Category: Housing

Marching from tower to tower

Photo by Peter Marshall

On Saturday 12th August, as part of our ongoing strategy of linking up with grassroots housing activists, I attended the March of the towers: Resistance in the East End! protest organised by Focus E15https://www.facebook.com/focuse15/ – and supported by a healthy range of groups and individuals. The march started at Ferrier Point in Canning Town, went on from there to Tanner Point in Plaistow and finished up at the Carpenters Estate in Stratford. Both Ferrier Point and Tanner Point have cladding similar to that used at Grenfell Tower – understandably, residents of both blocks are fearful about what could happen and frustrated at being messed around by Newham Council. The Carpenters Estate is being depopulated by the same council in a cynical bid to offload it and trouser a huge wedge from a developer.

It wasn’t the biggest march (in terms of numbers) I’ve been on this year but certainly the most passionate and for it’s size, pretty damn loud as well. It was visually impressive with the banners and the smoke flares, particularly as we were coming into Stratford. Loads of flyers were handed out to the people we passed by to let them know what was going on and why we were marching. This should be standard practice on marches but sadly it ain’t – credit to Focus E15 for doing this and spreading the message.

It was great to be not marching alongside the usual suspects but with feisty working class people for a change. It was also good to see Movement For Justice – https://www.facebook.com/movementforjustice/ – and East End Sisters Uncut – https://www.facebook.com/eastendsistersuncut/ – amongst others coming along to support the march. This shows that a diverse range of groups can effectively work together as and when the need arises. This fits in with our support for making alliances as and when the need arises without getting hung up about ideological purity.

Also, there were no cops intervening at any point…brilliant! ‘Whose Streets? Our Streets!’ actually had some serious meaning yesterday…

All in all, it was a good day where alliances were formed and strengthened and morale raised. We’re more than happy to continue to continue to offer our solidarity to Focus E15 and the other groups who stand alongside them…

Dave (the editor)

The fightback starts now

Just under a month ago, we undertook a distribution of a Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) flyer on the ¾ estate in Vange on the southern fringes of Basildon – this was our write up of what we found: Where the new town dream has died…https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/07/06/where-the-new-town-dream-has-died/ Since that low point, there have been a number of encouraging developments: Positive developments in Vangehttps://theestuaryalternative.wordpress.com/2017/07/16/positive-developments-in-vange/

On the evening of Wednesday 2nd August, along with our comrades from BASHA, we met up with representatives from the Vange Hill Community Group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/180311358699122/ – and two of the ward councillors for a walk around the estate to get a fuller picture of what the issues were and start to work out an action strategy to deal with them.

One of the problems on the ¾ estate is tenure… A lot of houses were brought by their tenants when the right to buy came in. Many of these properties have since been brought up by buy to let landlords…some of who are total scumbags. Anecdotal evidence suggests that tenancies on a fair number of the buy to let homes are on short leases. Many of these are ‘houses of multiple occupation’ that are seriously overcrowded. It feels that the sense of community that used to be found on the estate disappeared long ago as the number of people moving in and out on short term leases increased. Instead of neighbourliness and solidarity, there’s fear, suspicion and a collapse of morale…

Then there’s the neglect by Basildon Council, Circle Housing and Swan Housing – all have some responsibility for various parts of the estate but none seem to want to talk or co-operate with each other! There are issues with rubbish collection which have been going on for years and show no sign of ever being resolved. There are broken kerbs and potholes everywhere. As for the walkways and steps, apart from the fact that they appear to be going back to nature as the grass and weeds take over, there are numerous uneven and broken paving slabs that mean you need to keep your eye on where you’re walking to avoid tripping over…

Despite the teeming rain, the walkabout was a positive experience. Vange Hill Community Group are passionate about turning round the fortunes of the estate and members have already started clean ups in the immediate vicinity of their homes. We spent a long time talking to them about how we can support and facilitate what they’re doing and getting the outline of an action plan in place.

One aim is to lead by example… This will be when a small group of neighbours get together to clear up rubbish, strim out unwanted weeds, clear unsafe steps of leaves and weeds and where appropriate, set up a community flower bed. As well as making a physical difference, the process of doing this will start to rebuild the community solidarity and pride that the ¾ estate desperately needs. If this can start to happen at a few points on the estate and can be sustained, then it will hopefully set an example that others will want to emulate it so that the ‘reclaimed’ bits of the estate physically link up with each other.

