Holloway Prison site sell-off

It looks like a straightforward deal. The Holloway Prison site, just a mile from London’s west end in the north London Borough of Islington, has just been sold off after standing empty since 2016. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) sold the land to the Peabody Housing Association for just over £80m. Labour leader and constituency MP Jeremy Corbyn immediately tweeted: ‘For too long private developers had free rein to buy up public land and build properties that are completely unaffordable for the local community. But under a Labour Mayor and Labour council, the former Holloway Prison site will include 600 social and genuinely affordable homes.’

 

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Grenfell inquiry: justice denied

In March 2019, Scotland Yard announced that it did not anticipate bringing any criminal charges in relation to the Grenfell fire until 2021. The fire, on 14 June 2017, killed 72 people and razed Grenfell Tower in west London to the ground. The announcement follows the decision by the Grenfell Inquiry chair, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, to delay the second phase of the investigation to 2020 at the earliest. It is clear, as FRFI has repeatedly stated, that the inquiry itself is a sham, designed to let those responsible for deaths at Grenfell off the hook – including the local council, the contractors, the housing management organisation, the architects and their suppliers – by delaying the demand for justice for so long that it becomes meaningless.

 

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Social care 2019: misery, poverty, anarchy

Following a 13-month inquiry, in January Human Rights Watch (HRW) concluded that older people are at risk of having their human rights violated by the way the UK government funds and organises social care. HRW accused the government of a ‘lack of oversight’, leading to millions having their needs improperly assessed and social care services denied. This was the first time that HRW has looked at the UK welfare system, and follows last year’s report by UN Special Rapporteur on Poverty, Philip Alston, who found that the UK government is in a ‘state of denial’ about the misery it is inflicting with its ‘punitive, mean-spirited, and callous’ austerity program. HRW’s assessment is timid: millions are already having their basic human rights violated, losing their dignity, health and lives, in a social care system groaning under savage cuts and the anarchy which has occurred since it was opened up to private capital in the 1990s. This anarchy is a clear indicator that capitalism is incapable of providing decent social care for the working class, and particularly for the elderly who are no longer of interest to capitalism as they cannot be subject to exploitation. Only a socialist system, a proper welfare state, can.

 

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Housing crisis demands a real fight for decent homes

In the run-up to Christmas, the issue of homelessness in Britain briefly made headlines after a man sleeping rough in London collapsed and died in a stairwell in Westminster. Gyula Remes, who was 44, was the second homeless man to die within a stone’s throw of the Houses of Parliament in the last year. At the same time, the Office of National Statistics published figures showing that nearly 600 rough sleepers died last year – at an average age of 42 for men and 44 for women – and that the figure has risen 24% in the last five years. Rough sleeping has soared 169% since 2010, with 4,750 people now estimated to be sleeping on the streets on any one night. Yet Communities Secretary James Brokenshire was quick to deny any link to government policies, preferring to blame those favourite Tory scapegoats - drugs, migration and family breakdown.

 

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New mayor of Newham… same old politics

Focus 15 campaigners

At the end of October, Focus E15 campaign and Brimstone House residents met with Newham’s first new Mayor since 1995, the ostensibly ‘left’ Labour Rokhsana Fiaz, and Cabinet Councillor for Housing John Gray. Conditions at Brimstone House – the former Focus E15 hostel – have changed little since former Mayor Robin Wales shut down the mother and baby unit five years ago. Now reclassed as temporary accommodation, it remains overcrowded, insecure and prison-like. The testimonies of residents about the destruction of their lives and their children’s visibly moved the mayor to tears. But the real question is – will it lead to any action?

