Wednesday 8 February is the next stage of the campaign for decent housing. Delegates from around Britain are gearing up for the Defend Council Housing (DCH) lobby of parliament on that day.
Frank Chance is the tenant chair of Birmingham DCH. He explained to Socialist Worker why he is organising for people to come to the lobby. Frank said, “In Birmingham tenants voted two to one against stock transfer.
“We’re coming to London to win direct investment to fund the improvements we need as an alternative to mass demolition and transfer. Together we are a powerful force.”
This feeling was echoed by Cathy, a tenant from Tower Hamlets in east London. She said, “We have to be there on 8 February to show that this issue is not going away.
“They think that they can hold ballots as and when they think they can win — but that’s not right. Those people are our councillors and our MPs. They represent us — and we have to make them remember that. It’s not just about our homes, it’s about homes for our kids, and future generations.”
DCH chair Alan Walters said, “Council tenants, trade unionists and elected councillors are coming to London from across Britain to take part in a big rally and lobby our MPs.
“We’re coming from areas where tenants have rejected the government’s three options and gone for stock retention, areas due to vote this year and from estates run by arm’s length management organisations (Almos) now threatened by plans to transfer the companies into the private sector.
“We won’t accept the government’s bullying and blackmail to privatise our homes through transfer, PFI or the two-stage Almos.
“Winning the ‘fourth option’ will provide a secure future for tenants in the 93 authorities that have decided on stock retention, and tenants in the 43 authorities with Almos who now face the threat of the council-owned company being transferred into the private sector.
“We want to protect our security of tenure, lower rents and more accountable landlord from the mercy of market forces, private landlords and the banks.
“The government should respect the democratic right of tenants to choose to remain with the council and get improvements to our homes and estates. Tenants in 100 authorities where councils are pushing transfer, PFI or Almos this year deserve a real choice.
“We’re winning the argument among politicians of all parties. The broad alliance we’re building is going to secure a future for council housing. We’re fighting for investment to improve existing homes and build new decent, affordable, secure and accountable council homes.”
Tenants who live on estates run by an Almo need to be at the lobby to fight against proposals to extend the five year contract that will effectively hand control of council stock to private companies.
The government is facing an ever growing crisis over housing. A report by Liberal Democrat MP Paul Burstow shows that one in ten Londoners are currently on a council housing waiting list.
It shows that 309,072, or 9.6 percent of households in London, are on local housing waiting lists — an increase of nearly 10 percent (29,343) between 2004 and 2005.
The boroughs with the highest number of people waiting on housing lists are in east London. In Newham and Tower Hamlets more than one in four households are on the waiting list.
Despite this there was a decrease in newly built council houses of around 60 percent between 1996 and 2004.
Margot Lindsey is a tenant on the Aylesbury estate in south London where the council lost a ballot to transfer 2,700 homes to the private sector. The council now says the estate is “unsafe” and needs to be demolished.
She said, “Some 74 percent of tenants on the Aylesbury estate voted to keep their council homes just two years ago. There have been attempts to frighten tenants into thinking that the estate is about to fall down and to persuade us that we live in a hell hole.
“We are coming to the lobby to demand Blair keeps his promise to invest in the Aylesbury and that the council stops trying to push tenants into deals with housing associations.”
Round the corner from the Aylesbury estate is an example of the deal tenants can receive. One of the largest social landlords in south London is the Church of England, which is set to sell off 11,000 of its properties to commercial landlords. The church sold 455 of its properties last year, making £70 million.
Fourth option for council housing, lobby of parliament, 12 noon, 8 February. For more information go to www.defendcouncilhousing.org.uk