The Blog

MIPIM and Labour's Housing Shame

You can almost smell the contempt from here, but if out elected representatives think they can get away with playing politics with people's homes - as we have also seen in Newham - they are quite wrong.

This week housing activists across a multitude of campaigns have united to protest against the MIPIM Property Developers Fair at London Olympia (October 15-17) with the Radical Housing Network viewing the event as "a breeding ground for property developers, investment bankers, landlords and sell-out politicians", adding that "MIPIM represents the celebration of a housing system that puts concerns of profit over people's right to a decent home."

As well as London Mayor Boris Johnson, some campaigners have directed their ire at the leader of Lambeth Council, Lib Peck. Peck is a speaker at an event that has - under pressure - been hastily retitled from 'Investing in affordable housing: Is it worth it?' to 'The case for investing in affordable housing.'

While other Labour councils have pulled out of the event altogether, Lib Peck and Lambeth have not.

Whatever platitudes she has to offer, campaigners - myself included - point to an array of sins coming from a borough synonymous with housing scandals.

Lambeth has over 20,000 on the waiting list, but has sold housing stock without replacing it; it has moved targets for 'affordable homes', demolished and gentrified estates and forced out established communities in the process. Furthermore, it has destroyed long-standing housing co-ops, closed, and threatened to close, sheltered housing, overcharged for poor repairs, and has overseen stock transfers and PFI time-bombs that have both led to crippling rents.

It's a crock, essentially, and the merciless and unforgiving way in which the ruling Labour group have carried out these actions makes a mockery of them when they try and pass the buck to the Coalition as taking the sole blame.

I've witnessed, first-hand, the poor attitude of Lambeth over the eviction of residents from so-called 'shortlife' housing co-ops and the consequent sell-off of social housing stock.

The co-ops have provided home to a diverse community for nearly 40 years, with many residents now elderly and vulnerable. They started up in the 1980s when local authorities actively encouraged the settlement (that had already begun) of decrepit houses left abandoned and Compulsory Purchase Ordered for demolition in the 1970s. The value of these homes now is now thrown in residents' faces as if it was their fault that they kept them standing.

What could have been a success story like Bonnington Square in Vauxhall has been spurned by a negligent council with no sense of history and no sense of decency as clear promises made to residents have been shamelessly broken.

To add insult to injury the council have denied - without a viable explanation - democratic recourse against the evictions including a Councillor Call for Action and a special meeting on evictions - even Freedom of Information requests have been shirked. Don't expect any straight answers from lead officers or councillors either. When asked direct questions they don't want to answer they simply say they have nothing further to add. How convenient.

Meanwhile, the human cost of this debacle has included one man who suffered a heart attack four days before his trial. He was subsequently in a coma for months and lost his hearing and ability to speak, now a full recovery will be a distant prospect - if possible at all. Among other travesties is the 64-year-old cancer sufferer who was issued with an eviction notice even though he agreed to move and who has now - campaigners believe - been threatened with an eviction from his new council house. Another resident was promised he would not be evicted only to return home one day to find bailiffs in his house. A resident with psychological condition was refused rehousing after he left his home hours before bailiffs arrived and an extremely vulnerable woman was only rehoused after the town hall was occupied. Then there is the ongoing threat against a 75-year-old community leader and basketball coach in Brixton.

Lambeth Council likes to think it is undergoing an image makeover, putting power in the hands of residents. On housing issues nothing could be further from the truth. Where they have excelled themselves here is to remind people why they don't bother with local politics or politicians. When I asked one previously supportive councillor why the promise that "Labour councillors will continue to fight for the right to remain in your home" had been broken, he replied: "That's politics."

You can almost smell the contempt from here, but if out elected representatives think they can get away with playing politics with people's homes - as we have also seen in Newham - they are quite wrong.

Julian Hall

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