London boroughs are sending people to live on industrial estates in Harlow, Essex.
Many of the people living there are suffering from depression as a result. Tenants spoke to Socialist Worker about the harsh reality of life on the estates.
“In the first two months of me living here someone killed herself,” said Linda. “She hung herself in one of the upstairs rooms.”
She has been living in a bedsit in Templefields House on the River Way estate for one year and eight months—in one room with her two young children. She is now moving out.
“Everyone here is depressed,” said Linda. “There’s no transport, people have to walk miles with their kids to school. You see people crying openly very often.”
The block is divided up into four sections. Gary said, “In one people from Harlow, in one people from Havering, and in the other two live people from all over London.”
Although some private tenants live there, the majority of people are in temporary housing. Numbers have grown massively as well over one million people are on council house waiting lists in Britain.
It’s a direct consequence of the gutting of council housing. Private developers and property managers are more than happy to step in and make a killing from the most vulnerable people.
Linda said she was moved to the block after living in the London borough of Havering. “The council said they had discharged their duty of care by putting me here,” she explained.
“I then went to Harlow council, which said I have to live there for five years before they can help me.
“Eventually I was forced to go to work to afford private accommodation, despite having a baby and a three year old child. Most of my money goes on childcare now.”
People don’t feel safe at Templefields House. Several described how they would not go near the bin area because of rats. The road outside the block is an access road for the industrial estate—lorries barrel down it, ten feet from where children play. A security guard is present only on weekdays.
At least three Harlow office blocks have been repurposed by the council to house people. Templefields House is one of them, another is on the West Road industrial estate, and another is Terminus House in the town centre.
Templefields has enough rooms to accommodate 174 people, according to a sign on the front. It’s not clear if three people to one room is included in the calculations of Caridon Property, the private firm that services the building.
Caridon promises to “offer landlords a reliable and consistent income” by guaranteeing the landlord rent. The company’s website says, “We effectively become the perfect tenant, providing landlords with a service that ensures peace of mind and regular payments with no hidden fees.”
At Phoenix House on the West Road industrial estate residents told Socialist Worker the council had told them there was a regular bus service to get to the block.
“I was waiting by the side of the road for hours before someone told me the bus stopped coming here six months ago,” said Tanya.
Residents have to get taxis or walk.
Heni described how most of her money goes on travel. “It’s a 25 minute walk to the station—more with a pushchair,” she said. “You have to go to town for everything—the post office, the bank, all of that.”
The story here is the same—London councils “discharging their duty of care” by kicking people out of London.
Tanya said the move took her away from her support networks. “I was told, ‘If you want to go somewhere quick, you have to come here.’” She was living in a halfway house that wasn’t safe, so took the first way out she could. Now if she wants to visit her family in London it costs £20 on the train.
Some vulnerable residents have been rehoused there after escaping abusive relationships. But the front door to the block can’t be locked, meaning people can just wander in to communal areas.
One resident told Socialist Worker that people have been found sleeping on the stairs. The list of complaints adds up to make life intolerable.
“Because there are other office blocks around here you can’t get sleep after 7am,” said Heni. “People are arriving at work, playing music in their cars and talking loudly from then. We can hear factory alarms going off at three or five in the morning.”
She added, “Rubbish is being burned around the corner at the recycling centre. One morning, I came down to have a cigarette I saw there was fog. But it wasn’t fog, it was smoke from the recycling plant.”
This scandal is the latest in a long list. The Tories created the housing crisis. But the fact that Labour councils, such as Harlow, are refusing to put up a fight is making it worse.
Protesters demand ballots over demolition of estates
A protest calling for ballots of residents on council estates up for redevelopment descended on the headquarters of the Greater London Assembly (GLA) on Saturday.
The protest was called by the Save Cressingham Gardens campaign from south London, The Radical Housing Network and the Homes for All campaigns.
Organisers said that up to 300 people attended.
Campaigners from across London came to put pressure on London’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan.
“People like you and me and our neighbours are not going to take it anymore,” said Paul Burnham from Haringey Defend Council Housing in north London. “We have to make them listen,” said another campaigner from the stage.
Khan promised ballots on all redevelopments back in July. Some 36 estates were excluded from the promise because redevelopments were already underway.
Importantly, his proposals also gave developers the power to decide when, or if, ballots would be introduced.
Homes for All Summit, Saturday 8 December, 11am, NEU HQ, Hamilton House, London WC1H 9BD