Tenants at the New Era estate in Hackney, London, have won a tremendous victory and, in doing so, struck a blow for tenants everywhere. Faced with massive rent increases that would have meant certain evictions for all the 93 families, the New Era tenants rallied their forces and took the fight to the enemy.
The New Era tenants have won a tremendous victory and, in doing so, struck a blow for tenants everywhere. Faced with massive rent increases that would have meant certain evictions for all the 93 families, the New Era tenants rallied their forces and took the fight to the enemy.
First in line was Richard Benyon MP, the richest MP at Westminster and aiming to become even richer and who was also the agent for Westbrook Partners or ‘Westcrook Partners’ as the tenants aptly named them. With tenants and supporters outside his office, highlighting this bloodsucker’s role, this potato grew too hot to handle and Benyon quickly washed his hands and passed it to Westbrook Partners.
This multi-million pound outfit operate by clearing tenants out of their homes on both sides of the Atlantic so the super rich can have their luxury homes built, mainly as property for investments.
Unperturbed, the New Era tenants took the next stage of the battle to Westbrook Partners’ exclusive Berkeley Square offices. Berkeley Square is renowned in song for having a nightingale singing in it. It heard a different tune at the end of last year as coachloads of New Era tenants and supporters converged to let Westbrook Partners know that their homes were theirs to live in, some having been there since World War II, and they were not going to be socially cleansed for some rich investors.
Russell Brand’s presence and support was helpful as it brought the tenants necessary publicity. After the Hackney Mayor’s initial revelations in the Hackney Gazette back in the summer, nothing had been done by the council, Hoxton councillors, the Mayor and MP’s or from any other quarter, although Diane Abbot MP for Hackney North did ask a question in the House and Meg Hillier MP for Hackney South became ‘very perturbed’ as the battle climaxed.
A leading councillor, Philip Glanville, Chair of the Housing Committee stated “sadly the fate of these residents lies in the hands of an American investment company… under current legislation they – and the council are powerless to stop this.”
But this gutless statement of cowards didn’t stop the New Era tenants bandwagon from rolling. From Westbrook Partners offices they marched to Downing Street with a 300,000 signed petition.
It seemed at one stage that evictions would be likely over Christmas and some spoke of barricading themselves in and, had it come to this, no doubt thousands of tenants and supporters would have rallied to their aid. This hot potato was growing ever hotter. Westbrook Partners read the writing on the wall. The New Era tenants were standing firm, they would not be moved.
Russell Brand spoke to New York’s Mayor who commented, “Congratulations. London is experiencing what New York City used to experience. Our city government found a huge number of violations of our law by Westbrook for unfair treatment of tenants and attempts to interfere with tenants who organised for their own rights.”
As the new Era Tenants came closer to victory, the so-called Labour leaders were reduced to some hopeful back-room deals; none had the courage to put themselves at the front of this vital struggle. Even Boris Johnson talked of wanting “justice” for the tenants – game keeper turned poacher for the moment.
Had the tenants – led by mainly working class mothers – let themselves be led into tame negotiations their fate would have been sealed with them being evicted and probably ending up in hostels.
But the tenants had their eyes on victory and, by their own efforts, they won. Westbrook Partners was forced to sell New Era Estate to a social housing charity, who at least will freeze their rent for a year or two although there are no long term guarantees.
The question is posed, since not one Labour council had been prepared to challenge this Tory coalition on anything over the past five years, will an incoming Labour government (if there is one!) grasp the nettle of the daily growing disaster that is housing?
As housing built today is only for the rich and super rich, it leaves millions of people without any chance of a decent home or accommodation, and in the private sector thousands are routinely evicted if they have the temerity to ask their landlord for basic repairs.
The New Era tenants showed with boldness and courage that victory was theirs. A Labour government with a bold socialist housing policy, lining up with Labour councils and tenants could finally get a real grip and start to end this growing crisis which is as old as capitalism itself.
Since this seems totally unlikely, the New Era tenants and all those others fighting rip-off landlords and property speculators will have to be ready to continue the fight and link up the struggles into a unified campaign for decent affordable publically-owned housing based on a socialist programme.