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Social housing, not social cleansing!

Newham residents’ complaint to Mayor at full council meeting

The deputation to the Council of Newham…

Residents of Brimstone House formed a powerful woman led deputation to the Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz and the full Labour council meeting at Stratford Town Hall on Monday 15 July. The deputation spoke about their submission of a legal complaint, compiled with the Public Interest Law Centre supported by Focus E15 campaign, regarding the appalling conditions of the temporary and emergency accommodation in the Newham Council-owned building in Victoria Street, Brimstone House.

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The deputation by Brimstone House residents was organised after a year of meetings with Newham Council which has seen little change for the majority of the residents.

One Focus E15 campaigner Hannah described what happened during the deputation: “the powerful and eloquent words of mothers, pregnant women and teenagers sent shivers down the spine of even the most hardened. This is no way to treat people, lives of adults and children are being destroyed physically and mentally by the stress of living in temporary accommodation”.  One resident from Brimstone House Marsha explained “we live in constant worry about when we are going to be rehoused or even where we are going to live. As you know many of us have been threatened and labelled intentionally homeless because we refused to be ripped away from our community and our families’. Another resident, Egwolo said ‘The homes standing empty on the Carpenters Estate are a testament to the legacy that you will leave behind Madame Mayor, one that will not paint you in a good light should nothing be done or they are demolished.’ 

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Supporters of the London Black Women’s Project, Brimstone House residents and Focus E15 campaigners walk out of the council chamber and chant together ‘deeds not words!’

Over fifty women supporting the London Black Women’s Project protesting at the vital cuts in services to women in the borough were also present at the council meeting. Everyone stood united, supporting one another as the issues of council cuts to services and housing are linked. The frustration at the lack of action ended with a walk out from the council chamber and chants of “Deeds Not Words” rang out throughout the building. A lively demonstration took place outside in the streets afterwards, the traffic was briefly stopped with banners, placards and more chanting.

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Legal Complaint is served
The compliant from Brimstone House residents has been sent to every member of Newham Council. It calls for immediate action to remedy unsuitable housing conditions and to stop the seemingly limitless time that people languish in inappropriate accommodation, many with young children. Residents of Brimstone House are told they will stay for 3-6 months, however the average length of stay is 1.5 years.

The legal complaint is comprised of in-depth witness statements from 19 residents, an architectural report on the suitability of the building and recommendations from residents and Focus E15 Housing Campaign on progressive housing policies in the borough. This complaint also makes public findings from recent Freedom of Information Request to Newham Council on key housing facts such as the average waiting time to access a 4 bedroom property being 9 years and 11 months and that only 164 social houses had been built in the two years preceding the Freedom of Information Request (April 2018).

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Banner by Andrew Cooper on the left details words by Brimstone House residents such as feeling scared social services will remove children from families if they have long term housing difficulties.

The legal complaint also notes the fact that the majority of the complainants living in temporary accommodation are from BAME backgrounds and demands equality for all. The complaint calls on the Newham Council to open up the 400+ boarded up homes on Carpenters Estate and to consider setting a protest budget in order to highlight the housing emergency that is still unfolding. Residents will be meeting with the Mayor to discuss their concerns in the next few weeks.

Quotes from the complaint, residents speak out:

“Living in Brimstone Hostel feels like a prison because we cannot go out or leave for too long, even for holidays. I do not feel free as the office monitors when we enter or leave Brimstone House.’’

“There is not enough space for all of us, not even for a cot for my three-week old daughter. Instead I have to fold a travel cot every night….my health visitor says it is not appropriate.”

“There is not enough room in the flat to manoeuvre my son’s wheelchair.’’

“The hygiene situation in Brimstone House is really bad… I am very concerned about my daughter’s health of living there. The flat is really run down, shabby and infested with mice.”

For more information, interviews or access to the legal complaint document, please contact: focuse15london@gmail.com

Join us on our street stall outside Wilko’s on the Broadway every Saturday from
12-2pm.
Together we are stronger!

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What is capitalism and where is it taking us?

Karl Marx’s political work has a lot to offer us in terms of making sense of the world we live in today -a system where people are not housed when there is housing and not fed when there is food, in short where many people’s basic needs are not being met.

Karl Marx’s ideas will be explored over the next 3 monthly campaign meetings in short interactive sessions led by the artist Andrew Cooper and campaigner Eric Ogbogbo. The first session, The Bones of Capitalism, is on Saturday July 6th. Come and listen to this special series of accessible presentations which have been designed as an introduction to Karl Marx’s Capital, using drawings to help illustrate all the big ideas.