However, as you can see from the images taken on the walkabout, we and Vange Hill Community Group are under no illusions about the scale of the task…it’s a good job we like a challenge!


A ‘house of multiple occupation’ with a front garden turned into a rubbish tip


Electricity and flood water are not a good mix!


One of the neglected paths and open areas on the estate


One of many flights of steps that appear to be getting left to go back to nature, making them hazardous for pedestrian use


Looks like someone’s had a clear out…

Advance notice – March of the towers!

We’ll be going along to this to show our solidarity with housing struggles in East London: March of the towers! https://www.facebook.com/events/1951128301839783/

Date: Saturday August 12th

Join us for a march and speak out to demand safe homes, not social cleansing in East London.

The flats of Ferrier Point and Tanner Point are both tower blocks with the same cladding as Grenfell Tower. Carpenters Estate in Stratford is marked for demolition by Newham Labour council.

Let us meet to raise the issues of secure housing in our local community and demand that the council provides suitable housing for residents.

Meet 12 midday: Ferrier Point, Forty Acre Lane, Canning Town E16 and/or 1pm: Tanner Point, Pelly Road, Plaistow E13.

From there we will be marching to the Carpenters Estate, Stratford E15.

And from 2.30pm we will be having a ‘hands around the Carpenters Estate’ solidarity event and speak out with residents to organise resistance to decanting, demolition and social cleansing.

Take action to defend people’s right to homes and safety.

Join us at Midday, bring your banners and your voices and your hearts!

As we’ve written and said more times than we care to remember, what happens in London with social cleansing as a consequence of ‘regeneration’ in the service of making the capital a welcome home for the global super rich and their money has a direct impact on us out here along the estuary. This is why we show solidarity with housing activists in London fighting this tide of social cleansing from the capital – as far as we’re concerned, the housing struggle, regardless of where it takes place, is one struggle.

Newham Council…it’s just got personal…

I took part in a protest organised by Focus E15 today (Monday 24th July) outside the Newham Council housing office at Bridge House, Stratford. The protest was called to offer solidarity to Chantelle who’s facing eviction and possible relocation out of Newham this week and also for Elina who has been re-located by Local Space Stratford to Pitsea miles away from her family and support network. We support protests like this because what happens in London as people are socially cleansed as part of the project of making the capital a welcome home for the global super rich has direct consequences for our communities out here along the estuary: Booted out of London…https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/06/19/booted-out-of-london/

Along with Basildon & Southend Housing Action, we’re doing what we can to support Elina, working closely with Focus E15 in the process. We know that as far as Newham Council and Local Space Stratford are concerned, once their residents have been re-located out of the borough, they have effectively washed their hands of any meaningful responsibility for their welfare. Not only that, communication between the likes of Newham Council and the local authorities receiving their former residents are pretty much non-existent. When people being booted out of London are dumped on estates in Basildon that already have more than their fair share of problems, it exacerbates existing tensions…

This is why we’ve produced the above flyer to explain to locals in Basildon what the situation is, to not blame the people being relocated out here but instead, aim their anger at the authorities in London complicit in social cleansing. We know there are divide and rule merchants out here who will exploit this situation to promote their own reactionary agenda – we’ve no intention of letting these bigots get away with it. The actions of the likes of Newham Council in dumping people out here make our lives as activists more difficult as we have to deal with the consequences. Outside Bridge House today when I took the mic for a few minutes, I let Newham Council know in no uncertain terms that as a result of their actions, they will have to deal with us and Basildon & Southend Housing Action as well as Focus E15 and their allies. To put it bluntly, it’s now got personal…

Bridge House, where the protest was held, is just round the corner from the Carpenters Estate with its iconic tower blocks surrounded by low rise housing. In its heyday, the estate had a reputation for being a thriving community where people got along regardless of who they were or where they came from. The tower blocks are now empty and Newham Council are now putting pressure on the remaining residents in the low rise housing to leave. This is so the council can flog off the estate to developers and trouser the cash. In their greed and hubris, they’ve killed off a community. Newham Council along with all the other London councils engaging in social cleansing need to be told that breaking up communities and decanting residents right out of the capital has consequences and they will be made to pay for them…

Dave (the editor)

