Category Archives: housing crisis

Newham legal team drag their feet.

A Focus E15 campaigner writes…

Imagine a local government tasked with the housing of vulnerable and homeless people but who has either rejected or systematically failed to provide adequate housing and assistance. Imagine a redress system that on the surface claims to have the best interests of the people at heart, but instead punishes them for daring to challenge poor policy decisions and labels the brave few as intentionally homeless. Now imagine a council that responds to a legal complaint one year late with many inaccuracies in their written reply. Welcome to Newham in Britain in 2020.

It was also in the middle of heatwave in 2019, when I chose to take up the offer from Focus E15 and the Public Interest Law Centre to raise a legal complaint against Newham Council. In the sweltering July heat myself and another 18 residents chose to outline our discontent with the living conditions of Brimstone House now, 10 Victoria Street, and listed demands for a change in Newham’s housing policy in general.

Myself and so many residents felt with the weight of the law now behind us and the public interest surrounding housing conditions, especially for society’s most vulnerable in light of the tragedy at Grenfell, Newham Council would at least make moves to be seen to be doing something to address such injustice. Yet I cannot say entirely that it comes as a surprise to me that they have only chosen to respond to the legal complaint almost a year late and with no signs of change on the horizon.

Our challenge highlighted the damp and mouldy conditions that many residents of Brimstone were living through. Their response was to send council elected environmental officers who to no one’s surprise declared the block was fit for human habitation, and that, in their eyes, concluded the matter.

We highlighted the insufficient provision of laundry facilities within the block. The Council’s response? To claim there was no space for more machines and that it was out of their hands as the service was contracted out to a third party. This is despite the addition of at least 10 more properties to the block and a fire that took place in the laundry room in January this year. If that alone was not enough to bring the service back into the Council’s hands I fail to see what would be.

A long running theme within Brimstone House was the anti-social and prison like environment the Council has actively fostered via the presence of a security detail, numerous CCTV cameras and the imposition of curfews. To counter this residents have long requested that the only unused space left in the block, the conservatory, be opened up for communal gatherings and socialising with neighbours. The Council has claimed in their response to the legal complaint, that it has been available for use since September 2019 and has held an 8-week English language course. Residents have pointed out that they have never been notified that the conservatory space was ever open to them and the course only ran for 4 weeks in January 2020.

Focus E15 campaign is not blind to the challenges that a decades worth of cuts and a government wholly opposed to the idea of a welfare state faces. We acknowledge that Newham faces its own unique set of challenges being a Borough with the highest proportion residents in temporary and emergency accommodation. Yet you cannot deny the fact for 63 years Newham has been a Labour run council. What challenges or even alternative to unpopular government policies did our councillors bring to the table to elevate the standing of their residents? I am essentially saying the situation Newham finds itself in right now is not the fault of external, emotionless government policies.

2018 promised to be a year of hope and change for its residents with the inception of Rokshana Fiaz as new mayor. We were promised ‘more transparency, accountability and [greater involvement from] residents in decision making’. With genuinely affordable housing and the ‘safety of our young people’ being the priority. Yet in 2020 Focus E15 is still receiving reports of unfair evictions, cramped and inadequate housing conditions, dismissive and threatening council officers and the adverse impact these conditions are having on the children of residents living through this nightmare.

Below are a two more testimonials from the residents of Brimstone house hostel who expect to see changes to their living situation.The living conditions in Brimstone House are difficult and the cause of physical illness and emotional distress. We have protected the identities as per their request.

Mother of two, referred to as R

This mother has been living in a small room in Brimstone House since September 2019. R was told she would be there 56 days maximum when she moved in but she is still there with no news, no contact from the council and no idea how long this nightmare situation will go on for. Her children are three years old and ten months old. She has had no contact with a housing officer since the day they moved in. It is hard to look for work and arrange childcare when the staff at the hostel question everyone who come in and out of the building. Her room is small, the heat is intense and due to difficulty with the washing machines she has been hand washing all their clothes but told she couldn’t hang them outside to dry.

