- Created on 25 September 2016
Notting Hill Housing Trust is threatening to evict some 18 families from St James' Estate in Bermondsey.
Community, in the worlds of (local) governments, is a conveniently vague idea which rarely, if ever, takes into account the actual, lived and living reality of it.
Three years ago, we were alerted to the plight facing the community on St James' Estate in Bermondsey. Notting Hill Housing Trust (NHHT), who, in 2011 bought the estate off the previous social landlord, had sent letters to half of the people living on the estate, saying their rents were to go up between 10% and 38%. This translated into £750 a month for one bedroom home, £920 for a two-bedroom and £1,200 for a 'town house.'
At the time, there were at least 200 people living on the estate. All of the 200 people lived in their housing association homes before Notting Hill Housing Trust took over and all had established links within wider communities, through their schools, workplaces, etc.
Three years ago, people on St James' estate got together, got the local politicians involved and managed to stop the NHHT from destroying their lives, lives of their families, friends and support networks.
A month or so ago, NHHT issued some 18 eviction notices to families on the estate simply because they can.
The estate was built in 1980s as housing association homes. The ownership changed hands a few times since, but people living on the estate remained, on the whole, the people the homes were built for, ie not your MPs or inside traders but rather nurses and hospital workers, teachers, self-employed people, artists, single mothers etc.
NHHT bought the estate in 2011. In 2013, they wanted to hike the rents up even though they did not maintain people's homes. A year later, Notting Hill Housing Trust set up 'Folio', which is now managing the estate. NHHT is, officially, a 'not-for-profit' housing provider, even though Kate Davies, its CEO, said ‘social housing is not a desirable destination’ and that ‘private ownership is preferable to state provided solutions’ i.e council homes’.
Each and every one of the people who lived there in 2013 and who want to go on living there today, including the 18 families NHHT is trying to evict, have established, vital links to their local and wider community. You disrupt one and it all comes crashing down.
One of the people we spoke to received a Section 21 notice over a month ago. They had lived in their home for six years and had, as we all do, done the little things around the house, a touch of paint here, a plant there etc. They have been paying their rent on time. They get on well with their neighbours. 'I kept asking “But why are you evicting me?” and they just woudn't tell me. There's others who also got eviction notices, too scared to speak out... ' Another resident, a single mother, is as anxious, 'Where can I move to? I went to the council and they said, “Luton”. Luton! I don't know anyone in Luton! My children are at school, I can't do this to them. Where can we move to? I can't afford storage so what, I just dump all of our things? How is this right?!'
Some have noticed rent arrears appear then disappear from their accounts, without any explanation. People are saying NHHT wants to evict them so they can ask for much higher rents, like they tried three years ago. The 'means testing' means people need to be earning at least £42,000 a year to rent a home on the estate.
The Folio website has three homes on the estate advertised on their website:
NHHT is a social housing provider. That's what they are, at least in theory, meant to be doing, whether as part of the Aylesbury estate regeneration, or at Bermondsey Spa, Canada Water and Silwood. The 18 families from St James' Estate they are trying to make homeless might well be eligible for social/council housing. This, of course, includes homes provided by housing associations. So the families they are trying to make homeless could be eligible for the homes they are living in now. What impact is this having on the lives of 18 families? What about the lives of their friends and extended families? Or the lives of their wider communities? If a social housing provider can do this on one estate they manage, what is going to happen to the people on the Aylesbury? How does this fit in with the additional £21M Southwark Council just agreed to give NHTT so they can continue 'regenerating' the Aylesbury?
Just over a week ago, the Secretary of State, in his report on the Aylesbury Estate Compulsory Purchase Orders, expressed concerns about about ‘uprooting’ children ‘at a vulnerable stage in their development’ and the detrimental impact this would have on their education and future employment prospects. The children who live on St James' Estate and who NHHT is trying to evict also matter. Their development and education and future employment prospects also matter. The development and education of any one of the children from the estate is closely linked to that of their mother and father, to that of their next door neighbours, to that of their best friend at school etc.
If, like one of the people we'd spoken to, you are a single mother, who does her best to look after her children, to make sure they're fed, clothed, listened to and read to and played with and loved, who works part-time because you can't afford not to, and who still needs some housing benefit, what are you to do? Sometimes you and other school moms help each other out, other times your friends or neighbours do. The idea that people who get housing benefit have less 'right' to live in their homes, especially if these are anywhere in 'centrallish' London, is, as far as we're concerned, simply discrimination. Which affects ethnic minorities and women considerably more than other groups.
Local residents are getting together and will be fighting to keep their homes and their communities. If you are one of the families they are trying to evict or can in any way help stop this from happening, please get in touch. If you can, get in touch with the local councillors, the MP and/or the press and urge them to support the residents.