Out of sight, out of mind…

That has up until now, generally been the attitude of Thurrock Council when it comes to dealing with the growing problem of flytipping down alleyways across the borough. The attitude was that if it can’t be seen from the road, it’s not a problem, even though the lives of residents have been blighted by the alleyways behind their houses being blocked by flytipped trash. Well, according to this piece on Your Thurrock, the council may be having a change of mind about this: Thurrock Council pledge to undertake fly-tipping reviewhttp://www.yourthurrock.com/2017/07/17/thurrock-council-pledge-undertake-fly-tipping-review/ Mind you, it’s only a review so let’s not get too excited that we might be moving towards a solution on this…

On the subject of solutions, we’re reproducing in full a comment left after the Your Thurrock piece which makes some very useful practical suggestions but also expresses the poster’s utter frustration in dealing with the council:
1. Fire gates either end with keys distributed to all households. 2. Organising residents who wish to maintain the alleyways. 3. Up north most alleyways are now small communal gardens made by the residents. 4. Clean, organised alleyways deter dumping as tippers know they’re being watched. It also deters residents from dumping out their back gate. 5. Making the resident responsible for their allotted area of alleyway also helps. 6. Lighting would be good too as this seems to deter the drug users. Some councils have employed solar lighting to deter these and fly tippers. 7. Portable CCTV can be employed, again tippers never know if the cameras are live or not. Most people who live with alleyways behind their properties are sick of all the dumping and fly tipping. We live on one that when we moved in in 2000 was a lovely little alley, well kept and maintained. We have motorcycles that we store in the back of the garden and it was easy to get them out. Now it’s impossible to even walk down these alleys. We have contacted the council on numerous occasions telling of the needles from drug use in the alley, but they said they sent someone to a look, bit of a lie, as I was around when the inspector viewed it and he stood at the top of the alley then got in his car and drove off. I was told he even picked up some discarded needles. Oh no he didn’t. We, the neighbours have removed the needles ourselves. We even had a cat come home with one stuck in his paw. The trouble with this council is the attitude of “If it cannot be seen from the road, we do nothing”. That was exactly the words used when we complained over two years ago. As for our councillors, I have mailed all of them and had no reply. One was too busy being Mayor (Cathy Kent as mentioned in this article), the other (her husband) running for MP, and the third I don’t even know who he is. Waste of space if you ask me. Well, there you go. You want comments, now you hear it from the streets affected. I bet I’m not the only one that’s so angry with the “Clean up the Town and forget the outskirts” mentality of the council. Oh, and by the way, Mrs Kent. we now have spilled oil, welding gas canister, 3 bed frames plus mattresses, a couple of fridges, a washing machine and a sofa. There will be a TV next week, we’ll have all we need to set up home right there in the back alley. Coming round for tea? No, I thought not.
robbiep

Looking at the tenure of properties in areas affected by flytipping may also be an idea. From when we’ve been doing door-to-door deliveries of the Stirrer paper, it seems that there are some areas with a lot of buy to let properties with a fair few being rented out on short term leases. Add in an element of landlords who cut corners and get away with the bare minimum they’re obliged to do with some blatantly flouting the rules, then you may well have an explanation for where at least some of the flytipping is coming from. Whether Thurrock Council are prepared to spend time and resources chasing up rogue landlords is however, another matter.

As we’ve written before, a large number of buy to let properties in a neighbourhood is going to cause problems, particularly if a fair number of them are on short term leases: Where the new town dream has died…https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/07/06/where-the-new-town-dream-has-died/ With people constantly moving in and out, there’s no community spirit or sense of belonging which is why flytipping becomes a major issue because the flytippers sense that no one cares and that they can get away with it. It goes back to the long term project of trying to rebuild community solidarity and addressing issues of tenure to introduce an element of stability back into neighbourhoods affected by these issues. That however, is unlikely to happen this side of a major political, social and economic change…

One part of the problem…

Referring to the previous two posts about the state of the ¾ estate in Vange and our highlighting the large number of buy to lets being rented out on short term tenancies as being a contributory factor, this piece from Your Thurrock encapsulates the problem in a nutshell: Thurrock homeowner fined for dumping rubbish at front of househttp://www.yourthurrock.com/2017/07/06/thurrock-homeowner-fined-dumping-rubbish-front-house/

Granted, the story is about a property in Grays but it illustrates the attitudes of too many landlords to the neighbourhoods they operate in – basically, they don’t give a s**t! In a case like this where the landlord lives in London E17 miles away from the property concerned in Grays, it’s easy to not give a s**t as they don’t have to deal with pissed off locals. To scumbags like this, their portfolios of property are seen as a tidy income stream and nothing more than that. If that income can be maximised by cutting every corner they can get away with, they will do so. In the case of this particular landlord, he took the piss once too often and was hauled before the court.