Mother of two referred to as H

This mother has been in Brimstone House since November 2018. She has a seven year old and a 14 month old. She has no housing officer and has not been allowed to bid for council housing. Like many other residents in the building, H has confirmed that the conservatory is closed-another place that young children could have for recreation and play if the council kept to their word. John Gray, deputy Mayor and head of housing in Newham, promised to open the conservatory for children to use in Summer 2018. H has been coming to the street stall and has told us that: “it is not acceptable how we have to live, we can not take this anymore!” During the heatwave the safety windows could only open a tiny bit making it impossible to sleep at night. Now her kitchen light has gone, the council haven’t responded to her contact about this essential repair and she has bought a little lamp to have light in the evening so she can cook food for her family.

Many of our campaigners and followers will know Marsha, who caused a justifiable stir at the height of lockdown during an international day of action – May Day – highlighting the unreasonable aspects of the housing crisis. With a banner hung from her balcony in Brimstone House, pointing out the injustice of isolating with children in a tiny room while 400 homes on Carpenters Estate, ten minutes’ walk away lie empty, Marsha highlighted the dreadful reality of being forced to isolate in hostel accommodation. Where is the urgency from the council to solve these issues? Three months on from the May Day protest and Marsha is still languishing with her child in Brimstone House.

As more and more articles appear that make the link between COVID19 deaths and overcrowding, and diverse communities – you would think that Newham Labour Council and Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz would be rushing to solve some people’s situation as fast as possible. However, there are still over 400 council homes still lying empty on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, Newham, London E15. Now into the fourteenth year of being empty, and with a timeline for doing something about them that extends beyond this Mayor’s tenure, it is becoming clear that the value of the land is more important than housing the people.

To top up the roller-coaster ride the mayor and the council have put residents at Brimstone House through, along will 28,000 people on the housing waiting list the council’s legal team has rejected campaigners from speaking as a deputation at a online council meeting stating that that this is because there is an ongoing legal complaint between Focus E15 campaign, Public Interest Law Center and the council. When you look on the council’s website the slogan ‘people at the heart of everything we do’ is plastered everywhere. Yet it seems when people power takes action the furious foot of autocracy is there to kick us to curb. Help us publicise the raging injustice of the council’s response to our legal complaint, the many stories behind the brave people fighting for housing justice and take action to make a change and demand that the Labour Council in Newham starts by refurbishing and repopulating the Carpenters Estate now. No more lengthy processes involving exhibitions and form filling. The answer is yes – those towers should be full of people now. A local forum even came up with their own plan for the estate but it was rejected by the council. Why?

Whilst the council gloss over the legal complaint submitted over a year ago by Public Interest Law Center, we say that the fight for decent living conditions for all those stuck at Brimstone House must go on. The more we stand together, the stronger we are. Together we can challenge Newham Council and demand immediate decent housing and reopening of Carpenters Estate for the people of Newham.

ABANDONED BY NEWHAM

At the end of June and after lockdown restrictions eased, Focus E15 campaign went back out on the streets. At the weekly street stall we have met many people struggling with overcrowding living and poor quality housing – made much harder to sort out due to the pandemic and the closure of services. This stress has been compounded by the knowledge that Newham, a very diverse borough where over 70% of residents are Black, Asian and people of colour, is the borough with the second highest death rate in England from COVID19 . Many campaigners have been making the connection between poor housing, poor health and increased risk of illness.

The residents of Brimstone House are organising. Fed up of isolating with children in box rooms, with windows that don’t open in the sweltering heat wave and no answers from the council about what their housing future is, they are planning to take action. In addition to this one hostel block there are also thousands of other people in Newham struggling with housing in a borough where over 25% of people live in overcrowded situations. Try and explain to them why over 400 homes lie empty on the Carpenters Estate and have done for years and years and years.

We know that if we organise together we are stronger and we have a voice.

In order to illustrate this please take a look at Mary’s story below. She has been trying for over a decade to sort out her living conditions, one of thousands of people who feel abandoned by Newham and for whom, having a new Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, for the last two years, has changed nothing.