 

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Grenfell Fire: how the fight for justice was derailed

RCG on the protest for Grenfell, Westminster June 2018

It is now nearly 18 months since the fire at Grenfell Tower in west London on 14 June 2017 claimed 72 lives, destroyed hundreds of homes and exposed the utter failure of the British state and the local council to meet the needs of the working class. Every week brings new evidence of the crimes committed against the people of north Kensington, from the gaps left in windows after shoddy refurbishment that helped the flames spread up the building within minutes, to the toxic dust and soil still poisoning the very air they breathe. Yet still no criminal charges have been brought against anyone responsible for the disaster – first and foremost the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council (RBKC), its tenants’ management organisation, the KCTMO, and the contractors, Rydon, who oversaw the lethal refurbishment and cladding that turned the tower into a death trap. Of those made homeless by the fire, only 130 households have found permanent new accommodation; 150 are still waiting in temporary accommodation. The Public Inquiry grinds on, eliciting ever-more horrific detail of the night of the fire, but designed to ensure that any demand for justice is kicked down the road.

 

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The ‘new-look’ Birmingham: homelessness alongside luxury developments

Artist's rendering of the planned Iknield Port Loop development

In 2017 there were 4,297 homes in Birmingham that had been empty for more than six months, and 10,000 across the West Midlands as a whole. Meanwhile the latest figures from the housing charity Shelter's latest report show that homelessness in Birmingham has risen to 12,785 - up from just over 8,000 in 2005. Birmingham is ranked 25th nationally for homelessness, with one in every 88 people without a secure place to live.

 

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Unfit homes and profiteering landlords

In 2017 two-thirds of private tenants said they had experienced damp, mould, leaking roofs and windows, electrical hazards, vermin or gas leaks in the previous year

In September 2018, a number of Freedom of Information requests submitted by the Radical Housing Network revealed that much of the millions of pounds awarded to local councils to tackle appalling housing standards in private rented accommodation was in fact being used to fund racist raids by police and immigration officials on vulnerable tenants. Two tranches of money were awarded by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in 2012 and 2014, to predominantly London councils, to tackle the ‘beds in sheds’ problem (where people were paying rent for living in space in sheds in back gardens, garages and stairwells) and to root out ‘rogue landlords’. Newham Council in east London received the biggest share of the fund. RHN says according to its research, the council carried out 341 dawn raids using police and UK Border Agency officials and made 400 arrests. They have boasted of targeting landlords who let to ‘illegal migrants’. RHN says that as a result of the crackdown, many tenants have been at best left homeless, at worst subject to arrest on immigration and other charges.

 

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Grenfell Inquiry: a long way from justice for survivors and families

Demonstration for the anniversary of Grenfell fire

On 1 October, survivors of the 14 June 2017 fire at Grenfell Tower and the relatives of the 72 people who died will begin to give evidence to the public inquiry. It will be their first opportunity to take centre stage in a sham inquiry in which they have been continuously sidelined. Despite repeated requests that the inquiry be moved nearer west London, the head of the inquiry, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, has insisted that the plush and intimidating surroundings of Holborn Bars in central London – seven miles from north Kensington – are the only acceptable venue. In August, the families’ lawyers were rebuffed when they complained that only 5% of the more than 300,000 documents relating to the case had been released to them. They have also been prevented from questioning witnesses directly – as Leslie Thomas QC, who represents a number of survivors and bereaved, put it: ‘Why must they be made to feel like bystanders in an investigation of their own tragedy?’

 

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Empty homes, homeless people

Focus E15 activists occupy the Carpenters Estate, Newham in 2015

Focus E15 occupied empty flats on the Carpenters Estate, Newham in 2014

Across Britain we are seeing a massive increase in homelessness, with rough sleeping up 169% overall since 2010, and thousands of families forced into temporary accommodation. While people are being evicted and pushed into the streets, more and more homes are being left empty for years on end. Why are so many people without homes while so many homes do not have people?

 

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Tories and Labour refuse to bury disastrous Universal Credit

Protest against cuts to disability benefits

In early July, Angus Housing Association began legal eviction proceedings against Ms X – a vulnerable woman living in sheltered accommodation owned by the Association in Dundee. Ms X had fallen, inexplicably, more than £1,000 into rent arrears despite arranging for her Housing Benefit (HB) to be paid directly to her landlord. Only after the beginning of proceedings, doubtless deeply distressing for her, did it turn out that DWP officials had been paying her rent directly to Angus City Council – an unrelated entity some 18 miles north of Ms X’s home. Speaking to the Dundee Courier (14 July 2018), Angus Housing Association’s Director Bruce Forbes said he was aware of ‘numerous examples of tenants’ housing costs being sent to the wrong landlord, despite the DWP being given email verification’ by his organisation.

