Council housing is under attack. Thousands of homes are being demolished to make way for “regeneration” as private housing.
The vast Aylesbury estate in south London became a battleground last week as Southwark Council went to war with a group of occupiers in empty flats.
Teams of contractors were sent to put up high wooden and metal fences around whole blocks. Bailiffs laid siege to one building, having already smashed up fixtures in another. Police fought, harassed and arrested protesters long into the night on Tuesday of last week.
Occupiers have since been inundated with solidarity with visitors bringing hot food and water. One occupier told Socialist Worker, “Many of those visitors live on the estate and tell us how glad they are that somebody is making a stand against the council.”
Aysen Dennis has been a council tenant on the Aylesbury for 22 years, and has been campaigning against its demolition for 15 of them.
“I count myself as part of the occupation, even if I’m not staying there,” she told Socialist Worker.
“We don’t want to leave. But it’s a prime location in London. The council wants the place for rich yuppies and to send us to the outskirts of the city.”
The Aylesbury has been used as a symbol of deprivation and poverty. This has helped make the case for getting rid of it—along with 50 other council estates around London.
But tenant Marcus Suitor said, “The place is being allowed to fall into disrepair. It makes people not want to live here any more. But we’re in a housing crisis.
“To people with nowhere to go this makes no sense.”
Aysen said, “One family in the block has had no heating for months and can’t get the council to fix it.
“Despite this people always say they don’t want to leave—they just want the council to do its job.”
Refurbishing the homes would be a big job which the council says it can’t afford. But knocking them down and rebuilding would cost far more.
The difference is that private developers can get onboard that way—and expect handsome returns.
It is the same story in other councils and with London Tory mayor Boris Johnson’s plan for the whole capital.
The new estate is to be denser—but with only a few council homes.
Aysen said, “Everywhere council housing is under attack. Even ‘social housing’ has meant higher rents and tenancies that make it easier to evict people.”
“They should build more council housing instead of privatising what we have.”
‘Why aren’t we good enough for these new places?’
Arinola Adefuwa was supposed to lose her home on Thursday of last week.
But landlords the charity Guinness Trust did a U-turn in the face of protests.
“I’ve been a tenant here for ten years,” Arinola told Socialist Worker. “If the bailiffs come for me I’ll have nowhere to go.”
Tenants and supporters occupied an empty flat on the estate in Brixton, south London, for six days before the planned eviction.
Arinola’s eviction was to have been over rent arrears, but Guinness has had to promise all tenants a payoff that would have made these irrelevant.
Tenants saw this instead as an attempt to start the process of getting rid of all of them.
A court ruling on Wednesday of last weeek gave Guinness a pretext to back down from the eviction.
But tenants believe their protests are responsible. They have already forced Guinness to change its position several times.
First it claimed to have no obligation to tenants and would leave them to find homes in the private sector.
Then it said they could apply for other Guinness Trust properties, but only outside London. Now they have relented on this too.
Another tenant, Ellisha, said, “We’ve been making progress. But they’ve only given us a very short window. If we’ve not found anywhere by April they’ll evict us. They’re setting us up for failure. They need to offer us a property, not just say we’re entitled to a tenancy if we find one.”
Tenants fear they won’t be able to stay in the area if redevelopment goes ahead. In Brixton this has the added edge that it is mainly black tenants who will be forced out.
Ellisha said, “They could have housed us by now. So why are they trying to get rid of us?
“Why aren’t we good enough to live in these new places? It’s social cleansing, and there is something discriminatory about it.”
Resistance is putting landlords on the back foot. But people still have a fight on their hands.
As Guinness Trust tenants rallied on Thursday of last week, tenant Betty said, “The battle’s not over.
“The threat is still hanging over us to be evicted with nowhere to go. The pressure has to continue.”
'We will fight until the end’
Defend Council Housing (DCH) has called a protest for the Aylesbury on Saturday 14 March. Aysen said, “We are leafletting and petitioning for it.
“We are going to fight them to the end. We will never give up.”
Facing down the threats
The first time the council tried to have the Aylesbury demolished was in 2001.
Tenants and DCH campaigned and won a ballot against it. Aysen remembers, “One guy from the council’s team said, ‘you haven’t won—we are coming back’.
“Since then they have spent the estate budget on magazines to lie to tenants about demolition—and haven’t been doing any basic maintenance or repairs.”
‘Bedroom tax is killing me’
Marcus from the Aylesbury has been hit hard by the bedroom tax.
“The cost is killing me,” he said.
“They’ve said it’ll take a year to find me a smaller flat.
“But I can see empty one and two bed flats in this very estate.”