Mary and her 21 year-old son and 18 year-old daughter are living in a two bedroom council home. For over ten years, Mary has been trying to ensure that there is enough space for the children growing up who need separate bedrooms as stated in all guidance and legislation on sex of children and overcrowding. She has been on the housing waiting list for over 12 years, it is in fact longer but the council lost her original application. She bids regularly, and she is on a council and private swap register.

Mary has been to see her local MP Lyn Brown, has been to see her councillor, has even been to Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz’s surgery. Everyone listens but does nothing. She has told these elected representatives very personal details of her family’s history that explain the urgency of her situation. But still no action, no replies, no follow up.

During lockdown in the pandemic, this stressful situation has been magnified and relationships have become very strained. Mary, who sleeps in the living room anyway and hasn’t had a proper bed for years, is now also working from home. Her son also returned from university due to lockdown and has been trying to study from home. Mary explained that the physical and mental health strains are ‘exacerbated by the lack of space for everyone’.

Thank you Mary for getting involved with Focus E15 campaign and sharing your story. The more we stand together, the stronger we are. Newham Labour Council must act to alleviate the housing injustice in the borough.

The East London Federation of Suffragettes were active 100 years ago in east London, but they remain totally relevant today. We echo their sentiments when we say that we need Deeds Not Words when we encounter the brick wall that Mary and others have come up against when dealing with the council. https://www.eastlondonsuffragettes.com/

Join us on the street outside Wilko’s every Saturday on the Broadway from 12-2pm and help educate, organise and mobilise for our right to long term housing that is safe and secure.

Why I displayed a resistance banner in my temporary accommodation (Brimstone House)


On the 1st of May I decided to make a resistance banner. This is my way to make stand about how I feel  living in temporary accommodation/bedsit provided by Newham council. I feel it is the only way to get public attention and for people to understand about living in such conditions in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.” 

”People from deprived and over-populated areas such as Newham are more likely to catch the virus. My thoughts behind making the banner and hanging it up on the balcony of Brimstone House was to simply say I have had enough. I am angry and frustrated that for myself and many other families living in temporary accommodation, we have been disregarded by the Council.

With so many empty homes around Newham such as those on the Carpenters Estate, it is totally inhumane and unacceptable to have families living in one room with children.

We are scared for our lives and our children lives. There is not enough being done by Newham Council to protect us as residents with so many empty flats lying empty.

The least they can do is open them up.”

By Marsha from the Focus E15 campaign

RADIO INTERVIEW ON HOUSING DURING CORONAVIRUS

Listen to Focus E15 campaigner Egwolo being interviewed by Pete Day from ”NuSound Radio 92FM” here: http://radiopete.org/home/nusound-radio-92fm-140520-focus-e15/

https://radiopete.org/

Resistance banners appear across London for Mayday

We may be locked down at the moment but groups and campaigns are turning their thoughts to the political situation this Mayday by putting out messages of anti capitalist resistance at home and on billboards and bus stops. Here are a selection of some messages both inspiring and angry. Check out lockdown banners on Facebook for loads more! Happy mayday comrades.

Educate! Agitate! Organise! Mayday 2020.

TAKE ACTION ON MAYDAY TO DEMAND EMPTY HOMES ARE OPENED!

Following our online meeting with Moms 4 Housing, Focus E15 have decided to call for action on Friday 1st May, in the form of creating and displaying banners to demand that empty homes are opened because housing should be a human right.

Get creative and make your banner – walk down the street with it, hang it out a window, whatever you prefer. But make sure to take a picture and hashtag: #OpenEmptyHomes and #HousingIsAHumanRight

Our friends and comrades in the USA and around the world will also be doing action to highlight the same message. Follow Moms4Housing here: https://moms4housing.org/

Remember to check out the Moms4Housing meeting podcast: https://focuse15.org/2020/04/26/moms4housing-webinar-released/

Give solidarity, take action this Mayday!