 

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Housebuilding review denies the reality of land banking

Housebuilders sit on plots of land waiting for their price to increase

‘According to official statistics “The value of land has grown rapidly from 1995, increasing by 412% compared with an average increase of 211% in the assets overlying the land.”’

Whose land is it anyway? Housing, the capitalist crisis and the working class, An FRFI pamphlet

Sir Oliver Letwin MP has produced the Draft Independent Review of Build-out Rates for the government. He was asked to explain the time between land being acquired for housing construction, planning permission being granted and housing actually being built, and to make recommendations for closing this amount of time: the build-out rate. The final report should be delivered before the Autumn 2018 Budget. Letwin explains that concern has been expressed in ‘some quarters’ about possible ‘land banking’ and ‘intentional delay’ by major housebuilders. In our pamphlet we state that ‘Housebuilders buy and then sit on land with planning permission, but do not build in order to maximise their profits. Five government reviews since 2004 claim that housebuilders do not use land banks speculatively.’ Despite the evidence to the contrary, Sir Oliver Letwin reaches the same conclusion as the previous reviews.

 

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Broadwater Farm estate resist social cleansing

Protests against police racism on the Broadwater Farm estate

Haringey Council has announced its intention to demolish two housing blocks on Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham, North London in the wake of reports of structural weaknesses. This follows many years of speculation about the future of the estate which was branded ‘notorious’ by the right-wing press following riots in 1985 and as the birthplace of Mark Duggan whose killing by police heralded the 2011 uprisings. In 2016 Prime Minister David Cameron proclaimed with a fanfare his intention to demolish 100 ‘sink estates’ across the country whose architecture, it was claimed, was responsible for ‘drug abuse and gang culture’. Broadwater Farm was on the list. Poverty, it was claimed, would be ‘bulldozed’. The latest plans to demolish have been decided by the newly-formed Momentum-led Labour council in advance of any consultation with tenants and with scant regard for their future.

 

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Grenfell inquiry: time to focus on the real criminals

RCG demonstrates at the Public Inquiry

Nearly a year after the fire at Grenfell Tower in west London which killed at least 72 people, the inquiry into the disaster finally began hearing evidence in early June. As the firefighters involved in battling the blaze have begun to give oral, written and video evidence, their powerful and anguished testimony has given the lie to blatant attempt to shift public perception of blame for the deaths away from the guilty and onto them.

 

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Fantasies rather than dreams - Book review

Municipal Dreams

Municipal dreams: the rise and fall of council housing

John Boughton 330pp Verso 2018 £18.00 hardback

There is no doubt that Boughton’s book is a well-researched and useful source of information. Yet like so many books on the history of working class housing it remains within an academic framework: it provides a critique of government policies which undermined public housing provision, but in so doing obscures the real cause of the current housing crisis: capitalism itself.

 

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Andrew O’Hagan’s Grenfell ‘novella’: truly a class act

The Tower: London Review of Books, 7 June 2018

The Tower: London Review of Books, 7 June 2018

The 60,000+-word essay published by the London Review of Books just one week before the anniversary of the Grenfell fire, by novelist and reporter Andrew O’Hagan, shows the kind of establishment backlash we can now expect against those fighting for justice for the 72 people who died. O’Hagan’s ‘novella’ does a hatchet job on activists and campaigners – ‘agitators’, in his words -  patronises survivors and absolves the local council and Kensington and Chelsea Tenants’ Management Organisation that oversaw the lethal recladding of the tower of blame. In O’Hagan’s through-the-looking-glass world, the council leaders are in fact the misunderstood heroes of the hour; the villains of the piece become, instead, the firefighters, campaign groups like Grenfell Housing Action and Grenfell United and,  crucially, any survivor or bereaved relative with the temerity to complain or demand adequate redress, rather than being grateful for everything that’s been done for them and their luck to have even had the opportunity to live in the richest borough in the country. Make no mistake, this appalling, dishonest, self-indulgent extravaganza is an opening sally by the ruling class to roll back the wave of popular sympathy for the victims of Grenfell and rehabilitate the council, no doubt with an eye to the public inquiry and ensuring they do not face criminal charges for their role in the murder of 72 working class people.

