Booming house prices, the right to buy and “estate revamps” are behind the council’s desperate shortage of housing, which is the worst for 10 years. All 380 hostel places in the borough are full and Hackney Council says the housing crisis has not been this bad for a decade. The story in this week’s Hackney Gazette rightly points the finger at Hackney Council for creating a crisis in the borough, but what are the real issues?
The council claims that estate revamps will ease the crisis, but this is hardly likely. Obviously we all want our housing improved but what’s really going is a sell-off not a revamp. As the Gazette points out, since 1993 the number of council homes has dropped from 38,000 to 29,000 and 7,000 homes have been sold to housing associations.
Do we really believe that the glossy plans being flashed around by developers in the area mean that we will be able to move straight into brand new homes ? Not likely. What the developers don’t tell us is that while “revamps” take place, tenants will be dumped into housing that is as bad, if not worse, than the current stock.
And will all council tenants be allowed to return to the same area? Not if the gentrifiers get their way. As we have pointed out since we started 2 years ago, the people of Shoreditch in particular are sitting on a gold mine with land prices going through the roof, and other areas in Hackney are getting the knock on effect of this. If tenants agree to move out and have blocks and estates demolished it’s hardly likely that we’ll be welcomed back once the yuppie loft apartments have been built and the area has been “improved”.
With the financial crisis in Hackney looking worse than it first appeared, we now get news that council tax is set to rise by up to 10%. Reports in last week’s Hackney Gazette put the council’s projected debt for next year at £76 million, much greater than the £22 million shortfall this year and the rise in council tax seems to be a direct result of this.
Of course, people should pay towards local services if they can afford them, but what exactly do we get ? The benefits service was disastrously farmed out to ITNet (who are still running it), the education service looks like going the same way and rubbish collection has now also gone over to a private contractor. If local people were actually getting a decent service there would be far less resentment.
In the leters page of the Hackney Gazette, the issue of withholding council tax has been raised. This is a possible tactic in the future but the idea should be discussed in tenant associations and community groups first.
Hundreds of people demonstrated against Hackney Council on Monday November 6th in two separate events. At lunchtime, binmen staged a go-slow convoy, while in the evening protesters gathered outside the Town Hall to voice their anger at cuts in vital services. The sight of lines of riot police protecting councillors from their own community would be an eye opener if in fact the councillors truly represented that community, but as we point out later, that’s half the problem.
Despite the demonstration, the Labour-Tory coalition approved the package of cuts which looks likely to involve job losses, wage cuts for council workers and the privatisation of the rubbish collection service. Clearly the council has not learned a thing from the ITNet disaster and is now handing over the streets themselves to a private company! While the Lib Dems and Greens voted against the cuts, let’s not forget that across the border in Islington, the Lib Dems are happy to impose their own cuts package and still have ITNet running their benefits services.
IWCA members were present at the demonstration on Monday. While many in the crowd were local people affected directly by the cuts, many were also there in an attempt to sell left wing papers and recruit new members. We have to be certain that any resistance to the cuts comes from those who are most affected – those at the sharp end when the nurseries and schools start to feel the bite, when the residential homes start to get squeezed – Hackney’s working class majority. We shouldn’t get dragged into tactics that have failed before – endless marches, rallies and demonstrations.
The IWCA believes that the way forward is working class rule in working class areas. This means, for a start, representing our own community on the council, not letting middle class career politicians ruin our lives. Demonstrations are one way of showing anger, but if we are in this for the long haul, we have to organise on a community level and this is what the IWCA has been doing since it was set up in Hackney. It’s all too simple to hold demonstration after demonstration and rally after rally – the numbers will gradually wither away and the council will still be in charge. Until we replace those in power with people who represent the working class majority, we will always have this problem.
A Sorry Picture
A story in this week’s Hackney Gazette seems to back up what the IWCA has been saying for some time about the gentrification of Shoreditch. Under the headline “Cool Britannia” brigade driven out by rent hike the Gazette tells us that artists who were encouraged into the area by government cash supposed to secure cheap studio space, are now being forced out of the area by rocketing property rents and service charges. One artist claims that rents are now as much as £320 a week and service charges £700 a quarter.