Moms4Housing webinar released

On Sunday 19 April 2020 Focus E15 campaign in Britain and Moms4Housing in the USA organised  an online webinar to discuss tactics during the Covid19 pandemic. Focus E15 campaign have edited the audio and are releasing it as a podcast which you can find below. During the meeting attention was turned towards ways to take action on May 1st to mark international workers day and to take our campaigns for decent long term secure housing onto the streets.

RECLAIM HOMES FROM THE USA TO THE UK – ONLINE PUBLIC MEETING – REGISTER NOW

On Sunday 19th April at 6pm London  / 10am California join us for this meeting co-hosted by Focus E15 Campaign in London, England and Moms 4 Housing in Oakland, California, USA https://moms4housing.org/ 

There are four times as many empty homes in Oakland as there are people without homes, and in the UK there are double the amount of empty homes as homeless people.

 

The Covid-19 crisis has escalated the need for action to allow everyone to be housed and live in dignity and safety.

This session will hear from grassroots organisations either side of the Atlantic who are taking action against this same problem. We are using this time of crisis to share experience, education and ideas for action.

These people need homes, these homes need people!

REGISTER HERE:

https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_whmQYqKTT72mg06iZtxrcw 

 

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In response to the Covid-19 emergency

Focus E15 campaign sends love and solidarity to  those who are suffering under the Coronavirus emergency – whether physically, mentally, or economically. We salute all key workers and give our gratitude to them for working to keep us safe and well.

During this crisis, housing campaigners need to be heard, we will not stay silent as the gross inequalities and cracks in the system are laid bare for all to see. Housing is a public health emergency. Our demands are as follows:
 
Open all empty homes now: families living in crowded temporary accommodation need long term stability and the space to get well.  We know of countless cases of families surviving in single rooms, like the families stuck in Brimstone House hostel.  We have been saying for 6 years to Newham Council -open all homes on Carpenters Estate now!
 
Provide long-term housing for those in temporary accommodation and for those who are street homeless.  To stay safe and well people need secure housing.
 
Long-term freeze on rental payments and evictions – find out more about your housing rights during the pandemic https://londonrentersunion.org/c19rentcrisis/
 
Give all our key workers the protective equipment they need – it is urgent to keep all our friends and families safe and protected.
 
It is important that we are stay connected to our local communities at this difficult time.  We encourage you to join a Mutual Aid group to find support near you:  https://covidmutualaid.org/
 
Educate, Agitate Organise!
Focus E15 Campaign is committed to politically organising and taking action during the lockdown in the following ways:
 
EDUCATION and ORGANISING:  We are running a program of weekly political discussions, which we are calling  ‘virtual street stalls’, where we can stay in touch with each other and be up to date with the key issues around housing and Covid 19, in order to educate ourselves.  Every week we will  try and have an invited speaker, share an article or short video clip and discuss a different topic. We will also be hosting virtual special political meetings and online monthly campaign meetings. Please join us and spread the word!
 
Sat 11th April, virtual street stallEYE WITNESS ACCOUNTS FROM INDIA
 
Sat 18th April, virtual street stall:  HISTORICAL FEMINISM and the fight against Domestic Violence during Covid-19
 
Sun 19th April, political meeting:  RECLAIM HOMES, from USA to UK.  Hosted by Moms 4 Housing in Los Angeles, and Focus E15 Campaign in London.
 
Sat 25th April, virtual street stall:  EYE WITNESS ACCOUNTS FROM PALESTINE
 
Sat 2nd May, monthly campaign meeting: POLITICAL STRUGGLES IN LATIN AMERICA-   from Colombia to Cuba. Internationalism in the fight against Covid-19!
 
Please find details of all these events + Zoom call information by regularly checking the Focus E15 campaign’s Facebook page.

Our tribute to Chelsie.

Focus E15 campaigners are heartbroken to learn of the death of our young comrade Chelsie, in Newham on Tuesday 10 March 2020, aged 18 years old. Chelsie’s death is an enormous loss to the campaign. She was a crucial part of the Focus E15 campaign family, and our thoughts, solidarity and love are with Jasmin, Janice, Kayleigh and Safia, Chelsie’s parents and siblings and all of her family and friends at this terrible time.

