Walthamstow is hitting peak gentrification. Previously best known as home of East 17 and the end of the Victoria line, now we feature in every property programme and magazine going as a hotspot. We even won the record for the most estate agents per square mile in the country.
Where once housing was below market price, and rents equally affordable, now it's the top of my casework as local MP. As people are pushed out of the private sector so they look to the social sector to act. They face a council with over 20,000 on its housing waiting list- leading them to heart-breaking decisions to rehouse people not just out of borough, but out of the city altogether.
Investment in our area is bringing jobs and hope to our high street of a better quality of life for all. Yet our community is being fractured by a perfect storm of housing benefit caps, low wages, a lack of properties and speculation on prices. Increasingly developers are acting like vultures, picking the bones of Walthamstow's precious housing stock for quick profits at the expense of local people. Two estates embody the difference between community led renewal and one driven purely by market forces- between social cleansing and social regeneration.
In the 18 years I've lived in Walthamstow, damp, overcrowding and decay have been the defining features of the 1960s Marlowe Road estate. That it has taken until 2015 to tackle this reflects a difficult truth about investment by governments of all political hues in housing. But finally following six years of consultation, the bulldozers move in this summer to rebuild the entire estate.
Including private homes alongside the new flats helps the council cross subsidize rebuilding all but ten of the old social properties. All the current council tenants have the option to return when the new homes are built. The ex right-to-buy homeowners whose properties will be demolished will also receive the market value of their properties, plus 10%, and an offer of an equity loan to ensure they can buy one of the new houses if they want to stay. To date, of the 214 households affected, 15 private homes have been bought out by the council, 58 council tenants have chosen to move elsewhere and a further 34 say they want to join them leaving and so are in the process of doing so. 43 have yet to make up their minds and the remaining 64 have decided to stay. They will therefore be first to move into the new buildings and the remaining properties will go to those on the council waiting list. No one can deny this project will be disruptive, to both private and social residents. However, when it's finished it will offer decent social housing and desperately needed new homes to both old and new residents.
Ten minutes down the road from the Marlowe Estate is Butterfields - an estate facing a very different future. Previously owned by the anti poverty charity Glasspools, they sold the entire estate to private developers late last year to capitalise on London's housing price boom. To no one's shock except apparently Glasspools, the private developers are now evicting the residents and putting the flats up for quick sale via auction. Unlike the Marlowe Road residents, to date no compensation or new homes lie ahead for Butterfields tenants. Most are low paid workers who can ill afford moving costs, let alone the higher rents they likely face elsewhere.
Resolving Walthamstow's housing problems isn't just about building more council houses - it's also about addressing the pressures created by speculation in both the private rented sector and home ownership markets. The E17 Housing Awards were the brainchild of local residents- they recognised individual homeowners and tenants can fear reprisals if they complain, but acting collectively to highlight those who exploit residents is a powerful statement. Indeed, these actions led to the end of double charging- where estate agents charged both the buyer and seller of a property a fee for the same service. That agents now turn up to the awards, and complain about them, shows how scrutiny is starting to change their behaviour.
We want to achieve more than breaking up the dominance by some agencies of our housing market. That's why at the Awards we also heard what impact Sadiq Khan's London living rent could have. We put our case to the Council to mutalise their letting agency, offering landlords lower fees in return for a stake in the business and longer tenancies. This could create competition to take on letting agents who push up prices. Above all, we talked about how we can build more houses and cut the costs of keeping a roof above your family's head. There's lots to do - whether Sadiq's commitment build genuinely affordable housing, stopping overseas investors leaving homes empty in London or continuing the push for tenants fees to be abolished.
Handwringing about the horrors of London's housing market or saying 'come the revolution' to those who are facing eviction or debt, or both, isn't good enough. Walthamstow cannot sit back and wait for public funding alone or even a much longed for change of Government with Foxtons at our doorsteps now. Our annual Housing Awards are part of a bigger campaign to try to tackle the interconnected problems that are pushing prices up and people out. Those who don't have a Labour Council helping them and face an uncertain future in our community, need and deserve nothing less.