 

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Fighting racism in housing for asylum seekers

The government is currently in the process of retendering its contracts to manage the housing of asylum seekers. The previous COMPASS contracts, worth £1.6bn, have been replaced by the even more valuable £4bn Asylum Accommodation and Support Transformation (AAST) contracts. Massive private security company G4S has already registered an interest and submitted a tender, despite its being fined £5.6m in 2016 for the standard of the housing it provided. In November 2016 the government responded to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s report on the service provided by G4S, Serco and Clearel. The report contained damning evidence proving the inhumane conditions that these companies were providing, citing vermin infestation, lack of health care for pregnant women and inadequate support for victims of rape and torture. The government’s response to these findings was that ‘The standard of accommodation provided to asylum seekers has improved since 2012’.

 

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Grenfell one year on: a litany of failures

One year on from Grenfell, community groups are still organising and continuing the demand for justice

‘We are having an inquiry to find out what most of us already know. We are here because nobody listened and those in authority were convinced they knew better. You can’t sweep this under the carpet…Materials that are clearly dangerous are still there on buildings up and down the country… Not good enough is not the word. This is how our families are being remembered. They are being remembered by a culture of neglect.’ - Karim Mussily, addressing the Grenfell Inquiry on 21 May.

A year after the fire at Grenfell Tower in west London killed 72 people, survivors and the bereaved continue to be failed by both the local council and the British state. Of 210 households made homeless by the fire, just 75 have been housed in permanent accommodation. Many are living in cramped emergency accommodation, including hostels and hotels. No criminal charges have been brought against any of those responsible for the fire: indeed, staff from Grenfell’s criminal and now disbanded landlord, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation (KCTMO), have been re-employed by Kensington and Chelsea’s housing department. The council itself – which oversaw the lethal recladding of the tower – has seen many of the same councillors re-elected in May, in an expression of callous indifference to working class lives by the wealthy voters of Kensington and Chelsea. Meanwhile, the police say their investigations will take more than a year. The public inquiry set up in August 2017 is only just beginning to hear evidence. It is a charade set up to shield the guilty and postpone any chance of justice for those whose lives were devastated by the fire last year.

 

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Castles in the air: Labour’s social housing policy review

Protesters march against Labour social cleansing

The housing crisis is one of the biggest issues facing the working class in Britain today. Social housing has been decimated over the last 50 years by the policies of Conservative and Labour governments alike. The dearth of affordable and secure housing has driven millions of people into the private rented sector, where one in five homes is unfit for human habitation and soaring rents force those on low incomes into ever-deeper poverty. Private rents average 35% of take-home pay. Evictions and homelessness are on the rise.

 

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Fight social cleansing by Manchester City Council

Labour-controlled Manchester City Council is actively promoting a city-wide policy of social cleansing. Its complicity in allowing developers to shrug off affordable and social housing commitments was recently profiled by The Guardian (‘The 0% city: how Manchester developers dodge affordable housing’, 6 March 2018). The article details how between 2016 and 2017, of 61 housing developments approved by the council – totalling 14,667 flats, apartments and houses – none will contain any social housing or even any units available at the more expensive ‘affordable’ level. Just 62 properties will fall under the ‘shared-ownership’ scheme – but these will be well away from the city centre. Twenty-seven will be in Openshaw – Manchester’s most deprived ward and in the top 1% of deprived areas in England, with others located in Gorton (where the Channel 4 series Shameless was filmed) and Moss Side. Meanwhile, the council itself is developing nearly 700 apartments in partnership with the wealthy Abu Dhabi United Group: all will be for sale or rent at market rates.

