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Housing Activists from Budapest arrive in London

In November 2016 Focus E15 participated in an exchange with Budapest housing activists who are in a campaign called A Város Mindenkiè– The City is for All (AVM).

This exchange was organised through the European Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City.  The aim of this exchange, which was the first of its kind run through the European Coalition, was for campaigners in both London and Budapest to share protest techniques, learn new skills and examine our political approaches in the fight for housing.

First, AVM activists came to London and participated in various events –in  the ‘day-to-day’ life of Focus E15 campaigning.

We took them along to our weekly street stall in Stratford outside Wilkos on the Broadway for leafleting, petitioning, using the open mic and of course a bit of street dancing:

Dancing in the street!
Dancing in the street!
Focus E15 campaign Street Stall
Focus E15 Street stall

After the street stall, at the  Focus E15 campaign meeting, activists from AVM gave a presentation about how their campaign in Budapest is structured. We were impressed to learn that their campaign has been active for 6 years with different sub groups, weekly meetings and street stalls  organised on a regular basis. Focus E15 campaign also invited Joel Benjamin from Debt Resistance UK  to speak. Joel presented information on how local council are raking up huge debt due to servicing the interest on massive loans. The interpreters were working very hard to ensure that our guests understood the murky details of Newham Council’s finances and how this relates to the sell off of publicly owned housing.

The evening ended with some fireworks as Focus E15 campaign members challenged the Mayor of Newham Robin Wales over Newham council’s appalling housing record.pic-3

On Sunday, a housing conference co-hosted by Focus E15 and The Revolutionary Communist Group was held in Kings Cross.  The housing activists from AVM spoke about their own experience of homelessness and the extent to which the local Municipals in Budapest take children of homeless or evicted parents into care in a matter of hours. This is what they are exposing and fighting against.

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Focus E15 campaigners then spent a few days in Budapest learning more about AVM and housing issues in Hungary. Prior to 1990, state-owned housing in Hungary accounted for 23% of the overall national housing stock,  rising to 54% in Budapest and 25% in the cities generally.  However, social housing in Budapest has decreased significantly since 1990 when a capitalist government took hold.

We spent most of the time in Budapest in District 8, which is close to the city centre. District 8 has a very right wing Mayor who has accelerated the demolition of social housing and the eviction of poorer residents.  Various tactics are used by the authorities to evict people from the remaining social housing stock. Residents who are in arrears are removed immediately. Others are offered a buy-out deal for little money.  If you refuse this, you are in danger of eviction.  And if you have children and you find yourself evicted, your children will be removed and taken into care.img-20161115-wa0000.jpg

Focus E15 campaigners with AVM in Budapest. ‘Lakhatast Ne Zaklatast’ – ‘Homes not Harassment’.

We also found out that AVM have been supporting people with eviction resistance.  They took us to meet Gizzy, an amazing woman who has been fighting to keep her housing, whilst the Municipal try and push her into an old people’s home – she is in her mid-50s.

We spent a great deal of our time in Budapest discussing tactics with AVM.   We discussed ways to fightback, the confidence to be explicitly left wing and the need to link clear anti racist messages to the struggle for housing.  This is significant in Hungary as the central government is moving down a deeply racist path – this certainly has an effect on the Roma population we met in Budapest.

Other issues discussed were should you bring children to a demonstration, or is it too risky?  Also, how do you ensure that you are not simply ‘fire-fighting’ individual housing issues,  but ensuring people stay involved and are inspired to lead a bigger movement in the fight for housing?

If you would like to find out more about our trip to Budapest, see some slides and discuss all these issues more, Focus E15 will be holding a full presentation and discussion at the next campaign meeting on Saturday 3 December, Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, London E15 4DN, 2.30-4.30pm. All Welcome.

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Cockroaches march to Theori Housing offices as shutters come down on residents

On Friday 28 October, residents from Boundary House in Welwyn Garden City and residents of other Theori-run housing, supported by Focus E15 campaign, took their outrage and anger to Theori Housing Management offices in Leyton, Waltham Forest, east London to protest at appalling living conditions.