Taking landlords like this to court is like trying to put a sticking plaster over a gaping wound. It’s a token gesture which may make a few landlords look at how they operate and decide to pull their socks up but it does nothing to address the underlying problems. Prosecuting cases like this is being seen to be doing something while conveniently ignoring the attitude that sees housing as an investment vehicle as opposed to the basic human right it should in a civilised society.

Whether it’s slum landlords like the one in this case or developers building block after block of apartments in formerly working class areas of London that end up as investment vehicles which remain empty as they’re ‘flipped’ on the market, the attitude that housing is an investment prevails. As long as that thinking remains unchallenged, we’ll keep on seeing slum landlords like this operate in our neighbourhoods while at the same time, more working class areas of the capital are demolished to make way for more sleek, sterile apartment blocks. To get housing seen as a basic human right is going to require fundamental political, economic and social change…it can’t come soon enough!

Where the new town dream has died…

On Wednesday 5th July, we started distributing the Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) flyer depicted below. Our first port of call was the ¾ estate in Vange. This was my first visit back to the ¾ estate for a couple of years and I was shocked at the state of the place…it’s way worse than anything I’ve ever seen in London… The ¾ estate has more than it’s fair share of problems ranging from neglect by Basildon Council and the shadowy, less than transparent operation of Circle Housing through to anti-social behaviour and what to all intents and purposes, looks like a collapse of community morale…

One of the problems on the ¾ estate is tenure… A lot of houses were brought by their tenants when the right to buy came in. The problem is that a few decades later, many of these properties have been brought up by buy to let landlords…some of who are total scumbags. Anecdotal evidence suggests that tenancies on a fair number of the buy to let homes are on short leases. One elderly resident we talked to said there were ‘a lot of comings and goings’… The feeling among the few long standing residents who remain is that the sense of community that used to be found on the estate disappeared long ago as the number of people moving in and out on short term leases increased. Instead of neighbourliness and solidarity, there’s fear, suspicion and a collapse of morale…

Then there’s the neglect by Basildon Council. Perhaps we should send them a map of the ¾ estate to remind them the place exists? There are issues with rubbish collection which have been going on for years and show no sign of ever being resolved. There are broken kerbs and potholes everywhere. As for the walkways and steps, apart from the fact that they appear to be going back to nature as the grass and weeds take over, there are numerous uneven and broken paving slabs that mean you need to keep your eye on where you’re walking to avoid tripping over…

Okay, that’s the public areas…another issue is the state of a significant minority of the homes on the estate… The phrase ‘no one gives a f***ing s**t’ and ‘how the f*** can people live like this?’ were being uttered by my comrade at frequent intervals as we delivered the flyers. A few properties looked as though their residents cared and still had some pride. A significant minority of them had overgrown, rubbish strewn, dog s**t covered front gardens. Granted, a lot of properties are on short term leases but…can the tenants not show some respect for their neighbours by at least making an effort to keep things tidy? It’s not just short term tenants who are the problem – we know there’s a significant minority of long term tenants who also appear to have given up making any effort to keep up appearances.

Morale on the ¾ estate has collapsed. It’s a massive task to try and turn the whole of the ¾ estate round and we (BASHA and the Stirrer) haven’t got the resources to do that. However, there’s one small corner where we have got a couple of contacts and we’re going to work with them on a community clean up. We’re talking about a strategy of turning round one small corner of the estate and using that as an example that we hope will eventually spread. At the same time, we’re going to start building up a picture of the tenure patterns on the ¾ estate, paying particular attention to the element of buy to let landlords who are taking the p***.

