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by Josh Hall / @JoshAJHall
Last night council tenants, squatters, private tenants and MPs gathered in Parliament to consider the next steps in the campaign for secure housing.
The meeting, called by Defend Council Housing and the House of Commons Council Housing Group, sought to connect those fighting against the implementation of aspects of the Localism Bill [doc] with those seeking to improve conditions in the private rented sector, maintain and bolster squatters’ rights, and prevent political evictions.
Austin Mitchell, chair of the Commons Council Housing Group, opened the meeting by focusing on Grant Shapps’ pre-election promise that the Conservatives would continue the existing house-building regime – a promise on which the Housing Minister has reneged in government.
Mitchell suggested that the coalition intends to “turn council estates into transit camps”, in which only those in the most acute need will have access to housing. He said that tenants will be forced to leave their homes in the event that their circumstances improve – but that no assistance is being given to those who are forced into the private sector.
This is in stark contrast with plans announced this week by Wandsworth Council, which has warned that it could limit access such that only those in work would be entitled to council housing – potentially forcing Wandsworth tenants into an impossible catch-22.
Last night a Unison representative pointed out the inconsistency of the government’s position. He suggested that Shapps’ initial insistence that the government would not change tenure arrangements for existing or future tenants was contradicted by the government’s own impact assessment for the Localism Bill, which found that the new law would create 3.5 million insecure tenancies over a 30 year period.
Meanwhile MP John McDonnell said the Bill “ends council housing as we know it.” Mr McDonnell called on campaigners to “get in the faces of these Tory MPs,” and encouraged creative direct action inspired by the Occupy movement and UK Uncut. Other speakers also highlighted the importance of militancy, with some advocating rent strikes and occupations.
Several speakers called for more action in the private rented sector. Jeremy Corbyn said that private tenants would soon make up the largest group in his constituency, but that they were historically difficult to organise. He said that mounting insecurity means “nobody has any investment in the community, because no one knows how long they’re going to be there.”
But Mr Corbyn also pointed to some victories in Islington, including the return of Homes For Islington to direct council control following a period as a so-called arms length organisation.
A representative from Wandsworth Against Cuts called on attendees to support a day of action against evictions arising from the August riots. He cited the case of Maite de la Calva, who faces eviction from her council property in the event that her son is convicted of a riot-related offence. Ms de la Calva faces no charges. A meeting to consider further opposition to the eviction, and to similar moves across the country, will be held at 7:30pm on 5 December, at the Doddington Community Centre.
A further Defend Council Housing meeting is scheduled for 10 December at Camden Town Hall, and there are plans for a national housing conference in the New Year.
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