Residents of the Cressingham Gardens estate in Brixton, south London, are fighting to save their homes.
The estate is facing partial demolition after Labour-controlled Lambeth Council announced regeneration plans two and a half years ago. It says regeneration is necessary as the estate has fallen into disrepair.
Under the plans, the council has a number of different options to choose from.
“Option 1” is to refurbish all the houses on the estate. This option is overwhelmingly backed by the residents.
But the council favour “Option 4”, which involves demolishing half of the estate and hiring a private property developer to build new housing.
This would mean relocating many residents, which would destroy the sense of community that has developed on the estate.
At a public meeting last month, one resident said, “I’ve been living here for 20 years. I’ve paid the rent and now they want to take it down.
“It’s not just about the estate, it’s about community. “Old people are petrified about what’s going to happen.”
Christine, an activist from the Save Cressingham Gardens campaign, agreed.
She told Socialist Worker, “A lot of people on the estate are really angry about this. Many of us raised our families here.
“The council has been neglecting the repairs for about 16 years, and now they want to knock it down.”
Anne Cooper is also a member of Save Cressingham Gardens.
She said, “About 80 percent of residents want refurbishment. But the council aren’t listening. Their ‘consultation’ of residents is a farce.”
But residents have also been fighting back. Pawel, another activist, added, “We launched the campaign when the regeneration plans were announced. It’s quite big among residents.
“We’ve continuously organised protests. Since October we’ve had five marches to the town hall.”
The campaign has wide support on the estate. Campaign banners hang from the sides of buildings, and almost every house displays a “Choose option 1” poster in their window.
The council is set to make its final decision in February or March.
Pawel says the campaigners will keep fighting up until then. And they’ll be joining other housing campaigns on the Defend Council Housing/People’s Assembly housing protest on 31 January.
“We want to link up with other estates”, he said. “We know we’re not the only ones fighting this kind of attack.”
‘We’ll be forced into slums’
The Save Cressingham Gardens campaign is part of a broader fightback against attacks on social housing in London.
At the New Era estate in north London, residents have fought against the selloff of their homes to the investment company Westbrook partners.
The company wanted to treble rents if the sale went through.
And in east London, the Focus E15 Mothers occupied a block of flats after Newham Council decided to demolish them as too expensive to renovate.
There is a sense that campaigners are fighting “gentrification”—poor people are being pushed out of London due to a rise in unaffordable housing.
The average London house price is more than £500,000. And London rents are twice the national average.
One Cressingham Gardens resident, Judith, said at a public meeting last year, “We’re going to become like Paris, where only the rich will live in the city and the rest will be forced into slums.”
A London-wide housing demo has been called by Defend Council Housing and the South London People’s Assembly for 31 January.
It will seek to draw the different campaigns together and broaden the fightback.
‘Where has our rent gone?’
Labour-run Lambeth Council claims that demolition is the only realistic option for the Cressingham Gardens estate.
It says that some of the houses have fallen into such disrepair that refurbishment would be too expensive.
Labour councillors Matthew Bennett and Marcia Cameron spoke at a Housing Crisis Question Time public meeting in December.
They said the council had not been able to carry out repairs because of a lack of funding.
They said a cut in funding from central government had left them with a budget of £3.4 million for the estate—which would not be enough to cover the cost of refurbishment.
But residents pointed out that Lambeth Council receives around £2 million in revenue from council tenants a year, and questioned what their rent had been spent on.
Ann Plant lives on the estate. She told Socialist Worker that the council had been neglecting the estate for years.
She said, “Eight years ago the roofs on some of the houses started to peel off in the autumn gales. So they did a quick temporary repair.”
It was at least four years before they began the full repairs.
Ann said, “It was like they’d just been forgotten about.”
Selling off the ‘Decent Homes’
Lambeth council says many of the homes have fallen below the Decent Homes Standard.
This refers to legislation brought in by the Labour government in 2000.
But the same legislation also allows councils to sell their houses to private companies.
Price rises push out residents
Lambeth house prices shot up by 37 percent between 2013 and 2014.
The average property value in Brixton is currently more than £474,000.
The average price of a house in Brixton is almost £900,000.
Residents fear that if they are relocated they will be priced out of Brixton.
Refurbish the existing stock
Residents estimate there are around 2,000 empty houses on Lambeth’s estates—including six in Cressingham Gardens that have been empty for 16 years.
Oxfam argued in 2012, “Full-scale refurbishment of the entire UK housing stock could support 4.7 million jobs and add £280 billion to the economy.”