The demonstration highlights  the unfolding tragedy of London’s housing crisis and the fact that Labour-run Waltham Forest council continues to send vulnerable people out of the borough. Many single mothers and families with young children have been transported miles from their children’s schools, jobs, families and friends to Boundary House in Welwyn Garden City. The council uses companies such as Theori to facilitate this process.

Boundary House was originally built for single nurses, but is now home to displaced families crammed into tiny inappropriate, mouldy rooms, with cockroaches and other infestations.  The windows without child safety locks are a grave hazard for inquisitive toddlers and children are now miles from their schools. Assistant director of Housing, John Knight, who said that a degree of overcrowding was to be expected, recently concluded that Boundary House meets Waltham Forest council’s required standards and is happy to continue the relationship with Theori. Meanwhile people suffer.

So who are Theori? Theori Housing Management Ltd describe themselves as specialists in the property sector with a portfolio in excess of £500m and growing. Theori is used by at least 21 London councils.They have the gall to say on their website that ‘The team at Theori pride themselves on being specialists in the industry and therefore have an understanding of the factors that affect homeless families’. What an insult to the families displaced into Theori-run housing.The stress and isolation that comes from poor housing and social cleansing is causing a mental health crisis, with people forced into situations that are making them ill, as they are cut off from the support networks that keep them healthy.

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When the protest began, Theori locked its doors and hastily brought down the shutters in fear of those coming to tell their stories and in contempt for the residents of their properties who have just had enough of living in such unsuitable accommodation.

Closing the shutters did not shut out the protest and a lively demonstration spread out on the streets outside the locked office. It was colourful, noisy and militant with games for children and speakers on the mic helping passers-by to understand the issues. Protesters dressed up as cockroaches to illustrate the grim conditions residents are forced into. Home made placards got the message clearly across – Theori puts children’s lives at risk – horrible in Theori, horrible in practice  and Waltham Forest and Theori benefit from residents’ misery. One single mother, resident of Boundary House, told Focus E15 campaign that:

‘We are fed up, our phone calls and email ignored, our questions not answered and always told by Theori to contact the council and by the council to contact Theori. In Boundary House, nothing has been done to make the windows safe for toddlers and young children.’

Protesters stuck pictures of poor housing conditions to the front of the office and constructed a makeshift house of horrors on the street. The action was supported by   Haringey Housing group and the Revolutionary Communist group.

Stories of forced displacement by Boundary House residents ring alarm bell to the young mothers who lived in the Focus E15 hostel in the neighbouring borough of Newham and faced eviction themselves in 2013. The council told them they would be moved to Manchester, Birmingham or Hastings, into private-rented accommodation. The mothers of Focus E15 hostel stood together and said no to being sent away and the Focus E15 campaign began.

It is interesting to note that the day after the demonstration at Theori’s offices, Boundary House residents woke to the presence of Theori housing officers knocking on their doors asking if there are any problems. As one resident told them, ‘don’t ask, you know the problems, just do something about them!’

Stand together!
Expose the councils and the housing management companies!
Decent homes for all!
Stop social cleansing!
Repopulate the empty houses and stop demolishing council blocks!

Come to the next Focus E15 Campaign meeting on Saturday 5 November 2.30pm Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, E15 4DN to hear more about Boundary House, Newham council and all the campaign news.

 

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Introduction

Excellent new website full of interesting local history.

Nelson Square -local history

This website is about the history of Nelson Square, an area currently surrounded by constant change. A river of money is running through Bankside and North Southwark and threatens to displace the long-standing communities that have lived here.