Since the inception of Focus E15 campaign over 6 years ago, Chelsie, then aged 12, has been one of our youngest campaigners. The courage and dedication shown by the original group of young mothers who refused to be moved out of London and stood up to Newham council and East Thames Housing Association, made an impression on Chelsie because she understood that these young women should be housed in their communities near their support networks and families. It was not long before she was demanding ‘social housing, not social cleansing’ as she took a stand against the corruption of Newham Labour council. Surrounded by discussion, debate and action, Chelsie got more involved and she demonstrated against the vermin-infested overcrowded housing in a neighbouring borough by excitedly dressing up as a cockroach on a lively street protest outside Theori Housing. Her enthusiasm and sense of fun lifted campaign spirits.

Chelsie’s interaction with campaign life illustrates how, in a campaign, everyone has a place, a role, something to bring, abilities and talents to share. From the small detail of having a laugh on the street stall that Chelsie instigated, to her role in helping make childcare possible so that everyone could participate fully, it was Chelsie who stepped up with ongoing support in a myriad of ways. A regular street stall supporter, Chelsie did face-painting for children in Summer and cinema trips in Winter, never complaining when she had to see the same film one more time. Talented at drawing and painting, Chelsie collaborated with our campaign artist Andrew in making political banners. On the Carpenters Estate at a big public meeting, Chelsie, took part in a performance of a puppet show alongside Andrew and Jasmin. She had helped write the script and showed her understanding of the class forces at play in the struggle for decent housing. Chelsie recently helped re-organise our office space to provide a much-needed children’s play area, so that those fighting for the right to be housed could take part in meetings and discussions while their children were looked after in a child-friendly environment.

We can all learn from her patience, generosity, sense of fun and kindness she showed to young children who she loved and who loved her. We will also always remember Chelsie’s love of animals, the fun facts she taught us, and how happy she was when the regular Saturday street stall dog arrived – sprinting the last bit of pavement to reach Chelsie, wearing her trademark bright colours.

While we mourn Chelsie’s death, we also celebrate Chelsie’s life. Chelsie helped us understand that together we can make a difference and she was part of the feeling of solidarity and comradeship that is so important in Focus E15 campaign. Her contribution to the campaign teaches us also, that there must always be space for the ideas and the contribution of our young people.

We will never forget Chelsie’s commitment and loyalty to the campaign.

Focus E15 campaigners send our love to everyone affected by Chelsie’s death.

Viva Chelsie!

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A tribute to Mary Finch

Focus E15 campaigners were very sad to learn about the death of Mary Finch who was an inspiration to us all, a real fighter for housing justice and an amazing woman who lived on Carpenters Estate. We are sending our thoughts and love to Mary’s family, friends and neighbours at this difficult time.

A tribute to Mary Finch by Sally Grey from Blueprint Theatre

Mary Finch was a thorn in the side of Newham Council who knew that as long as she lived, they would not be able to remove her from her home of almost 50 years.

A vociferous campaigner since the Carpenters estate first appeared on the radar of developers, Mary fought off bids by a host of shady organisations, attracting attention from around the world with her feisty character and determination to protect her community from profiteers. She and her loving husband, Brian, understood the need for more homes on the estate. They also knew that didn’t mean anyone should have to give theirs up and they recognised the senselessness of 400 empty homes left to rot in a community once thriving.

Such was the force of her spirit that she features in 3 plays written about the area. Mary was the hero of our play, Legacy, which wouldn’t exist without her and she featured in Land of the Three Towers and E15. She was also the subject of several dissertations and made appearances in the local and national press.

It is said our work is not about individuals but about the bigger cause. This is true but there would be no bigger cause without the individuals fighting for it; so, whilst Mary was speaking for all on the Carpenters, she was aware of the strength of character and personality required to take on the council, the university and the private developers. She knew that it took someone special; that at the heart of every cause, there are exceptional individuals. And Mary Finch was one in a million.