Last night I met up with Beti, a former tenant of the Loughborough Park Estate in Brixton, which was demolished by the Guinness Partnership last year, resulting in the loss of 180 homes for social rent. Having been evicted from her Assured Shorthold Tenancy, which she had held for 10 years, Beti lost her business, a cafe in Brixton, and is now claiming housing benefit to pay the rent in her new place, where she lives with her two boys. Strange as it might seem, though, she was one of the lucky ones. Having been one of the key figures in the campaign of resistance to the demolition, and having fought Guinness housing association to the last, Beti was one of only 11 out of 100 Assured Shorthold Tenancies on the estate rehoused in Southwark, unlike most of her fellow tenants, who were moved to the outer boroughs of London. Beti’s new tenancy, however, is for ‘affordable rent’, meaning her rent has been raised from £109 per week to £265 per week for a two-bedroom flat. Even though the Guinness Partnership demolished her home and re-housed her in another Guinness estate, they have not given Beti a secure tenancy on a social rent in her new place.
You might wonder how the Guinness Partnership arrived at this weekly rate for an ‘affordable’ rent that can be up to 80 per cent of market rate. The answer is that it’s at the upper limit of what she can claim on housing benefit, and therefore the maximum that the Guinness Partnership, which still enjoys charity status and calls itself a social housing provider, can squeeze out of the state. If you’re wondering why councils are so eager to hand over their housing stock to housing associations like Guinness, Peabody, Notting Hill Trust and London & Quadrant, it’s because the housing benefit that residents will be forced to claim on the new, insecure tenancies for ‘affordable’ rent come from Central Government, not from the council. So if you want to know who the real benefit scroungers are, look no further than these housing associations. Between 2010 and 2015, housing associations in Britain made an extra £2.6 billion from tenants claiming housing benefit, which now make up 63 per cent of their 2.86 million households. But from 2012 to 2015, the number of housing association properties for ‘affordable’ rent increased from 7,350 to 123,260, with 76,259 of these being converted from homes for social rent.
For the Guinness Partnership, this household of a single mother and her two children struggling to pay their ‘affordable’ rent is nothing more than a conduit through which public money passes into their private purse, and they will do anything to get their hands on it. They’ve already demolished Beti’s home, taken away her ability to support her family financially, increased her rent by 240 per cent, and driven her onto the benefits system. But that’s not all. Wanting to get away from the poverty, humiliation and bullying that is the result of claiming benefits in this country, she recently started working in a coffee shop. As anyone who has claimed benefits will know, this has immediately resulted in all her benefits being suspended as the ponderous wheels of the Department of Work and Pensions re-assesses her claim to work out what portion of her vast new earnings she can keep. While they do so, she has, of course – as the benefit system is designed to make happen – fallen into arrears on her rent. As a consequence of which, Beti has received notice from the Guinness Partnership that they will be evicting her and her children from their home in March.
This is what ASH means when we talk about the realities of estate demolition; and everyone who participates in this process, from the Labour Councils selling the land to the housing associations and property developers turning social housing into unaffordable housing and real estate investments, is responsible for what is happening to Beti and the hundreds of thousands like her across London. If you’re an architect sitting at your desk designing the new builds that facilitate this process, you are as guilty as the Chairman of the Guinness Partnership, and don’t think or pretend otherwise. None of this can happen without every link in the long chain of estate demolition doing its job. You may think you’re only one link in that chain, but as the saying goes, a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link; and at the moment every architectural practice in London is hand in hand, arm in arm, link in link, with the chain of social cleansing.
We’re not going to let this happen, if we can. Beti has decided to fight her eviction, and she needs all the help she can get, from housing campaigners, eviction resistance activists, human rights lawyers, and anyone else who is angry at what the Guinness Partnership is trying to do to her. At their invitation, Beti is going to be speaking at the next public meeting of the Save Northwold Estate campaign, where the Guinness Partnership are trying to do exactly the same thing they did on the Loughborough Park Estate. She’s going to warn the residents of Northwold what will happen to them if they believe the lies Guinness are telling them, and if they don’t fight for their estate and their community. In return, she asks that the Northwold Estate community support her campaign to resist her eviction from her home, and to have a secure tenancy in that home on social rent levels.
We’re hoping to put Beti in contact with a housing lawyer who may be able to help her in her legal claim that, given the Guinness Partnership demolished her former home and moved her to her current one, which they also own, she should have been transferred from one social rent tenancy to another, not driven into an unaffordable rent and the insecurity of housing benefit. But she needs the support of a wider campaign protesting against what the Guinness Partnership is doing to her. Since she is not alone in being treated like this, Beti hopes that this legal case may become a landmark decision that will force housing associations and councils alike to honour their responsibility to rehouse the residents whose homes they demolish on new developments with the same security of tenancy and the same rental rates. Anything else, as Beti’s current predicament demonstrates, is social cleansing designed to drive residents of social housing into an unregulated private rental market, temporary accommodation and homelessness.
If you’re wondering what the photograph above is of, it’s the security door on another flat in Beti’s block that has stood empty for 7 months. This in a borough with 22,000 households on the housing waiting list. But as Beti pointed out, since everyone else in her block is on social rent, she is effectively paying for her flat and the rent on this one, plus some taxi money for the Chairman of the Guinness Partnership, so why would they give this home to a homeless family on a secure tenancy? Better for them to wait till they have another evicted tenant from another estate they’ve demolished whom they can move in on an ‘affordable’ rent. If they have their way, they won’t have to wait long. According to their own Annual Review and Financial Statements 2015/16, last year the Guinness Partnership increased their income from ‘affordable’ rents from £14.6 million to £21.1 million through converting 559 homes for social rent to ‘affordable’ rent, and through the letting of new homes for ‘affordable’ rent on developments built on the site of demolished estates. As these figures show, whether through conversion or demolition, the destruction of social housing is big business.
Please support Beti’s campaign by naming, shaming and challenging the Guinness Partnership on social and in print media as the social cleansers and home wreckers that they are; by giving her your active, professional (if applicable) and even financial support as she takes on the Guinness Partnership for her right to a home; and by signing her petition to the Guinness Partnership to call off her eviction on 7 March and give her a tenancy on a social rent.
Architects for Social Housing