BIG DEBATE: Why local authorities leave social properties empty for years

Carpenters Estate occupied! [photo: Isabelle Infantes]

Carpenters Estate occupied! [photo: Isabelle Infantes] - Credit: Archant

Angry mothers who had to leave their homeless hostel in East London last year when its mother-and-baby unit was shut down took their campaign onto an empty council estate in protest at the lack of social housing. Hundreds of homes have been empty for up to 10 years on Stratford’s Carpenters Estate, next to the Olympic Park. So members of the Focus E15 marked the first anniversary of their campaign by occupying boarded up houses and holding a protest fair on Sunday to show that “perfectly habitable” properties are being left empty. That made the Mayor of Newham’s cabinet housing advisor furious—he accused the mums of agitating and “misrepresenting” what the Town Hall was doing to help the homeless:

Stratford's empty Carpenters Housing estate

Stratford's empty Carpenters Housing estate - Credit: Focus E15 campaign

Jasmine Stone, one of the Focus E15 mums, explains why they occupied the estate:

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Housing is a big and personal problem for many people in Newham, with property prices endlessly rising. More are being forced into private rented housing and more are sleeping rough.

People are being forced out and sent miles away from their support networks. Private rented housing is too expensive and insecure. Most rental contracts are six or 12 months, with families having to move all the time, which is unsettling.

Many homes and estates are left empty for years, like the Carpenters Estate in Stratford which has been left to deteriorate, bad enough for the local authority to say they are uninhabitable.

Focus E15, is a hostel of 210 flats—29 of which housedyoung mothers— until they.

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were handed eviction notices last year made to leave by October. The publicity surrounding the evictions resulted in the notices being withdrawn—but we still had to leave. Mothers were being offered accommodation in Manchester, Hastings and Birmingham!

We began a campaign for decent, local social housing and got a part victory for mothers as we were all rehoused by Newham, but in private rents.

That was not the end. We have since met hundreds of people with housing problems one way or another. So we have widened our campaign to support anyone with a housing problem.

A new type of housing is put in place called “affordable” which has replaced social housing. It sounds good—but “affordable” is 80 per cent of the market rate which is ridiculously unaffordable for most of us.

We have met Newham’s mayor, Sir Robin Wales, who said if we can’t afford to live in Newham, then we can’t afford to live in Newham! We found that absolutely disgusting.

No-one on average or low wages or benefits can afford to live in Newham.

We need to get together and show the council that we will not let Newham turn into a place for one class.

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The Mayor of Newham’s cabinet advisor on housing, Cllr Andrew Baikie, wasn’t too happy with Sunday’s occupation “stunt” and the protest fair that exposed the empty properties, as he explains:

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It is disappointing to see empty homes in the Carpenters Estate being occupied by agitators and hangers on. It is equally disappointing to see them attempt to misrepresent the truth for their own ends.

The Carpenters Estate is not viable. The tower blocks are simply too expensive to renovate and will need to be demolished. The whole estate could be redeveloped to provide not only good quality, modern family homes but vitally important jobs and community space for local residents.

To allow that to happen, Newham Council has helped more than 400 residents move from Carpenters over the last 10 years to new homes of their choice. As of today, only 62 of the homes on Carpenters are occupied and 400 are vacant.

We want to make use of as many of the vacant homes as possible to temporarily house homeless people bfore the estate is regenerated.

We successfully did that with 271 properties in Canning Town as the new heart of that community took shape and will be extending this to include an additional 22 homes.

It is therefore outrageous that the so-called Carpenters Tenant Management Organisation not only refused to help make the vacant properties available, but threatened us with legal action for trying to do so.

However, no one should be fooled by the claims of the so-called leaders of the Focus E15 campaign.

The mother and baby unit of their hostel is now closed.

The families who were there have been helped to find a home in Newham or elsewhere in London if that’s what they wanted. That help included using public money to fund rent deposits and other support.

Now it looks as though we will have to spend more money to get protestors off Carpenters estate.

It is clear that the wider needs of the people of Newham are being ignored for the sake of petty, expensive stunts.

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