Monday, 28 April 2014

Social Housing, Not Social Cleansing

Campaigners of all ages at the South Kilburn Estate  Photo: Sujata Aurora

Last Saturday afternoon I joined other members of Brent Housing Action on a ‘Housing Inequality Bus Tour’ highlighting the harsh human consequences of London’s deepening housing crisis. A double-decker bus hired by the union UNITE set off from Bishops’ Avenue near Highgate (also known as ‘billionaire’s row’) and made stops at key sites where regeneration schemes are contributing to housing injustice, including the Jubilee Sports centre near Queen’s Park and the South Kilburn Estate in Brent.

The nature and dynamics of this housing crisis are of course complicated, involving the drastic decline in the supply of social housing and its replacement by private rented accommodation during the Thatcher years; New Labour’s promotion of London as a property honey pot for the global super-rich; and now the ConDem government’s use of welfare reform to socially cleanse large chunks of the capital - including Brent, as a recent BBC Panorama programme illustrated.
The community mobilises to save the Jubilee Sports Centre Photo: Pilgrim Tucker

The really insidious aspect of this process, however, is that, whilst the drivers of the housing crisis may be global, their implementation is very local. Not a week goes by in our city without another neighbourhood asset and community space being picked out for lucrative ‘redevelopment’ – almost universally with the assistance and complicity of local authorities. In Willesden Green, the Library re-development is the most blatant example of putting profits before people. In neighbouring wards, the ongoing saga over the former Kensal Rise Library and the recent cross-Borough decision to demolish the Moberly and Jubilee Sports centres in order to build 155 housing units, only 12 of which will be ‘affordable’ represent further instances. Even the much-trumpeted South Kilburn ‘regeneration’ is in fact  ‘decanting’ many existing residents out-of-Borough to make way for one-bedroom flats with price-tags starting at £284, 950. Anyone chasing an ‘affordable’ home should expect to cough up 80% of that market price. 

The Willesden Library Gated Development for Sale in Singapore
Local campaigning groups like Brent Housing Action have sprung up across London and the rest of the country in an effort underline the connections between Council-led ‘redevelopment’ and social cleansing, and to join-up the dots between seemingly parochial regeneration schemes which are rapidly changing the social mix of the whole of London. 

One of Make Willesden Green’s slogans is that our campaign is local but not parochial. That’s why our focus on the scandalous Willesden Green Library centre re-development is not simply about unwanted changes in our own backyard – it is also fundamentally about promoting a different housing model that allows Local Authorities to build more social housing, apply rent controls to the private sector and reverse the promotion of ‘buy-to-leave’ properties.

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