Tackling the Housing Crisis – People’s Assembly pt 2

Posted: June 29, 2013 by blackdaffodil in Uncategorized

Here’s a short report from the housing meeting at the People’s Assembly, which I though was really great in terms of getting a feel for what people are doing around the country — it definitely left me quite inspired. What it lacked was a chance to talk to people and make connections in the moment as it were, but I’ve already connected up with a couple of folks through social media. Definitely a work around for problems in the structure, but for next assembly I’d just like to emphasize the need for space to be made in which people can sit and discuss things together. This is so much more important than sitting and listening to speeches or panels, as so many people there are doing incredible work and need to link that up.

I’m going to just mention everyone in bullet point form because there was little difference in expertise between those on the platform and the brilliant folks composing the audience, but I’ve included as many links as I had time for.

  • Cllr. Liz Wakefield from Brighton & Hove spoke about how they are not enforcing the bedroom tax and other ways the council is supporting council tenants — important, but more for any other councillors in the room who insist they can’t do anything. I didn’t see any Lambeth councillors in the room, but I might have missed them in fairness, it was full.
  • Carole Vincent, a council tenant and part of the Waltham Forest Bedroom Tax Campaign said that between the bedroom tax and the benefit cap, she will be paying £266 a month for her flat out of the just over £400 she receives to take care of her autistic son (hopefully I got the figures right!). Talked about families getting moved up North because smaller flats don’t exist where they live, and the march and rally they have held.
  • The speaker from SQUASH, a group fighting for squatter’s rights was rather unfortunate in her choice of words around the discrimination against squatters — which absolutely exists — but cannot be called racist nor xenophobic in my opinion. I feel those words should be saved for, well, racism and xenophobia.  But she made the key point that the government is looking to extend recent laws passed criminalising squatting to any kind of squatting or occupation whatsoever. Many of us are still fairly excited about occupying closing public institutions, so we need to pay attention to this.
  • The Eviction Resistance Network (whose new website doesn’t seem to be online at the moment, but the redirect is at their old one) helps those resisting eviction, primarily squatters, but this has been expanded to anyone interested in resisting eviction
  • Jacob Wills from DIGS in Hackney was great, talking about the need to reach out and support the communities most at risk, primarily immigrants, who were not really visible in the gathering but hopefully would be for the next. Sounds like they are doing some great community organising up there, going block by block to build for a mass meeting in Hackney. He mentioned two other coalitions that are doing work around housing and evictions, London Renters (see their Facebook page here), and the new Radical Housing Coalition which is still building.
  • Liz Davies, barrister and chair of the Haldane Society did a rather brilliant summing up, I so love lawyers that know the importance of legal battles but believe mass action is what really changes things. It’s hard to bring those two together, but I think we need to. What the government is doing now is wicked and immoral, as is the pernicious lie that immigrants are to blame for the housing crisis. We need to build a new consensus around the need for social housing that is of high quality and is truly affordable — unlike current government definitions of affordability. Inspiring stuff.

That was the panel, I think it was a fairly decent way to start giving a range of struggles, though I was surprised no one was up there representing immigrant groups, I’m glad Wills mentioned that. Here are some of the other speakers — apologies if I did not manage to note down all!

  • Someone from Disabled People Against Cuts in Bromley spoke, where someone recently committed suicide in face of the benefit cap — they are one of the places it is being piloted. They are planning a mass protest, so we need to keep an eye open for that.
  • A brilliant story from someone whose earliest memory was being held hard against a wall by his mother while they were hiding from the tax man peering through windows to see if they were home — and we are returning to that. He spoke of the need for a new party, and he was all for Left Unity.
  • Nathalie Bennet, head of the Green Party in Scotland and Wales strode to the front of the room (starting a trend), said 3,84 million people are in private rentals, we need to fight for social housing but can’t forget those in private and fight to ensure that they can see private housing as a home, not just somewhere you live before buying a house. Talked about rent control and security of tenure.
  • A brilliant pensioner talked about her daughter living rent free in a caravan in Sheffield and building a community, then spoke about her own awful Housing Association. In her words, it was ‘not bloody social housing’, you know things are bad when pensioners swear! But the HA is extortionate, wityh no cap on service charges, terrible services.
  • Ron, a brilliant American from the Manchester Against the Bedroom Tax campaign who started off his speech with a rousing ‘I have always hated the Tories!’ They are refusing to pay the bedroom tax.
  • A working from one of the Housing Associations in Glasgow, where everything is H.A. and no council housing is left. He told the brilliant story of the Glasgow housing strike in 1915 which I have written about here, where housewives led a mass movement to freeze rents and the unions supported in strength.
  • Someone from the Kilburn estate, where they are forming anti-eviction squads
  • Cavanaugh from the land registry, who made the frightening revelation that there is a movement to privatise that too. They are trying to do a project registering all land owners and showing the vast inequalities in land ownership, work on fairer taxing systems. Privatisation would end all of that of course
  • Lorraine Davis who feels that the bedroom room tax is the hour d’ouevre and the benefit cap will be the main course. You cannot afford to live anywhere in England with 4 children, forget about more than that.
  • Someone wondered who was fighting for rent control, another talked about ending specualtor rates and no fault evictions.
  • A lovely environmental health officer who talked about how people reallyw orking hard to improve public housing conditions were being shut out of the process as causing too much fuss and costing too money, talked about the necessity fo building networks connecting workers and tenants outside of the official ones which weren’t working

It definitely didn’t need to come back to the panel for comment, lovely as the panel were. But the other main point made was how important it is to save Legal Aid…you can read more about that campaign here at Save Legal Aid or here at Save UK Justice.

We’re definitely looking forward to our own assembly here in Lambeth, and waiting with some bated breath to see how large our first planning meeting for it will be. It’s on July 4th, 6:30 pm at the Vida Walsh Centre.


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