On 22 November protesters gathered outside Kensington Olympia where Homes 2017 was being held – an event the website touts as “the south’s largest housing event”.
Hundreds of exhibitors attended from across the whole spectrum of the housing industry. Social housing, commercial property developers, housing associations and local council representatives. This makes campaigners fear the event is one big property carve up, which may risk losing low-income properties to regeneration.
That’s precisely why residents from Notting Hill Housing, Genesis and several campaign groups parked themselves outside the event hall. They held banners and blasted the megaphone to call out what they say is happening under the guise of regeneration – social cleansing. Specifically, some residents of Notting Hill Housing (NHH) and Genesis are campaigning against the merger due to happen between the two housing associations because of this very fear.
And they make a compelling case.
Genesis are already allegedly hiking up rents and maintenance charges as well as selling off properties. And NHH are vocally distancing themselves from a social housing model. A merger may mean a bigger organisation capable of building more properties. However, it won’t necessarily mean one that works for its lower income social tenants or even for its leaseholders.
That’s why residents are getting organised. But it’s not just NHH or Genesis residents who are doing so. Resistance is building up all over London in particular, as various council estates are facing demolition. Compulsory purchase orders will end with leaseholders being offered a buy-out for their property, for a figure which may appear above market value, but it would still be too low for them to then get another home in the area.
This resistance has been seen in various other parts of England too. Paul Sng’s film Dispossession highlighted this recently. Campaigns in Lambeth to save estates like Cressingham Gardens, Central Hill and opposition to a public-private development vehicle in Haringey are just some examples of anti-gentrification movements that have received media attention. Although it is perhaps the tragedy of Grenfell Tower that has brought conversations around social cleansing further into the limelight. And complaints that tower blocks and council-owned property are being left to go into disrepair or unfit for purpose are not uncommon in other buildings.
Activists on the issue all have similar advice for people concerned about their own homes, which could be well worth taking on:
• Do freedom of information (FOIs) requests. Ask your local council for any records they have on your estate.
• Organise within the community as soon as you can and try to attend meetings in a group. Many people go into meetings with the council and feel bullied and intimidated. Going as a group means you have a broader range of experience to bring to the table.
• Share knowledge with other campaigns. There are a lot of active groups already out there, who can give you advice and show solidarity with you.
• Approach writers, journalists and other press entities. Getting a lot of column inches can be embarrassing for a property developer. Make it untenable for the property developer to take a contract in the area if it does not benefit the community.
Many of these approaches have worked to varying degrees and various council decisions could be stopped in the courts. Housing associations have also been taken to task.
Precedent is already teaching us that developers, councils and housing associations don’t always act in our best interests. So, it’s not surprising that there’s now skepticism around one of the biggest housing events in England.