to include with it) to housingforthe99@gmail.com. Please let us have it by 16th December so that we can deliver it ahead of the meeting on the 18th. Thanks – and hopefully see you then!

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Over £1m spent on marketing campaign to sell off public housing

We’ve uncovered figures showing how more than £1m of public money is being spent on a scheme to sell off much-needed public housing.

Information released under the Freedom of Information Act by the Department of Communities and Local Government show that they’ve spent over £600,000 on promotional materials, including £342,133 on bus stop adverts, and nearly £70,000 on consultants. The Department is also allocating 12 staff to the project, at an estimate cost of over £400,000 this year.

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...to spend public money selling off desperately needed public housing

These figures contracts starkly with the £106,761.96 plus VAT quoted by former Housing Minister Grant Shapps when asked about the Department’s spending on the campaign in June.

The lack of secure and affordable public housing has seen more and more hard pressed families forced into privatised housing where they face poor quality insecure housing at rip-off rents. At a time of devastating spending cuts, we think the last thing we need is precious public money being used to promote the sell-off of more council homes. Instead of a housing system that subsidises greedy private landlords and pushes people into risk and debt, we should be investing in new public housing.

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Community Housing Inspectors take to Haringey’s streets

Fundamental necessities like food and water are subject to strict regulation and inspection to make sure they’re safe and don’t damage people’s health. So why isn’t housing?

Sick of being ripped-off with sky high rents and poor quality housing, activists in Haringey took matters into their own hands, and organised a community housing inspection of local letting agents, drawing attention to high rents, short-term tenancies, discrimination against housing benefit claimants and high administration fees.

Haringey Community Housing Inspectors out in force

On Saturday, a team of around 20 ‘Community Housing Inspectors’ headed along Green Lanes to investigate letting agency policies. Of the agencies visited, four agreed to take part, while Winkworths, Kings Group, Bairstow Eves, Brian Thomas and Anthony Pepe all denied access or refused to speak to the self styled inspectors.

The protest took place against a backdrop of housing benefit cuts, a lack of Haringey letting agents willing to accept tenants on housing benefit, rent inflation outstripping wage inflation, and a concern that landlord and letting agent practices are leading to a significant change in the local demographic. Haringey Housing Action Group has committed to support any tenants facing eviction because they cannot pay their rent.

The protest was a success. As a member of the group said “We managed to gather information that will be of help to prospective tenants in the borough (the results will be publicly available), and we put across our demands to the letting agent staff, as well as to hundreds of passersby, many of whom told us of their own bad experiences of local letting agents. We also shut down a handful of letting agents, possibly the ones who felt they had more to hide. And we turned the tables on the letting agents who carry out checks on our homes without permission.”

Letting agents beware – this won’t be the last you hear of angry tenants.

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Chance to shop greedy landlords to the London Assembly?

Members of Haringey Housing Action Group protest high rents and Housing Benefit cuts

With private rents in London up an average of nearly 7 per cent this year, the London Assembly have decided to take a look at what’s going on.

Over the next couple of months, the Housing and Regeneration committee are doing a review of London’s private rented housing. They’re asking for views on three areas: affordability and tenure, quality and standards, and tenant and landlord rights.

They’re asking for views on the first area, affordability and tenure, by Monday prior to their meeting on 20 September. We’ll be sending some of our thoughts over – but the more the merrier! The more people they hear from saying that they’re sick of paying rip-off rents and public money going straight into greedy landlords’ pockets, the better!

Send your comments to paul.watling@london.gov.uk byMonday 3 September. Full details of the issues being covered are available at here.

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Whose games, whose city?

With just days to go until ‘London 2012’, the spotlight is on the capital. But the event is also drawing attention to a local housing crisis of olympic proportions.

In an area where private tenants typically spend over 40 per cent of their income on rent, private tenants in and around the Olympic boroughs have been discovering just how few rights and little security they have when it comes to their homes. People have been forced to leave places they’ve lived in for years, temporarily vacate their homes with no alternative accomodation provided, or pay massively increased rents to be able to stay after their landlords decided to cash in on expected mega rents over the period of the Games.

Then there’s the issue of the housing ‘legacy’ supposedly being left for the people of East London. Supposedly the Olympic development is bringing 11,000 new homes with it, but this seems increasingly unlikely. And while a third of the new builds were meant to be ‘affordable‘ (desparately needed in an area where 32,000 people are on the waiting list for social housing), the new definition of this term means rents can still reach 80 per cent of market rates, with outcry at a recently completed ‘affordable’ scheme in nearby Islington demonstrating how such schemes benefit graduates and young professionals trying to get onto the housing ladder at the expense of those who most need help with accessing decent housing.

The developments are also spelling trouble through the process of gentrification or ‘regeneration’ which is seeing areas like the Carpenters Estate in Newham, home to around 250 people, threatened when the council revealed plans to demolish most of the estate, pushing the community out in favour of more exclusive developments.

Add these problems to anger about corporate profiteering by sponsors with dubious track records, repressive policing and an assault on civil liberties and it’s not surprising people are pissed off. Join Housing for the 99% to demonstrtate against the many negative aspects of the games at a protest organised by the Counter Olympics Network:

Whose games? Whose city?
Assemble 12 noon, Saturday 28 July 2012
Mile End Park, East London (nearest tube: Mile End)
March to Victoria Park for the People’s Games for All!
To include speeches, entertainment, “alternative games”, and children’s events.

If you’d like to join our housing bloc, meet on the edge of Mile End Park, opposite East London Tabernacle Baptist Church on Burdett Road, E3 4TU at 12 noon. Email housingforthe99@gmail.com for more information.

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Calling time on greedy landlords

This morning a bunch of us paid a visit to the National Landlords Association (NLA). The NLA represents more than a million landlords who collectively make billions from their tenants – and, through Housing Benefit, the public purse – by charging rip-off rents. The organisations also actively lobbies against better regulation of landlords, and encourages its members not to offer secure tenancies.

So our visit was to make it clear that we’ve had enough of runaway rents and poor quality, insecure housing. With a good turnout and no rain (hurray!) we headed down to their London office on the embankment to air our new banner and placards, make some noise and generally make sure staff and passers-by didn’t get away without knowing why we were there.

We were also there with cardboard boxes and sleeping bags to highlight how the Housing Benefit cuts compound the problem of high rents, increasing the risk of homelessness for private tenants. Crisis report that there has been a 39 per cent rise in tenants becoming homeless because their tenancies have come to an end.

With over 8m private tenants in England, we’re pretty sure we’re not the only people who are pissed off. Over the next few weeks we’ll be planning our next steps – and would love contributions from anyone that shares our aims. Get in touch with your thoughts at housingforthe99@gmail.com or follow us @housingforthe99.

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