Session 1
-The Bones of Capitalism
What makes value? What are wages?
What is the source of capitalist profits?

Session 2
-Abundance and Waste
Why with increasing technological advances are so many people’s basic needs not being met like with housing and food? Why are so many people’s working lives getting longer and conditions worsening? Why will there always be unemployment in capitalism and people living in difficult circumstances.

Session 3
-Capitalism and Crisis
Why is capitalism unstable and what does it mean when we say capitalism is in crisis?
What is imperialism and why is there so much war? Why is the environment being destroyed?

Learning from the ideas of Karl Marx provides us with solid reasons why we must organise and why we should not accept the system is just ‘the way it is’. This learning can help us in our task of building a strong movement for housing today.

Come to the Focus E15 Campaign meeting to discuss session 1 and all the latest campaign developments. Saturday July 6 at 2.30pm Sylvia’s Corner 97 Aldworth Rd E15 4DN.

Knowledge is power! Let us work together to increase our collective agency and make plans for forthcoming actions. Another world is possible.

Andrew Cooper is an artist specialising in producing drawings, banners and carvings which are used in campaigns for social justice such as Focus E15. More info about this particular work can be found here:
THE MARX SHOW

Eric Ogbogbo has been actively involved in campaigns for social justice and has written about imperialism. Here is a video of an interview whilst on a housing stall-

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One year in office for Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz -what next?

Focus E15 campaign and Brimstone House residents made their presence felt at the cabinet meeting on Tuesday 7 May, to mark one year since the Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz came to power and to continue to hold Newham Labour council to account for its housing policies and the high rate of people living in temporary accommodation in the borough and also to witness what our local elected representative are saying.

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Artwork by Andrew Cooper

During the cabinet meeting the Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz commentated that the council ‘will support the delivery of the promises I made to you when I was elected last May’. She hailed her improved transparency and accountability of involving residents in decision-making through citizen assemblies.

However anyone familiar with the politics of Newham understands that Rokhsana Fiaz can only look good following Robin Wales, the former Mayor of Newham. It was the much disliked Robin Wales who was scarred by the Lender Option Borrower Option (LOBO) loans scandal: LOBO loans are long term loans, taken out over 40-70 years. They make money for the banks due to high levels of interest being paid by local councils. Newham took out almost £580m of these risky loans. Rokhsana Fiaz has succeeded in terminating the Royal Bank of Scotland LOBO loans which will save the council £143m.

However, the mayors claims at the cabinet meeting of ‘addressing poverty, tackling inequality and sharing economic prosperity’ ring hollow with many residents that we meet on the streets, including those living in Brimstone House. Brimstone House was formerly the Focus E15 young people’s hostel, now, bought by the council, it is used as temporary and emergency accommodation. Whole families are shoved into cramped spaces for unspecified lengths of time. Residents have joined forces with Focus E15 campaign to demand that they are housed, locally, permanently and decently.

During the cabinet meeting Focus E15 campaigners also highlighted the fate of Carpenters Estate. The campaign remains in contact with those evicted from or still living in the deliberately run down estate. Former residents were bullied out of their homes, they were lied to when they were told they would be able to return, and they still suffer the outrageous indignity of seeing their own fantastic flats laying empty  over a decade later.

As Newham council begins to manoeuvre its way around the existing residents living on the estate it has prepared the ground by releasing an estimate of costs involved in demolition. This document states that full refurbishment of the tower block would cost £70m versus the cost of demolition of all the 3 tower blocks at £17m. This contradicts the painstaking work that Architects for Social Housing has carried out and which demonstrates for those who care to look, that refurbishment is always the cheaper and more environmentally conscious option.

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Document handed to Carpenters Residents at a residents meeting run by the council

The council have also stated they are creating a new residents group for the estate. At the same time The Great Carpenter Neighbourhood Forum who have developed an extensive and well thought out plan for the estate  which does not involve demolition continues to be completely ignored by Newham Council who refuse to meet with them. The forum have been releasing ever more urgent tweets:

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Newham made a successful bid to the Building Council Homes for Londoners programme and received £107m. A further £515m has been allocated by the council towards housing. Rokhsana Fiaz says they will ensure 50% of all homes built are ‘genuinely affordable’. She says ‘tackling the housing crisis has been my priority since I took office’ and she has been ‘delighted to announce that I have exceeded the housing delivery targets I set for my first year in office’ – at least 100 new social homes in the first year and over 1,000 over the four year term. This is woefully inadequate and embarrassing. 1 in 24 people are homeless in Newham, empty homes are in evidence around the borough and Newham has the longest housing waiting list in London. There are over 400 council homes on Carpenters Estate that are still boarded after Rokhsana Fiaz has been in office for a year.