On Blackfriars Road, adjacent to Nelson Square, stands Linden Homes project “The Residence”. It was built in 2014 on land owned by Southwark Council which then had garages on it. When the garages were being demolished, the locals discovered that at least 15 people were living in those garages, many of them workers in local restaurants. A London rent was far beyond their means. The flats that replaced the garages now fetch around £1m or more as do most of those being built in this area. Many others in this area are luxury flats priced in the millions.

Private rents follow the same pattern. A flat in Nelson Square now costs £28,000…

View original post 192 more words

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Actors Occupy Shopping Centre To Speak Out Against Social Cleansing

The Focus E15 campaign joined forces with a dynamic theatre company called You Should See The Other Guy on Sunday 16 October. An impromptu performance took place inside the Stratford Centre of a play called Land of the Three Towers, much to the surprise and delight of  shoppers and Focus E15 campaign supporters. Passersby were treated to short clips of  fresh and energetic dialogue, humorous songs and even some dance routines despite the security guards trying to break up all the fun. They did not succeed as the performers were indefatigable and would not be silenced. This really is what political theatre should look like.

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The play celebrates the action that Focus E15 campaign took  in 2014 when 4 flats were occupied on Carpenters Estate in protest at Newham Labour Council who were sending people out of the borough whilst keeping their perfectly decent flats boarded up for years on end. The campaign believes that there should be social housing, not social cleansing.

Land of the Three Towers  will now have a run at the Camden’s People Theatre from Tuesday 18 October to Saturday 22 October. Some tickets are still available.

Focus E15 campaign would like to take this opportunity to wish all the crew involved in Land of the Three Towers every success this week. See you in the audience!

 

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Journalist Kate Belgrave reports on the chaos of the benefit system

Read this  important blog post by journalist Kate Belgrave which exposes the mess of the benefits system that is playing havoc with people’s lives and watch this space for more to come as people start to organise and fightback:

http://www.katebelgrave.com/2016/09/time-to-take-the-whole-benefits-claim-system-down-and-start-again-this-is-mayhem-seriously/http://www.katebelgrave.com/2016/09/time-to-take-the-whole-benefits-claim-system-down-and-start-again-this-is-mayhem-seriously/

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3 years of resistance: how we did it.

It all started three years ago, when 29 young mothers fought back against their evictions from Newham.

They refused to accept that their children would have to grow up without knowing their families, and that they would be cut off from their friends and communities. They demanded to be kept in London, to continue to live in the area they know as home.

After a fierce and lively campaign, Newham council conceded to the demands of the mothers and rehoused them in the local area. This was a victory for the mothers, and the Focus E15 Campaign was born.

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Since then, the campaign has grown beyond what any of us could have been imagined, and Focus E15 has successfully brought the issues of social cleansing and unjust housing to the forefront of the political left and into the public eye. Joined by residents, feminists, anarchists, academics, theatre makers, artists and by the regular input of the East London Revolutionary Communist Group, the campaign with panache, determination and steadfastness  has kept a weekly presence on the streets for 3 years.

On the first anniversary of the campaign, we staged a political occupation of four boarded up homes on the Carpenters Estate, where 600 empty homes sat in the shadow of the Olympic Park. Newham Council had said the properties on the estate were inhospitable, allegedly due to asbestos. Yet outrageously, during the Olympic Games, the council accommodated the Press in some of the depopulated flats in the tower blocks. This direct action brought attention to the fact that in a London Borough where 20,000 people are on the social housing waiting list, perfectly good homes sit empty, left to rot in order to justify their demolition to make way for luxury apartments.

The Occupation lasted for two weeks, during which Focus E15 were harassed by the council and our water supply was cut off. But with increased public support and media attention, the council, led by Robin Wales was forced to issue an apology in The Guardian newspaper. We left the occupied flats, peacefully and of our own accord, and the council agreed to open up 40 empty properties on Carpenters Estate, providing homes for people who desperately need them.

Last year, for our second anniversary we held a March Against Evictions, across the borough of Newham. Over a thousand people marched with us in solidarity, demanding safe and decent homes for all. The march ended back at the Carpenters Estate, and brought together an amazing assembly of local community groups, housing activists, squatters, communists and so many more. It was an amazing day, and demonstrated the growing strength of a grassroots movement for just housing.

