Social housing is under attack from privatisation, gentrification, and straight up neglect. Thousands of people have found out they live in unsafe blocks which they had previously been told passed safety tests. Others are fighting privatisation and demolition. This article gives a short roundup of some struggles going on around social housing in London.
In Haringey the council plans to transfer £2 billion of council owned land to a private company, LendLease. This land includes the Broadwater Farm and Northumberland Park estates, home to thousands of people, plus a library and school. There have been many allegations against Lendlease including issues of safety. Where tenants will be rehoused, and on what kind of tenancies, has not been spelled out.
The campaign against the transfer has been very active and has held several lively demonstrations in Haringey, but a difficulty is that many tenants do not know about the plans or believe they will have better housing after the redevelopment. Long term neglect of estates can mean people don’t feel enthusiastic about fighting privatisation and are in favour of “change” even though it may work out badly for them.
Many blocks failed the more stringent safety tests after the Grenfell fire in Kensington but have people still living in them who are now in a state of uncertainty and stress. The four tower blocks in Ledbury Estate, Peckham, which are built using the same design as Ronan Point, the Newham tower block that collapsed in 1968, have cracks in the outer walls that you can see daylight through.
After years of complaints from residents which had been brushed aside, Grenfell finally forced Southwark council to accept the blocks are unsafe and it is attempting to decant residents to repair the blocks. However people are still in dire circumstances as there is not enough alternative housing available so Ledbury tenants have to “bid” for flats that come up, which will impact on the thousands of people already on the waiting list, and tenants have spoken out about having to “compete against my neighbours.”
The gas has been cut off because of the risk of a gas explosion, but residents are not able to use electric heaters as the supply cannot take the increased load so people are suffering in the cold. The tenants have organised a campaign, Ledbury Action, and are organising weekly protests.
Tanner Point in Plaistow is one of many blocks where people discovered they were living in a tower covered in flammable material, and would be going on living in it until the cladding could be removed. A march in August in Newham, calling at various affected blocks, heard a woman describe how she kept the bath full of water with blankets beside it so she could wrap herself and her child in wet blankets if there was a fire. People are having to live in a constant state of stress and anxiety.
At the same time Grenfell tenants are still being housed in hotel rooms and temporary accommodation. Some have been forced to go to food banks and have also experienced abuse and hate mail directed at them after media misreporting of the “luxury flats” they were supposedly being given.
There are many difficulties in organising in defence of council housing. People find it difficult to come together and act in defence of their homes. Tenants with no resources are up against multi-million pound developments. Some campaigns were starting from scratch in an emergency with very little pre-existing organisation on the estate. After decades of badmouthing of council tenants and working class people in general, some people feel that nothing can be changed, or don’t want to see themselves as council tenants, or believe that anything that gets them off the estate must be an improvement. Long working hours and poverty leave people with little energy for going to meetings and flyposting in the rain.
However the different estate campaigns are managing to bring a lot of people together and give each other confidence. Throughout the summer people were talking to each other from estate to estate and sharing advice and information about safety concerns and issues. There are co-ordination groups such as Radical Housing Network and different campaign groups support each other in lots of ways. Council tenants are also working with private tenants groups such as Digs and the Renters Power Project.
The destruction of social housing means higher rents, more insecurity, worse housing conditions and working class people relegated to the corners and edges of the city. Although we are up against powerful developers and unaccountable councils, and the task at hand feels daunting and overwhelming, a lot of the problem is our feelings of isolation and powerlessness, and those are more fragile than they appear. Talking to neighbours and sharing support is something we can all do. What can feel like concrete walls keeping us apart are sometimes only glass, and can be smashed.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Freedom Anarchist Journal
Pic: The Lindley Estate circa 2011, by Sarflondondunc