While we won’t be particularly sad to wave goodbye to some of these over-rated, under-talented media tarts, there is a more serious side to this exodus of goatee beards and berets. As Glasshouse property developers managing director David Nicholson states, “we are not a charity, we are a commercial business and we’ve never lead anyone to believe we were anything else”. Ring any bells ? Just look at the plans Hackney Council have for housing, leisure and learning. Initial cash injections followed by leaving it all to market forces. And why do these companies get involved ? Because they think they can make a profit. Helpfully, David Nicholson tells us “It comes down to market forces which we don’t control”. Perhaps in a couple of years – once more council houses have been dumped into the private sector, rents have started to spiral out of control and all the leisure and learning services have been sold off – we might be told the same thing: “Market forces…blah blah blah…nothing we can do.”
Now more than ever, we need to fight to keep control of affordable housing and basic services, because if the “Cool Britannia” mob can’t afford the rents, Hackney’s working class majority sure as hell won’t either.
As if we didn’t expect it, the ballot at Fellows Court over transfer to Pinnacle has resulted in a yes vote, meaning that 300 flats will now move into the Shoreditch Neighbourhood. As we said at the time, the ballot was a joke from start to finish. Photocopied ballot papers, with no way of being authenticated, were sent out to tenants who were then told to return them to Andrew Wilkes, a man who has a clear interest in getting a yes vote and hiving off estate management into the private sector. Fishy ?
Hackney Council to re-ballot tenants of Fellows Court
Despite having balloted residents of Fellows Court in November of last year, Hackney Council officer Andrew Wilkes has circulated a letter asking residents to vote again on the same issue that the council were defeated on last time, namely whether the estate should be transferred from Kingsland Neighbourhood in to Shoreditch. The council claims that the last vote was not valid as the “results from individual estates could not be distinguished” – a cock up in other words. There has been under two weeks’ notice given to tenants to return their ballot papers and interestingly, they are being sent back to none other than Mr Wilkes himself. Far be it from us to suggest any electoral impropriety, but wouldn’t you be suspicious if the man collecting the votes was the same man pushing for a yes vote ?
Once again, the IWCA would urge a NO vote on this transfer. as we’ve seen with the pathetic failure of IT Net and the difficulties with private contractors trying to cream off a nice profit from the sold off leisure services, once you get transferred and into the grubby hands of a private company, it’s in their interests to make money from you. How ? Well how about upping your rent, refusing to carry out repairs unless you pay and gradually forcing you out to make way for the kind of tenants they really want – yuppies.
Hackney IWCA was pleased to see in the Gazette of 23rd March that residents of Hawksley Court estate had successfully prevented the installation of a mobile phone mast. This is exactly the sort of community-led initiative that the IWCA supports and it is good to see local people standing up against the spread of these masts which are dangerous and unwanted .
When Hackney Council and private companies like Orange treat ordinary working class people with such disdain is it surprising that residents get sick of being treated like second class citizens? From the disasters of IT Net, the lack of consultation over tenants being “decanted” from Florence Court right through to the dubious ballot over Fellows Court’s transfer and now this example of arrogance, it should be clear to us that the council will only sit up and take notice when we take matters into our own hands.
The residents of Hawksley Court have set a good example to the rest of the borough.
In a stunning display of political cowardice and deceit, Hackney council has closed Haggerston Baths.
A Health and Safety report (compiled in a 20 minute visit, and published – coincidentally of course – 3 days after private bidders for the pool had met with the council) claimed that the pool was a “risk to the users and workers at the centre”.
Local people have smelt a rat and suspicions over the timing of the closure have been reinforced by a secret document obtained by the Haggerston Pool Community Action group which reveals that the pool has been closed in order to free up funds for the Clissold Pool.
As one speaker at a packed emergency meeting put it, “A poorer part of the borough is being used to subsidise the building of a lovely new leisure centre in a better off part of the borough”.
The document reveals that the bidders for running the councils leisure facilities (all of which are up for tender) have demanded a larger injection of cash from the council in order to make a profit and satisfy their shareholders, and under the logic of this PFI-style initiative (which the council is now trying to apply to housing too) if there’s no profit for private business then they’re just not interested.
All of this flies in the face of the work done by the local community in putting forward its own scheme for running the pool and goes to show what the IWCA has been saying all along: if you’re working class the council couldn’t care less.