Link to this page: https://archive.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/866/21176
Campaigning to end the housing crisis
There is a severe crisis in housing. Low pay and sky-high rents mean those in private accommodation spend over half their income paying the rent. For many young people buying a house, or even leaving their parents' home, is an impossible dream. Insufficient council housing and inflated house prices force people looking for somewhere to live into private rented accommodation.
But still the government and councils prove themselves unwilling to implement rent control and build social housing. Examples of what can be done to fight back have been shown in Spain and the United States.
In Spain, the election of a left-wing mayor in Madrid, where tens of thousands of families are losing their homes, has led to moves to protect housing. Manuela Carmena has recently overturned eviction orders for 70 families living in social housing and safeguarded more than 2,000 similar rental contracts.
Meanwhile, on 20 July in Seattle over 1,000 attended a lively debate on rent control. Socialist council member Kshama Sawant (a member of Socialist Alternative, co-thinkers of the Socialist Party in the US) argued for rent controls that would help working and poor people afford rent in the city and stop sudden hikes. Kshama said: "A $15 an hour minimum wage seemed impossible, now it's a reality and rent controls can be too."
We demand our elected representatives do the same to sort out our housing crisis and a series of grassroots campaigns have caught people's imagination - like the New Era residents campaign in Hackney, London (see previous reports in the Socialist).
Cardiff housing action campaign
Ross Saunders, Cardiff Socialist Party
Campaigners in Cardiff, 'the London of Wales', are getting organised to tackle the rent rip-off and fight for an end to the housing crisis.
At a packed meeting called by the Socialist Party, campaigners raged against out-of-control rents - and no wonder. Rents rose by 5.6% last year - far more than house prices, inflation or wages. Councils have reported a massive increase in demand for homelessness services in Wales, and those who manage to hang onto their homes find they have to sacrifice other essentials to keep the landlord at bay.
Campaigners in Wales have launched the Housing Action campaign group to end the housing crisis, starting with a demand that the Welsh Assembly introduces rent controls and scraps rip-off agency fees.
Peter Alan, which boasts that it is the biggest letting agent in Wales, charges nearly £450 in agency fees for a three-person house-share. That's before renewal fees, where tenants are asked to pay hundreds of pounds just so the agency will print off a new contract. Even at the end of the contract, there is often a struggle to try to get the deposit back. To end this rip-off the Welsh Assembly should abolish upfront fees for tenants completely, as the Scottish government has been forced to do.
But we must go further. Agencies could add the costs onto the monthly rents, which are already ballooning. Prices that are out of control in the private sector are also having an impact in social housing too, with many housing associations pushing to be allowed to charge so-called 'affordable' rents - up to 80% of market value. Already, some people are being turned down for a tenancy by some housing associations for being too poor, according to campaigning charity Shelter Cymru.
Since the meeting campaigners have printed stickers to 'amend' the 'To Let' signs of the biggest agencies and are starting a fortnight of protests at 12pm, 8 August outside Peter Alan on Crwys Road in Cathays. Most importantly, however, is the decision by Housing Action campaigners to call for a Wales March for Homes in October.
Lively but angry housing meeting in Tower Hamlets
Amalia, Tower Hamlets Socialist Party
One Housing Group (OHG), a housing association which now owns former council estates on the Isle of Dogs, is trying to push through their plan to demolish and redevelop the estates as soon as possible. This, without any guarantees that current residents will return to the estates after the completion of the refurbishment. In fact, only 30% of the new properties will be available for 'affordable' housing!
Tower Hamlets Socialist Party held a meeting in the area on 27 July to bring together the residents and local activists in order to hold OHG to account and stop social cleansing in our borough.
Around 40 people attended the very vibrant meeting. Paul Kershaw, chair of Unite the union housing workers' branch and Claire Laker-Mansfield, who campaigned alongside the New Era residents in Hackney, introduced the discussion.
There was applause when one resident said "OHG are not interested in the people living here, only how much money they can make. We must all fight together." After the discussion ended, someone was heard saying "OHG is very good at building a community because everyone hates them!"
The meeting agreed to launch a campaign against OHG's plans and protect the interests of the estates' tenants.
The recent news that Tower Hamlets Labour Group has called for the immediate suspension of OHG shows what a powerful impact a residents' campaign can have. We think that the campaign has achieved a first victory but we must continue. Our demands are that the council sacks OHG, any redevelopment plans must have agreement of tenants and leaseholders and that the estates should be returned to the council.
Waltham Forest Trades Council recently initiated a housing activists' network in the east London borough, pulling together trade unions, anti-eviction campaigners, residents fighting regeneration and young people organising against rocketing rents.
The first meeting agreed to continue coordinating and to work towards a local demonstration.
See www.walthamforesttusc.com for more information and to get involved.
Sarah Wrack, Waltham Forest Socialist Party
The Socialist Party demands:
- Rent control now! Democratic rent councils to decide fair levels in each area
- A mass programme of council house building and renovation to meet demand
- Hands off our homes! Bring all ex-council housing association stock and housing services back in-house
- Housing benefits that reflect the real cost of renting
- Councils should use their compulsory purchase powers on long term empty properties and use them as council housing
- A new mass workers' party to fight for affordable housing for all. Support TUSC candidates in elections to fight for these policies
- Nationalise the banks and biggest corporations. For a democratic socialist society that puts the needs of the majority, including decent, affordable housing, before the profits of the tiny minority
In The Socialist 5 August 2015:
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