 

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Housing in briefs - FRFI 263 April/May 2018

24 March 2018: Focus E15 celebrate on the streets of Newham after Robin Wales is deselected as the Labour candidate for Mayor of Newham

Newham People’s Charter holds council candidates to account

So farewell then, Robin Wales… On 16 March, after 23 years in power, first as Labour leader of the council and then as Mayor of Newham in east London, Robin Wales is finally being forced out of office. He lost to Labour’s alternative mayoral candidate, Rokhsana Fiaz, by 503 votes to 861.

The next day, RCG comrades joined jubilant members of the Focus E15 campaign on a victory tour of Newham aboard an open-topped bus, despite the snow. Focus E15 campaigners have particular reasons to celebrate Wales’ ignominious downfall. This is the Labour leader who dismissed the young mothers who came to him in 2013 when they faced eviction from their hostel with a contemptuous: ‘Well, if you can’t afford to live in Newham, you can’t afford to live in Newham’. This is the Labour leader who attempted to physically assault one of the young women campaigning at the Newham Mayor’s Show, and set his goons on activists handing out leaflets. This is a victory for all those who have campaigned for so long to get him out.

 

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‘Neglected, isolated, abandoned’: Grenfell survivors still failed by rotten state

The RCG demonstrates outside the Grenfell Public Inquiry hearings at Holborn Bars on 21 March 2018

Yo, Theresa May, where’s the money for Grenfell?

What, you thought we just forgot about Grenfell? You criminals,

and you got the cheek to call us savages,

you should do some jail time, you should pay some damages,

we should burn your house down and see if you can manage this.

- Stormzy at the Brit Awards, February 2018

On 22 March, the Housing and Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, admitted that the government would fail to meet its pledge to permanently rehouse all the survivors of Grenfell Tower within a year of the fire that killed at least 72 people on 14 June 2017. He blamed the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) for ‘unacceptable delays’. Nine months after the fire, of 209 households made homeless, only 62 have been moved into permanent accommodation. 82 households, including 39 children, are still living in inadequate and often unsafe emergency accommodation. It has emerged that the council has spent nearly £21m on hotel bills for survivors since June 2017 – three times what it cost to build Grenfell Tower in the first place. Will Harney and Fred Carlton report.

 

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London’s housing crisis – a handbook for the petit bourgeoisie

minton

Big Capital: who is London for? Anna Minton, Penguin Books 2017, £8.99

‘If the price of food had increased at the same rate as house prices in the UK over the last 40 years, then today a chicken would cost more than £50 – or £100 in London.’

Anna Minton’s description of the housing crisis gripping Britain, and particularly its epicentre, in London, is punchy and comprehensive, bringing together a wealth of existing research, punctuated with her own interviews and anecdotes in a short and affordable paperback.

 

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Housing in briefs - FRFI 262 February/March 2018

SouthwarkLatinx

Elephant & Castle: the fight against social cleansing

On 16 January, community organisers, traders and residents of Elephant & Castle in south London won a signficant victory as Southwark council’s planning committee voted 4-3 against accepting redevelopment plans that included demolishing the shopping centre and London College of Communications campus. The vote came after a seven-hour debate late into the night, as more than 200 objections to the application by offshore developer Delancey were put forward; outside the meeting, protesters who had marched to the town hall from the Elephant occupied the foyer making their opposition to the plans equally clear.

 

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Grenfell Fire: The fight for justice must intensify

grenfell silent march feb 2018
Grenfell silent march, 14 February 2018

Over seven months on from the Grenfell Tower fire, there is still an appalling lack of progress in achieving justice for its survivors, and in addressing the vital questions the disaster raises. The vast majority of households made homeless by the fire are still yet to be rehoused in permanent accommodation. No criminal charges have been brought against the local council, the Kensington & Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation (KCTMO) board, or Rydon, the contractor awarded £8.7m to carry out the lethal refurbishment of Grenfell Tower. The Public Inquiry has been delayed again, its legitimacy in tatters. Jack Lukacs reports.