Focus E15 has continued to go from strength to strength; fighting against evictions, homelessness and social injustice, and helping to inspire and empower disenfranchised and marginalised communities. Every week we are on the street, at our stall talking to the public, engaging with local communities and helping those that seek our support to raise awareness of the housing crisis. The campaign has demonstrated at council meetings, occupied empty council flats, accompanied  residents to housing appointments, demonstrated on  balconies, held rallies to raise awareness around housing and mental health issues and ensured that the street stall has a strong anti racist stance.

This year we managed to acquire some funding to open up our new office space, Sylvia’s Corner, named after a nod to the militant suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst. It is fast becoming a radical hub in East London: open to other campaigns, hosting political meetings, screening free revolutionary films and providing a space for the local community to come and engage with the campaign. Spaces such as Sylvia’s Corner are becoming ever more necessary within the continuing gentrification of London. We must make sure that as grassroots working class activists we continue to hold spaces in a city that private developers and landlords are trying to claim solely as their own.

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Recently Focus E15 has been supporting an emerging campaign of mothers who have been pushed out of their homes and out of London by Waltham Forest Council. Boundary House Residents Fight Back have been fighting against appalling conditions in their temporary accommodation. Young children have been forced to live in one room apartments, with mould, cockroaches, dangerous facilities and large windows that do not lock, leaving a potential death trap for inquisitive children in the third floor flats.

Boundary House accommodation, in Welwyn Garden City, is over 20 miles, and an expensive train fair, from Waltham Forest. Young mothers have been forced to quit their jobs as they are not able to afford the commute. They have been separated from their families, their support networks, and dumped in rundown accommodation that was originally built to accommodate single training nurses and midwives, not familes.

Waltham Forest Council have told us that “Boundary House meets their required standards for temporary accommodation”, and they have admitted to encouraging residents to move into the private rented sector. Focus E15 has supported the residents in stating that this is simply not good enough. Boundary House Residents have begun their fight back against their unsafe housing, staging protests at the council housing office and holding a ‘Nag Week’ by bombarding Waltham Forest Council with complaints.

On the 28th of October  at 11am, Boundary House Residents will be leading a protest outside Theori Housing, the property management company hired by Waltham Forest council to manage temporary accommodation. Support Boundary House Residents, and join Focus E15 when we demand safe and decent accommodation for all.

Three years ago, Newham Council underestimated the strength of working class mothers coming together and demanding their right to safe and decent housing in London. Today, Newham Council sees us as a threat. They continue to try and undermine our struggle, from harassing and detaining our campaign members to stealing our tables.

But we will not be silenced and we will not be stopped. We have a lot of struggles ahead, most notably with enactment of the Housing and Planning Act, which if successful will essentially mean the end of social housing.

But together we are stronger. Working collectively, with grassroots and working class movements leading the way, we will continue to fight against social cleansing and for safe and decent housing for all.

Three years ago, 29 young mothers demonstrated the power of the people working together and fighting against injustice. Today, with working class mothers at the front and heart of our campaign, we continue that struggle.

In the words of Jasmin and Sam;

“This is the beginning of the end of the housing crisis”

Join us to fight for long term secure housing at the first of a series of events marking 3 years of the Focus E15 campaign. We will be having an anniversary street stall outside Wilkos on Saturday 24 September at 12-2pm. Join us!

 

 

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JOIN US FOR A STREET PARTY – Saturday 24 September 12-2pm on our weekly street stall

 

This photo is a strong statement put out by Focus E15 campaign in September 2014. Taken on the first anniversary of the campaign, it shows the political occupation of empty flats on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford. It exposes the lies of Newham Council and Labour mayor Robin Wales, who continued then and continue today, to send people, adults and children, out of borough and out of London for housing, when there are perfectly good homes locally. This action highlighted the years of sustained work by the residents of the Carpenters Estate who have fought, and continue to fight, to save their estate, against all machinations of the council which reached a peak in the run up to the Olympic Games 2012. We will not keep our eyes of this estate.  Focus E15 campaign’s demand to Newham Council remains:
REPOPULATE – CARPENTERS ESTATE!

