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23 Sep, 2014 17:50

‘Social housing, not social cleansing!’ Homeless mothers & kids fight back by occupying London flats

‘Social housing, not social cleansing!’ Homeless mothers & kids fight back by occupying London flats

Protesting against the lack of affordable social housing in an East London borough, a group of 29 homeless single mothers and their children have occupied a block of flats to demand action on the city’s housing crisis.

The group, calling itself “Focus E15,” complained that an estate in Stratford was almost empty, having been cleared by the local council, while increasing numbers of local people could not afford to buy or rent a home.

The women said people were facing homelessness and displacement due to the lack of affordable and social housing in London. They called for “social housing, not social cleansing”.

.@FocusE15 campaigners stand outside council housing that is being sold off by @newhammayor in #Newham. #Lab14pic.twitter.com/9CRa7WTuQH

— Ben Maloney (@Ben_Maloney) September 21, 2014

The group said the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, which overlooks the Olympic Village, has 2,000 empty council homes, and criticised Newham Council for selling off land to a private developer. The council wants 3,000 private rental homes built on the site.

However, the council’s last deal fell through, leaving around 600 much-needed council homes empty. There are more than 24,000 households in the borough waiting for somewhere to live.

During the 2012 Olympics, Newham Mayor Robin Wales rented out the tower blocks to the BBC and Al-Jazeera as filming locations. They also allowed Gillette to hang an advertising banner from another. They would not, however, open them to the homeless.

“When we met Newham’s Labour mayor, Sir Robin Wales, he told us: ‘if you can’t afford to live in Newham, you can’t afford to live in Newham,’” Focus E15 campaigner Jasmin Stone told The Guardian.

“We grew up in Newham. We find this attitude disgusting. No one on low wages or benefits, or even an average income, can afford to live here.”

With chants of “these homes need people, these people need homes,” the women broke into one of the blocks over the weekend, occupying four flats and converted the building into a community centre.

The women had been forced to leave their hostel just over a year ago because of funding cuts. They were advised by council officers to move with their children to low-rent parts of Birmingham, 100 miles away, and Manchester, 165 miles away.

When they failed to find alternative accommodation close to family and friends, the women started a petition and began storming council offices.

“My daughter was 13 months old when I received the eviction notice,” said Stone. “I was living in a hostel in Stratford, London E15. The letter said that we had two months to get out. We were homeless; that’s why we were in the hostel in the first place. We didn’t have anywhere else to go. There were 210 other young women living there. Now it’s luxury flats.”

Solidarity with awesome @FocusE15 + @HousingActionSL; both occupying Carpenters Estate and have opened social centre pic.twitter.com/Eqjbo6rK6M

— Automnia (@Aut_Omnia) September 21, 2014

Local media picked up on their plight, prompting the council to claim that the eviction notices had been “a mistake”. Backtracking, officials said the women could remain in their hostel until the council was able to secure homes for them locally.

The women, however, pursued their occupation, drawing attention to London’s deepening housing crisis.

Their occupation has received praise and support on social media with the hashtag #occupiedE15. Occupiers have shared regular updates via @E15OpenHouse and @FocusE15.

This is our beautiful living room! Shameful that these lovely homes stay boarded up and empty @FocusE15#occupiedE15pic.twitter.com/l90wCMG7Ce

— E15 Open House (@E15OpenHouse) September 23, 2014

“The boarded-up house we have opened is in beautiful condition,” said Stone. “It has running water, a power shower, working gas and electricity. Just by adding a sofa, table and chairs and some plants, we have turned this [flat] into a home, and solved the housing crisis for one of the 6,500 rough sleepers or thousands of other homeless people in London.

“Newham council claims it can’t afford to house us, yet it found the money to hire dozens of private security guards on Sunday to try, unsuccessfully, to keep us out of the empty properties on the Carpenters Estate.”

According to House of Commons statistics, 478,000 people with jobs claimed housing benefit in 2009-10, rising to an expected 962,000 this year and to around 1.23 million in 2018-19. The official figures also underline Britain’s acute shortage of low-cost housing.

The Poverty and Social Exclusion in the United Kingdom (PSE) project, led by the University of Bristol, this year found that almost 18 million people are unable to afford adequate housing, while one in three do not have the money to heat their homes properly in winter.