The Lottery of Housing

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Some people in Brimstone House have been rehoused in good quality local housing, some families offered appalling places that are not fit for habitation, some offered places repainted and carpeted and all kitchen items, some offered places with bare concrete floors and no cooker or fridge, some are still languishing in Brimstone House for years, some are still being sent out of London, and those who refuse what the council deem to be suitable still face being labelled intentionally homeless with the council removing their duty to provide housing.

Read Kate Belgrave’s blogpost and follow the links to understand further how brutal the housing situation is and how menacing, threatening and humiliating the current system can be.

The campaign is determined to keep on raising the issues of Brimstone House and Carpenters Estate. Join us on Saturday on The Broadway, Stratford E15 from 12pm and come to Focus E15 campaign meeting on Saturday June 1st 2.30-4.30pm at Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, London E15 4DN where the discussion will be on all the above issues as well as learning about international housing solidarity, with Focus E15 campaigners just back from Palestine and comrades from the Revolutionary Communist Group giving eye witness accounts from their recent solidarity brigade to Cuba.

Fun ceilidh fundraiser for Focus E15 campaign -Sunday May 19

Yeeha! Take your partners by the hand and come and dance the afternoon away at this fundraising spring ceilidh at Redon in Bethnal Green.  With live music from the SOAS Ceilidh Band. Selector Ed Would will be opening the event plus DJ Pimzy will be playing after the live music has finished. Expect lots of laughter, good vibes and snacks to keep going!  All money raised will be going to the fighting fund for Focus E15 campaign. This grassroots housing campaign started in 2013 by young single mothers and continues to demand the right for secure housing for all. Join us and don’t forget your dancing shoes! All ages welcome.

£10/7 Tickets can be purchased in advance online through ticket tailor

Heel-toe-for-housing. 4.30pm-10.30pm @Redon The Railway Arches, Cambridge Heath Road, E2 9HA Sunday May 19.

Please share the event on Facebook if you are able to.

Thank you and we hope to see you there.

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Newham Council offers single mother slum housing or the street

Marsha, a brave single mother who has been living in temporary accommodation in Brimstone House for over a year with her 6 year old daughter, was yesterday contacted by Housing Options and told that she would be offered housing in Woolwich.  She was informed in a threatening manner that this would be the last time she would be offered housing, and that she had to view and accept the property today.

Marsha managed to get some pictures when viewing the property.  These speak for themselves.

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The Agent who was showing the property agreed he would never house his family in this flat.

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This is private accommodation offered by Newham Council.  What a disgrace from a Council that prides itself on tackling slum private landlords.

 

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Marsha has not only suffered Council threats in relation to her housing, but has been verbally threatened by social services in relation to her child being rehoused without her.

Journalist Kate Belgrave has documented Marsha’s full story in more detail. Please read about this here:

Do Councils actually try to drive homeless mothers to breakdown so they can remove their kids?

https://www.katebelgrave.com/2019/02/do-councils-actually-try-to-drive-homeless-mothers-to-breakdown-so-they-can-remove-their-kids/

Focus E15 stands as one with Marsha and her daughter.  We demand that Newham Council retracts this housing offer and rehouses Marsha in suitable, clean, long term, council accommodation in Newham .

We demand an end to vulnerable families being threatened and bullied into accepting accommodation that no Councillor would spend the night in.

We demand people are housed with dignity in one of the richest Countries in the world!

Early bird tickets for spring ceilidh fundraiser now online

Yeeha! Take your partners by the hand and come and dance the afternoon away at this fundraising spring ceilidh.  On Sunday 19 May at 4.30pm at Redon, The Railway Arches, Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 9HA. With live music from the SOAS Ceilidh Band plus our very own eclectic DJs. Expect lots of laughter, good vibes and snacks to keep going!  All money raised will be going to the fighting fund of Focus E15 Campaign. This grassroots housing campaign started in 2013 by young single mothers and continues to demand the right for secure housing for all. Join us and don’t forget your dancing shoes! All ages welcome.

