Posts Tagged ‘Affordable Housing’

Private Eye: Tory Persecutor of Homeless Made Head of Homeless Charity

February 19, 2015

As Tom Pride would say on his blog, not satire.

Johnny Void has for a long time blogged about the way the poor, the disabled and the homeless are frequently left helpless and betrayed by the very charities that are supposed to support them. These are the charities, whose managers support the brutal sanctions regime and workfare programme, which has seen tens, of not hundreds of thousands of people thrown on the streets without support, or sent to supply cheap labour to Tory donors like Tesco’s. In one of his most recent posts, Mr Void was particularly critical about the mental health charity, MIND, for supporting this highly exploitative system. MIND had produced a pamphlet that uncritically accepted the fraudulent and scientifically bankrupt idea that work automatically improved the condition of the mentally ill. They not only supported the system, but actually wished to send it extended and improved through the addition of mental health experts like, er, themselves.

The Void took the view that MIND were entirely cruel and corrupt. He had some very good things to say about the generosity and compassion of their front-line workers. He argued, however, that they were badly led by an upper management that knew nothing about the mental health and wellbeing of the lower orders. These were high-earning professionals, who thought that everyone looked forward to work the same way they did with their well-paid and interesting jobs.

I found this story in Private Eye’s edition for the 18th to 31st October 2013. It reports the appointment of the former chief executive of Hammersmith and Fulham Council, Derek Myers, to chairman of the board of trustees of the homeless charity, Shelter. It not only corroborates what Mr Void has said about the upper management of these charities, but it suggests that they’re staffed by the very people, who are responsible for the problems in the first place. The article reads

How well suited is Derek Myers, former chief executive of Tory-run Hammersmith & Fulham council, to his new role chairing the board of trustees at housing charity Shelter?

During his time running H&F (described by David Cameron as “his favourite council”), Myers oversaw the implementation of policies that were light-years away from those promoted by Shelter.

With Myers at the helm, H&F demolished a hostel for the homeless to make way for a development of luxury flats and mews housing; auctioned off 300 much-needed council homes, giving developers the green light to build luxury developments at the expense of affordable housing; and included no affordable housing among the 6,700 properties built in the redevelopment of the Earls Court exhibition centre. So much for Shelter’s campaign for “the government to meet people halfway and get more affordable homes built”.

Shelter also campaigns to prevent homelessness and helps tenants sustain their tenancies so they can continue to live in their community. With Myers in charge, H&F not only threatened to relocated 500 families on benefits to the Midlands, but it also told homeless people – many of whom would have contacted Shelter – that even if the council had a legal obligation to find them housing, they should be prepared to leave the borough. Does the housing charity know who it is taking on?

This is precisely the social cleansing against which Johnny Void has blogged so much. And with the poor and indigent being thrown out of the borough by Myers, it’s no wonder Dave Cameron considered it his favourite. All gentrified for the rich, with the poor being steadily forced out so they don’t have to trouble all those multi-millionaire financiers Dave loves so much. It shows you exactly what Cameron’s attitude to poverty is, as well as Myers and, by implication, the charity he has joined.

Guy Debord’s Cat himself lives in Hammersmith and Fulham, and has also blogged extensive on affairs in the borough, and the disgusting policies pursued by Myer’s party comrades on the council, so his blog is also worth checking out on these issues.

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The Bulgarian Peasant Party’s Solution to the Housing Problem

June 1, 2014

Last week I blogged on the several contemporary issues, which were similar to those tackled by the Bulgarian peasants’ party, BANU, nearly a hundred years ago. These were a local village power company, which was run as a co-operative by the whole community. It was thus similar to the idea of the Utopian British Socialist, Thomas Spence, for the communal ownership of land by the individual parishes, and also to the idea of the Bulgarian peasants’ party for the transformation of Bulgarian agricultural society through the formation of peasant cooperatives. I also remarked on the way the Bulgarians had also set up a policy of allowing the banks to provide loans on reasonable rates to credit cooperatives as a way of driving out the moneylenders. This is a problem that now besets British society, through the return of loan sharks and payday loan companies, like Wonga, that offer extortionate rates, because of wage freezes and cuts to welfare benefits.

