Ruth Lorimer reports from Saturday’s housing demo in central London.
(pictures copyright Jim Aindow Photography – used with permission)
Around 1,000 people marched to Downing Street on Saturday to protest against the Housing and Planning Bill that’s currently going through Parliament.
The march was made up of campaigners from a large range of local housing campaigns who have pooled resources and built themselves into a London-wide activist network over the last couple of years.
The Housing Bill proposes a series of attacks on council housing and social housing. It compels councils to sell off “high value” housing and charge market rents to so-called “high income” tenants – any household earning over £40,000 in London or£30,000 in the rest of England.
According to Architects for Social Housing (ASH), the bill will also replace the government’s obligation to build homes for social rent with a duty to build discounted “starter homes” for the private market. It extends the “right to buy” to housing associations and phases out secure tenancies for those in social housing.
The bill also reclassifies housing estates as “brownfield” land, making it easier for private developers to demolish them and replace them with luxury flats.
Geraldine Dening from ASH said: “Do you want to live in a city that gets razed to the ground every 40 years? No. The cities that we love are cities that grow, that adapt, shift and evolve and have a history.”
She added that simply building more houses wouldn’t solve the problem – the nature of the private housing market had to be tackled too. Piers Corbyn, an activist in Southwark, echoed this point. “We have to change the whole way it’s talked about,” he said. “There is a crisis in housing – and the property market cannot solve it. There’s no solution to the housing crisis that doesn’t start with council housing.”
Gerlinde Gniewosz is from the Save Cressingham Gardens campaign that recently won a court victory against Lambeth council. “We’re on an estate that’s threatened with demolition. Neither of the two major parties seem to have a clue what to do about the housing crisis.”
One of complexities about this issue is that in central London it’s mostly Labour councils that are pushing through privatisation, demolition or evictions. This has understandably led to a general distrust of Labour – a Southwark councillor who spoke at the rally was booed off stage for trying to defend Labour’s record.
Jasmin Stone from the Focus E15 campaign summed up a common view: “The Labour Party has a history of implementing austerity, and Jeremy Corbyn isn’t going to be able to change that. One person can’t change the whole party.” Geraldine from ASH also spoke of her frustration with councillors: “When you suggest to the council that they’re making things worse, they can’t see it – they can’t understand it.”
The campaign is also drawing in new activists. About 150 students at UCL university have gone on rent strike to demand a 40% cut in rents in university halls. Pascal, one of the strikers, was on the march. He said the tactic had generated a lot of bad press for UCL management and forced them to negotiate with students over rents.
Activists are hoping that the House of Lords will hold the bill up or substantially revise it. But there’s a range of views about the way forward. Aside from the controversy over Labour, some activists thought trade unions were the missing link, while others were adamant that the movement’s strength was its roots in local community campaigns.
In the meantime however resistance to the Housing Bill can help bring together local campaigns together in joint action. The Radical Housing Network is organising a weekend of protest on 13-14 February. And 13 March sees a national demonstration on the 13th March against the housing bill called by the Kill the Housing Bill campaign.