Up to 200 people joined the Homes for All annual housing summit in London on Saturday.
Speaking at the opening session Eileen Short from the campaign said, “This is about drawing all the different local campaigns together. We need to unite and mount a challenge to the Tories’ direction of travel.”
In a meeting about organising against estate demolitions one speaker agreed, “The one thing the council doesn’t like you doing is linking up with other people.”
Speakers included NEU union joint general secretary Kevin Courtney and Labour Kensington MP Emma Dent-Coad.
Kevin Courtney said, “Tommy Robinson and his crowd say housing scarcity is because of migrants. I say it’s because of the lack of rent controls and the lack of council house building.”
Speakers called on people to attend the anti-fascist demonstration on Sunday to oppose Tommy Robinson.
Emma Dent-Coad said, “Grenfell was not an accident. It was preventable and the dangers were known.
“There’s a complete lack of clarity and this is deliberate. The Tories want Grenfell to go away. It’s our job to keep it in the headlines.”
Speakers pointed out that the Tories’ hated Housing and Planning Act has been fought to a standstill. Activists debated the way forward in the fight for safe and really affordable housing. Speakers from Defend Council Housing, tenants and residents associations, the Green Party and local campaigns put arguments forward. Activists from successful campaigns travelled from around the country to share the lessons from their campaigns.
Sonya McKenzie from Waltham Forest spoke about the need to “challenge the secrecy” that lies behind many council arguments around demolitions. She also urged people to “get your challenge in early” to council plans.
Unfortunately those plans are often being hatched by Labour councils.
Steve Turner from the Unite union sent a message of solidarity to the conference. “Only with the election of a radical Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn will we see the end to the housing crisis.”
But the overriding message from people at the conference was not to trust in anyone else to fight for us. People shared stories about fighting against Labour councils’ demolition plans from Milton Keynes to Leeds.
In one session Julie Phipps from Southwark in south London argued that the Labour council there had “undermined” tenants’ organisations. And she argued that on a national level “Labour’s housing policy is not strong enough. They are talking about ‘intermediate rents’. We want one council – one rent.”
People from London talked about the need to challenge rulings from the mayor’s office. “Sadiq Khan is only interested in numbers of homes built, it doesn’t matter what kind of homes it is,” said one speaker.
The fire at Grenfell Tower happened almost exactly 18 months ago. Two sessions on Saturday discussed how to fight for safe homes in the wake of the fire, which claimed at least 72 lives.
Moyra Samuels from the Justice4Grenfell campaign talked about the “institutional indifference” that tenants in North Kensington have faced before and after the fire. She described the council’s response as a “monumental failure”.
“We need to know we’re safe wherever we are,” said a speaker from the Hazards campaign. “That means we need better regulation and that inspectors need to be regulated.”
Another speaker pointed the finger at the “utter deregulation and huge cuts to building control departments” for the safety crisis that has been revealed in residential buildings since the atrocity at Grenfell Tower.
The conference concluded with demands for a charter for private tenants, no evictions because of Universal Credit arrears and the installation of sprinklers in all buildings over four stories high.
Joe Delaney, an evacuated resident from near Grenfell Tower, said, “It might seem daunting to get change but you can’t let that weigh you down.
“We need to be more stubborn and tenacious. No decision is ever a final decision.”
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