Buy tickets for Focus E15 Campaign

FE15 ceilidh (7)

Working class artists say no to property developers

At a recent Focus E15 campaign public meeting held on the half ‘decanted’ Carptenter’s Estate in Stratford the audience were treated to a live puppet show – with handmade puppets made by the artist Andrew Cooper. Andrew writes that:

Focus E15 have consistently worked to form grass roots resistance including in areas of culture where people can develop the power to speak out and act against the massive attacks on people’s right to decent housing in Newham. The group is founded by people that have first hand experience of this brutality. Because of the seriousness of the situation all ways of communicating are experimented with, with a view to increasing the voice of the people and power. The script was added to and developed by members of Focus E15 campaign. Although the characters may seem fantastical all the elements of the story refer to actual recent events happening to people. The events are real but the characters entirely fictitious.

This performance makes use of puppets that have been developed mostly from furniture and domestic timber, they speak back for the proper use of housing.

Ongoing housing injustice in Newham – house Rachel NOW!

Three years ago, a homeless mother and her twin children, were placed by Newham Council in a privately rented house in East Ham. In August 2018, the owner sold the house and Racheal and her twins were told they would have to move out. Anxiously, they sought advice from East Ham housing office. What were they to do now?

Advice was not forthcoming despite the fact that the twins attend a local school in Stratford and Racheal is working in Newham. Racheal says has heard about people being shipped out of the borough for rehousing. She is scared that this will happen to her. The stress of losing everything, her home, her job, the children’s schools and all her friends and connections has been making her ill.

In September last year Racheal received the official notice to quit and she has subsequently been sent a court eviction notice for Monday 18 February 2019.

Racheal went with this information to Bridge House homelessness unit to seek advice, but without an appointment they wouldn’t even let her in the building to ask any questions to assess her options. She has no case worker. The only thing that Rachel was told is that she needs to pack up her stuff, put it all into storage (at her own expense) and on Monday 18 February she should present herself to Bridge House homelessness unit, as she and her children will indeed be homeless.

Leaving housing decision like this to the very last minute causes a huge amount of stress. It was the council that housed this family in the private rented sector and if this home is no longer available, it would seem logical that the council must rehouse this family as soon as possible and before 18 February. But, under the Localism Act, the council discharges its duty when placing people in the private rented sector. This means they won’t help when such a placement goes wrong. A new homelessness application must be submitted.

However under the Homelessness Prevention Act the council should intervene. It is the humane thing to do! We must also stress that every local option for housing must be investigated before the family face social cleansing and potential destitution outside of London.

Racheal has found support for her case and she has not given up!She has an appointment at Bridge house for Friday 15 February.

We demand that Newham Council, Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz and cabinet member for housing John Gray, act swiftly to remedy this situation and house Racheal and her children in Newham with their support networks, family and community, school and job.

Picture from a banner by Andrew Cooper

The Carpenters Estate: A Fresh Start or Business as Usual at Newham Council?

Focus E15 campaign will be holding a meeting to discuss all the issues raised by this great blog piece by Architects For Social Housing. The meeting about the fate for Carpenters Estate is on Saturday 2 February at 2.30pm at the Carpenters and Dockland Centre, 98 Gibbins Rd E15 2HU (nearest Tube Stratford)

Architects for Social Housing (ASH)

Photograph by Alessia Gammarota

On the 27 October 2018, at a meeting between members of the Focus E15 Campaign and Rokhsana Fiaz, the Mayor of Newham, and members of her new administration, it was agreed that Architects for Social Housing would make a presentation to Newham council on the financial, social and environmental benefits of estate refurbishment and infill versus the costs of demolition and redevelopment. This presentation would present the findings from our report, The Costs of Estate Regeneration, which we had published in September and have since been presenting to various organisations across London. These included the inaugural Festival of Maintenance held at University College London; at a meeting of the Tulse Hill branch of the Labour Party; at a GovDesign meeting on Repair, Renovation and Maintenance; and to Len Duvall, the Greater London Authority Member for Greenwich and Lewisham and Leader of the Labour Party in the London Assembly. We have…

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The future of Carpenters Estate is still on shaky ground as Newham’s housing crisis continues

“I will continue to put housing as one of my top priorities to tackle the housing crisis head on.” This is what Rokhsana Fiaz the Mayor of Newham promised when responding to a report by the housing charity Shelter released in November, which confirmed Newham as having the worst homelessness rate in Britain with over 14,500 people stuck in temporary accommodation. With the reality of homelessness ever present on the streets, the campaign cautiously welcomed the news last month that the new Mayor was putting on hold the tendering out process for Carpenters Estate.