THIRD BIRTHDAY EVENT
Focus E15 campaign is celebrating its third anniversary and as part of a series of events, invites you to come and join us this Saturday 24 September 12-2pm outside Wilko’s on The Broadway E15 on our weekly stall, with open mic. Bring family, friends, bring stalls and leaflets, bring information and enthusiasm, bring resistance and strength, bring your housing stories and your reality – the fight for decent, affordable, stable, long term housing is underway and together we are stronger.

BOUNDARY HOUSE, WELWYN GARDEN CITY
No to Unsafe and Unsuitable accommodation
The residents of Boundary House are speaking out, fighting back, exposing the practices of the councils who have sent them miles from their families, support networks, schools, jobs etc to unsuitable, unsafe and unsanitary accommodation. In the next few weeks there will be a series of events culminating with a protest in Leyton, east London, on Friday 28 October to expose the role of Theori Investment, the housing management company working with local authorities to secure accommodation in places such as Boundary House.
No to Unsafe and Unsuitable accommodation – follow the residents’ fight on facebook and twitter.
https://www.facebook.com/boundaryhouseresidents/

EAST END SISTERS UNCUT
Congratulations to the sisters who celebrated nine weeks in a reclaimed space in Hackney, raising the issues of the cuts to services for women facing or fleeing domestic violence and winning significant demands from Hackney Council who have promised to fill all empty homes in Hackney by September 2017, stop using private hostels and B&Bs for domestic violence survivors, to provide specialist domestic violence training to all hostel staff.
Keep the pressure up and get involved.
https://www.facebook.com/eastendsistersuncut/

THE AYLESBURY
Last week the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, accepted the Government Inspector’s recommendation not to confirm Southwark Labour Council’s Compulsory Purchase Order on the homes of leaseholders on the First Development Site of the Aylesbury Estate regeneration. This is an important precedent and we need to understand what lies behind this unexpected decision.
Read more about this from Architects for Social Housing.
https://architectsforsocialhousing.wordpress.com/2016/09/17/financial-compensation-for-human-rights-the-aylesbury-estate/

SYLVIA SCREENINGS
Free political cinema in Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, London E1 4DN – all at 7.30pm
Thursday 29 September – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – powerful documentary about people’s power in revolutionary Venezuela
Thursday 27 October – The Working Class Goes To Heaven – 1971 film about trade union and student struggles
Thursday 24 November – Every Cook Can Govern – documenting the life, impact and works of CLR James. Hosted by East London Radical Assembly.
Thursday 8 December – Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners. Hosted by East London Revolutionary Communist Group.

Contact Focus E15 Campaign if you would like to show a film as part of Sylvia Screenings.

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Police station targeted by housing activists

Congratulations to the ‘Balcony 4’ and Focus E15 campaigners  who successfully dropped banners from a disused, sold off and boarded-up police station in East Ham on Sunday 10 July 2016, to highlight the current crisis in housing.  This action took place during the Mayor’s Newham Show (will he call it the Robin Wales Show next year?!) – which is a two day council-sponsored event that takes place in a local park in East Ham.  Focus E15 campaign was determined to let people know what is really happening in the Labour controlled borough of Newham where Mayor Robin Wales is still at the helm. As the Mayor’s show took place, this action unfolded.

The background  story is that the campaign has protested during the mayor’s show over the last two years. In 2014, Robin Wales over-reacted to young mothers talking about rights to housing  during the show and a complaint was lodged against him. He faced the Newham Standards Committee and was found guilty of a breach of the code of conduct (watch from 1.45: http://youtu.be/gsPxancNiqk). Then in 2015, the council ordered private security to stop campaigners handing out leaflets during the Mayor’s show and had campaigners forcibly removed from the park in a heavy handed manner. (http://youtu.be/SpbnD9RzuQ0).