By initiating a community clean up in one small corner of the ¾ estate, we hope to start the long slog of re-building community morale and solidarity. Watch this space for developments…

Dave (the editor)

Fire safety issues with Orchard Village

We’ve written before about the problems afflicting the Orchard Village development in South Hornchurch which was built to replace most of the Mar Dyke estate: Building the slums of the futurehttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/02/22/building-the-slums-of-the-future/ It has come as no surprise to us that given the shoddy construction at the development and what can only be described as a lack of oversight during its construction, residents are quite rightly raising concerns about fire safety: Orchard Village Rainham residents demand more action over fire safety concernshttp://www.romfordrecorder.co.uk/news/orchard-village-rainham-residents-demand-more-action-over-fire-safety-concerns-1-5065312

Colin Nickless, chair of the Orchard Village Residents Association raised concerns about fire safety issues late last year. He provided photographic evidence showing breaches in building regulations and failures in fire protection which would counter the Stay Put policy in the event of a fire breaking out. Stay Put depends upon the building being fire resistant to the extent that any fire that does break out is confined within its point of origin and does not spread to neighbouring homes. A resident who knew a retired fire officer invited him to look at the development. The retired fire officer made a list which was submitted to the London Fire Brigade’s fire safety department. The upshot of this is that an additional engine will be submitted to any fire calls at Orchard Village.

Let’s just take a step back here… Superficially, Orchard Village might look fresh and modern but once you take a closer look at the development and the numerous flaws in construction are revealed, as we wrote back in March, it’s set to become a slum of the future if serious remedial work isn’t undertaken soon. Residents, regardless of what form of tenure they hold, should not have to be fighting to have shoddy construction remedied and most definitely should not have to be highlighting serious issues with fire safety. In the 21st century in a supposedly advanced country, it ought to be a matter of routine to get any housing development built to a high standard shouldn’t it?

Reality check… We live in an age where money talks loud and if cutting corners means more dosh in the bank for developers, builders and suppliers, cutting corners is what will happen. If you want a textbook example of cutting corners on a development, pop down to Orchard Village and take a look. This is an object lesson of what happens when the provision of decent, safe and truly affordable housing is not seen as a basic duty but as a source of profit in a dysfunctional, parasitic economy that is over-dependent on the property market. The problem is that when housing is being built for maximum profit, decent, safe and truly affordable are all too often pushed down the priority list…

Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel accommodation with hours notice

PRESS RELEASE: Radical Housing Network – http://radicalhousingnetwork.org/

Today residents of Grenfell Tower were given eviction notices from their temporary accommodation in Kensington, in a move described as ‘barbaric’ by Radical Housing Network.

Residents of Grenfell Tower who had been staying at the Holiday Inn, Kensington, were told today that they were to be separated and moved by 4pm to other temporary hotel accommodation across London, in places such as in Heathrow, Lambeth, Southwark and north London. Following intervention by legal observers, most of the residents have been moved together to a hotel in Westminster.

Pilgrim Tucker, a community organiser working with the Grenfell Action Group and liaising with residents at the hotel, said:
“It’s beyond disgusting that after all these people have been through – losing their neighbours and watching their homes burn to the ground – authorities are prepared to tell them that they have hours to pick up their bags and move to some unknown destination, separated from their friends and neighbours. It makes you wonder if anything’s been learned from the Grenfell catastrophe.”

Radical Housing Network, an alliance of which Grenfell Action Group is a member, said:
“Today Grenfell residents staying together in a Kensington hotel were told they were going to be split up and scattered across London at a moment’s notice. Moving people around who have been through horror and trauma from one temporary accommodation to another is barbaric and unnecessary, and speaks of a degree of callousness by the authorities.

“Only yesterday Sajid Javid was promising that all those made homeless by the Grenfell fire would be rehoused in the borough within a matter of weeks. The government needs to move fast to make good on this commitment to rehouse all those made homeless by this catastrophe, according their wishes and needs.

“We still need answers as to what will happen to private renters, subtenants and homeowners of Grenfell Tower. We strongly suggest that given the scale of the disaster – and the trauma, mismanagement and negligence surrounding this case – all tenants of Grenfell, not just council tenants, are prioritised for permanent social housing in the local borough. If no so such social housing is available, we suggest Kensington & Chelsea council dip into their £274 million cash reserves to buy up property and turn it into social housing.

“Grenfell Tower is an indictment of a broken housing system – one where council housing is systematically run down and tenants are treated with contempt.

“It’s about time we had housing for people not for profit – and public investment in secure, decent, genuinely affordable housing for everyone.”

Coming soon…

Below is the housing flyer we’re planning to distribute with our friends from Basildon & Southend Housing Action on selected estates in Basildon in a bid to de-bunk some of the myths and rumours about the housing situation that are circulating and to explain in plain language what’s actually going on. We’re experimenting with short sharp flyers instead of our usual papers to see if they’re more effective in getting the message across…