A consultation about the future of the estate has been spearheaded by Rokhsana Fiaz who has stated that she is open to new ideas about estate redevelopment. However Newham council is heading for a PR nightmare with questions mounting about what any possible redevelopment will look like and who will pay. The council has pledged that 50% of any new homes built on the estate will be affordable. Yet according to the Carpenter’s Neighbourhood Forum, demolition of the entire estate looks  likely as the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) who has planning responsibilities for the area has demanded 2,300 homes are built on the site, with ‘either 35% or 50%’ homes for social rent. Note that there is not even a solid commitment to the 50% social rented homes Newham claims will be built. Vague numbers and bewildering prospect for residents who are fed up with being ignored and patronised by arrogant Labour councillors.

The remaining residents of Carpenters Estate are currently left in a state of limbo worrying about the fate of their homes and community. They have spent decades fighting to save their homes whilst the council under the much loathed Robin Wales, harassed and evicted residents, leaving around 400 flats empty.  The current consultation could turn out to be yet another PR exercise. Now is the time for new administration in Newham to be showing firm political leadership and commitment to saving public land from private developers in order to keep our much needed council housing stock in the public domain. The demand for council housing in Newham is high and publicly owned land should not be up for grabs. Look at what happened at Woodberry Down estate in Hackney to see how estate demolition can lead to a loss of homes for social rent.

Close attention must be given to all concerns and new ideas must be found. Architects for Social Housing is doing important work on this issue. The cost effectiveness of demolition needs to be thoroughly interrogated. The council should be honest about what the whole sordid regeneration game is all about– as lining the pockets of private companies is not in the public’s interest.

This story is being repeated around the country as council estates are flattened and councillors shrug their shoulders or rub their hands with glee. This is also a story about  a neglected council estate and a burgeoning housing crisis, plus a national Labour party promising to ensure that no social housing will be lost in any redevelopment schemes if they ever manage to get into power. However The Labour party’s Green paper on housing published in April 2018 doesn’t really promise to save our existing council housing stock and says “where proposed estate regeneration scheme involves demolition of existing homes, a Labour Government will ensure there is support for the proposal through a ballot of residents…” How does this policy begin to tie in with what is happening at a local level in Stratford in Newham?  We can understand this question more when we begin to look at who has been advising Newham council on the future prospects for Carpenters Estate.

Focus E15 Campaign was introduced to Deborah Heenan in October at a meeting to discuss housing issues with the Mayor. Deborah Heenan is the Major Projects Director for Newham Council and is taking a lead on Carpenters Estate redevelopment. She certainly has a significant history in working on housing redevelopment schemes. According to her LinkedIn profile she was Strategy Director at Berkeley Homes in 2007-2008 (the company responsible for providing fewer social rented homes on Woodberry Downs estate in Hackney, see above), from 2012 she has been the Director of Wichelstowe in Swindon which is the largest housing scheme built on public land in Britain and from 2014 she’s been CEO of Forward Swindon, an Arms Length Management Organisation which was handed responsibility by Swindon Conservative council for ‘regenerating’ Swindon town centre.

Does she represent a new kind of thinking?  Will she even consider credible, alternative and cost effective plans to demolition? Will she embody the people centred socialism that the Labour Party professes to represent? We seriously doubt it.

What shall we do now?
The London Legacy Development Coorporation are also carrying out their own consultation. If you are a Carpenters resident or a stakeholder in the area please email, before Sunday 23 December 2018  planningpolicy@londonlegacy.co.uk  (subject heading, Local Plan Review).

The Carpenters Neighbourhood forum have issued the following example below (adapt as you see fit):

Dear LLDC,

As a resident/stakeholder of the Greater Carpenters Neighbourhood Area, I would like to make the representations below in response to the draft changes to the LLDC Local Plan. My response concerns change reference number C301. Site Allocation SA3.4: Greater Carpenters District. Type of Change: Major.

‘The Site Allocation is expected to yield a minimum of 2,300 new homes (gross) with an affordable housing threshold of 35% or 50% on public sector land, in accordance with Policy H.2’

I do not agree with this new site allocation of ‘a minimum of 2,300 new homes (gross)’ for the Greater Carpenters District, as this would mean demolition of existing homes. It seems impossible to build so many new homes in our area without drastically affecting our community for the worse, unnecessarily forcing households to move, destroying many social homes with inadequate replacement and jeopardising the situation of leaseholders and freeholders. We have been fighting as a community for many years to prevent such destructive change and will continue to do so.

Regards

[NAME]
[address]

Together we are stronger. Save Carpenters Estate.