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During the Mayor’s show this year, one of Newham’s many empty buildings became a target.  Three large banners were unfurled from the balconies of a boarded up police station as a crowd gathered down below. The banners read “Newham – hundreds of empty homes“; “Room for everyone, No room for Racism“; “Stop social cleansing, keep us in London“.  Campaigners from the Revolutionary Communist Group, Feminist Library, The Green Party, Sisters Uncut, Boleyn Dev 100, Tower Hamlets Renters and passers-by took to the mic to express their disgust at the amount of properties left empty by Newham council and demanded the reopening of the 400 empty homes on the Carpenters Estate. Many drivers hooted in support and passers-by joined in the protest and gave out leaflets.  One campaigner explained:

“…If they leave buildings empty like this police station – we will use them to make a political point. The housing crisis is driving people to despair and there should be no empty buildings whilst people are left to rot on our streets. We are also fed up of politicians blaming migrants for the housing shortage – it is just a dangerous lie -which is why one of our banners says – No Room for Racism…”

Whilst Robin Wales and his entourage were swanning around the park, the reality for thousands of people living in Newham is increased insecurity: rents are always rising, council homes are  being sold off and more people are living in overcrowded, appalling temporary accommodation. 35% of Newham residents earn below the London Living Wage, yet the mayor has a salary of £80,000 and last year the same amount again was spent on his expenses. 

Hundreds of messages of support for the temporary occupation of the police station’s balconies came flooding into the campaign. The Balcony 4 came down at end of the protest to applause and loud cheers from everyone on the ground.

Focus E15 campaign would like to say a big thank you  to all those who supported this action, with  your presence, your cameras and your voices, and to the speakers from East End Sisters Uncut, Revolutionary Communist Group, Feminist Library, Boleyn Dev 100, Tower Hamlets Renters and Newham Green Party. Another successful action, working together and challenging Newham Labour Council!

The campaign  would also like to send our solidarity and congratulations to East End Sisters Uncut for their current occupation of empty council homes in Hackney as they highlight the cuts to services for domestic violence and the closure of refuges. Please support their occupation over the coming days and weeks.

Focus E15 campaign’s next public meeting is on Saturday 2nd August 2016 at Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, E15 4DN, to discuss ways forward for the campaign. Join us at 2.30pm

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NOT the Mayor’s Newham Show -Sunday street stall

Join the campaign on Sunday July 10 at  Newham Town Hall, Barking Road, East Ham from 3pm onwards.

Focus E15 campaign will be setting up a street stall at Newham Town Hall this Sunday at 3pm to shine a spotlight on Newham’s housing crisis during the Mayor’s Newham Show. Last year campaigners were forcibly removed from the show as they spoke out against evictions and social cleansing. This year we will celebrate our resistance by setting up a special street stall outside the town hall. During the street stall we will be speaking out against evictions and highlighting that:

Newham has the most empty properties out of any London borough, around 1,318 properties are lying empty – the total value of these empty properties stands at almost £470m.

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In September 2015 Focus E15 organised a March Against Evictions that took place in Newham

In 2015, 244 families from Newham were permanently sent out of London, with Newham Council citing that there was no space or money to house them in the borough.

If these issues matter to you, come and join out street stall outside East Ham town hall. If you have not been to the street stall before, just come and say hello if you are passing to go to the Newham Show. Join the campaign to demand that the empty properties in Newham are opened up to those who need them most. Put human being first! Stop sending people out of London.Decent homes for everyone!
Join the special street stall this Sunday and make your voices heard with Focus E15 campaign.

Please help spread the word and keep up to date with this event by joining the facebook event

Social Housing, NOT social cleansing!