 

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Why housebuilders make extortionate profits

extortionate profit 

Governments have repeatedly looked to housebuilding firms to solve the housing crisis in Britain. They are part of the crisis and profit from it; they are not the solution. Average house prices in Britain have doubled since 2000. Eight developers build over half of the country’s houses. A study by Sheffield Hallam University found that in 2012-2015, the biggest private housebuilders increased construction by a third, but tripled their profits. The four biggest housebuilding firms in Britain are Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey, Barratt Developments and the Berkeley Group. The returns made on the capital they invested in 2016 were Persimmon 39.4%; Taylor Wimpey 30%; Barratts 27.1% and the Berkeley Group 41.1%. These are relatively high rates of return. Together, the four chief executives of these companies paid themselves over £30m in 2016. In 2017, five directors of Berkeley Group got over £3m each; Persimmon’s chief executive is in line to receive a bonus of over £100m. Trevor Rayne reports.

 

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The New Poverty – a return to the old poverty

9781786634634 6095f49959df24b4e75f0344fe705a8a
The New PovertyStephen Armstrong, Verso 2016, 242pp, £12.99

By 2020 18% of children in Britain will live in absolute poverty. Two thirds of families living in poverty are in work. Nearly one million people work on zero-hour contracts. These are the facts that are printed on the front cover of the book The New Poverty by Stephen Armstrong, who has gathered data from various studies and reports and integrated this with the real-life stories of people living through this ‘new poverty’.

 

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Action in solidarity with Grenfell survivors

On 22 November, the Revolutionary Communist Group held its third public meeting since the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower in June this year. The meeting was held at the Maxilla Social Club in north Kensington. This venue has opened its doors to every kind of gathering for the last six months and we would like to thank Joe Walsh for his kindness and support.

Of course, this is not the only meeting place. Notting Hill Methodist Church is a centre of support for the neighbourhood. So too is a large area under the railway bridge and Westway overpass, opposite the burnt-out Grenfell Tower. This has been cleaned and furnished as a permanent social space. It was established by local people as an area of remembrance and for candle-lit vigils. It has a huge Wall of Truth with statements from the community, a Garden of Remembrance, refreshments, seating, warm clothes, pianos and a library as well as an altar and several large and beautifully painted murals.

 

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Haringey Labour ‘left’ fails to dent progress of HDV

hdv haringey

The judicial review of the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) started on 26 October 2017. HDV is a private joint venture between Haringey Council in north London and Australian developers Lendlease to parcel up vast tracts of council-owned land and assets worth £2bn for private development. A final ruling is expected before the end of the 2017.

The local StopHDV campaign initiated the judicial review, questioning the way that the HDV was set up. Thousands of council homes and public resources, including Wood Green library, would be lost under the plan. There has been no meaningful consultation with local residents: the Labour council has made it clear it will ignore Jeremy Corbyn’s call for them to be balloted over redevelopment plans.

 

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Racism permeates housing at every level

racism letting agencies

The systemic racism which Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) people1 face throughout the housing sector in Britain is typically not reported. When racism does receive media attention, it is often only the prejudices of private landlords which are judged to be of public interest. Media outlets followed the story of the notorious Fergus Wilson, owner of hundreds of properties in Kent, who recently lost his court case against the Equality and Human Rights Commission for instructing his letting agents not to accept Indian or Pakistani applicants (Sky News, 8 November 2017). A three-year injunction was handed down – a slap on the wrist. But discrimination by landlords is only part of the story, as shown by the government's own Race Disparity Audit, published in October 2017.

 

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Rotten Boroughs - Newham Labour council leads the way

rotten boroughs

Newham Council in east London – where the Focus E15 campaign is based – has been run by Labour for the last 50 years, since the borough was formed. It is now, according to Debt Resistance UK, the ‘debt capital’ of Britain.

Research published by Debt Resistance UK shows that in the last five years, total financial council reserves have risen 67% across the capital. Meanwhile, the number of people forced off housing benefit has risen by 20%, and there has been a rise of 250% of people being placed out of borough for housing and a 230% increase in street homelessness.

 

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