Branch Secretary : suz.muna.unite@gmail.com
  

Mass evictions threatened

Cancel rent

 

The threat of eviction has been a major topic of discussion among branch members fearing for their own homes once the eviction ban is lifted and wondering what landlords that they work for will do.

 

The branch passed this policy resolution opposing evictions supporting the call to cancel rents for the period of the pandemic; this was Labour Party policy but was quickly reversed when the new leadership of Labour took over.

 

 

Our branch works with a network of social housing residents’ organisations called SHAC and with the London Renters Union, both of them are campaigning on the issue.

 

Jack Jeffery spoke with branch member and London Renters Union (LRU) activist Andrea Gilbert. Andrea is co-founder of the LRU in Putney.

 

Andrea Gilbert

 

What was the impact of coronavirus on those in private rented accommodation?

It’s been horrific as many people, especially those in low paid sectors like hospitality lost their jobs. Even those who have managed to keep their job have often been furloughed. When you’re struggling to survive each month to suddenly lose 20% of your wags is a big hit. Lots of people I know have had to use foodbanks for the first time just to feed their families. I think the government realised there would be a wave of homelessness and it was why they’ve temporarily paused evictions.

 

It feels like the pandemic has really exposed the inequalities in housing

This is so true, if you look at the statistics those most affected by coronavirus have overwhelmingly been from the working class and ethnic minorities. This is because they are more likely to live in overcrowded, poorly ventilated, low quality accommodation. These are also the groups that have lost out the most over Wandsworth’s attempts at regeneration. Local projects in Roehampton and Winstanley were meant to help deprived areas but have ended up just forcing local people out. The projects average only 23% social housing and the properties for sale are way out of reach of local people. A two-bed property in the Roehampton regeneration starts at £600,000!   

 

Setting up a renters union in Wandsworth

 

Have the government done anything to help private renters during the pandemic?

Nothing beyond pausing evictions. It feels like the whole system is set up to subsidise landlords. They’ve agreed to allow mortgage holders to pause their repayments but have done nothing to help renters. To be honest I always expected this from a Tory government but the person I am most disappointed in is Keir Starmer. There’s proven links between poverty, poor quality accommodation and vulnerability to coronavirus. He should have been out there fighting for people. Instead with no consultation he scrapped Labour’s previous plans to protect private renters during the pandemic and now is saying any arrears have to be paid back over two years. If you’re already struggling to pay rent, where does he think people will get this money from to pay back arrears when we’re due to face the biggest recession since the great depression. For me, all the main political parties feel completely out of touch with private renters.

 

What have you been campaigning for in the LRU?

We have been campaigning for cancelling rent and arrears accrued due to coronavirus. We’ve also been resisting evictions and exposing landlords who refuse to do basic maintenance and repairs.

 

 

What can be done to improve the private rented sector?

Longer fixed tenancies and more legal protection for renters would help, but as long as we have a system based on profit, we’ll struggle to make big changes. I think the only real way to solve this would be a mass campaign of building social housing. Everyone should have a secure tenancy at an affordable rent. Housing should be a right not a privilege, and no one should have to face homelessness because of poverty. Unfortunately, this government doesn’t seem interested and I don’t have much hope in the current leadership of the Labour Party, so it’s going to be us who have to organise to change things!

 

July 14th 2020

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