Bulgaria, like modern Britain, also suffered from a housing crisis, made worse by the influx of thousands of refugees displaced by the First World War. They attempted to solve it through a mixture of policies, one of which was similar to the Bedroom Tax. They laid down the maximum amount of space that a family could occupy in a property, so that there would be more space available for the homeless. They also set about building cooperatively owned tenement blocks. R.J. Crampton describes these policies in A Short History of Modern Bulgaria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1987) 90).

The principle of maximum holding was applied to urban as well as rural property. The post-war refugee invasion had placed severe strains upon the already hard-pressed housing resources of Bulgaria’s towns, particularly Sofia. According to Agrarian legislation no family was to occupy more than two rooms and a kitchen, with an extra room for every two children over fourteen. Office space was also subject to restriction, and in the case of both domestic and office accommodation commissioners acting on behalf of the ministry of the interior had extensive powers to enforce the new and widely resented regulations. A second and more popular response to the housing shortage, and one much in conformity with Agrarian philosophy, was to encourage the building of new apartment blocks cooperatively financed and thereafter owned by their inhabitants. This reform survived the fall of the Stamboliiski regime and cooperative building continued through the inter-war period.

The German radical Socialist party, the USPD, also had a similar policy in the same period, for the same reasons: to solve the shortage of housing caused by the First World War.

What’s needed isn’t the Bedroom Tax, which is really an excuse to cut Housing Benefit by pretending to withdraw a subsidy that never in fact existed, if tenants of supposedly under-occupied properties don’t move out to suitable homes, which also don’t existed. What is needed to solve the problem is simply building more social and genuinely affordable housing, which the Conservative actively seem to oppose. When the ‘right to buy’ legislation was passed, councils were forbidden from building more council houses, and ‘affordable’ properties are only pegged at 80 per cent of the market worth, which means that in many parts of the London houses are well out of the price range of the very poorest, who need them. It’s possible that cooperation schemes, like those enacted by the Bulgarians, might be part of the solution.

Something like the Bulgarians’ legislation limiting the maximum amount of space families can occupy could also be applied to private housing. The Bulgarian policy was based on the view that you should only possess what you can actually work yourself. Thus there was a maximum amount of land allowed to be cultivated by peasant farmers. Large landowners were forced to sell the excess land to the smaller peasants, so that each peasant farmer had just enough for his needs and those of wider Bulgarian society.

The great French anarchist, P.-J. Proudhon, had a similar view. Much of his Mutualist anarchist system was based on his experience of peasant society in the Jura, where he grew up. While he didn’t set the maximum amount of space people could occupy in their houses, he did recommend that people should lawfully own only what they could actually practically use themselves. Thus, landlords, who held multiple properties, which they rented out, should have all but the property they themselves lived in expropriated and given to the people, who needed them.

I believe a similar policy could be usefully implemented today. Perhaps we need the ‘right to buy’ principle extended to all the private tenants, now forced to rent homes at exorbitant rents because of the way available housing was bought up by people seeking to rent them out later in the housing boom of the 1990s. I also believe that there are many under-occupied private homes, with considerable space going without tenants, in certain parts of London, such as Knightsbridge, Kensington and Westminster.

And possibly Chipping Norton. I can’t see how Dave Cameron, whose government is responsible for the Bedroom Tax, and who has said repeatedly that ‘We’re all in it together’, would possibly object to having to share his home with a couple of crusties.

The Face of the Homeless from 100 Years Ago

May 7, 2014

Eviction Pic

I found this photo from the one of the history books I have lying about the house. It’s of an old woman evicted from her house, with her possessions piled into the street from sometime before the First World War. It’s from the W.H. Smith History of the World: Vol 2 – The Last Five Hundred Years (London: Hamlyn 1984), p. 517. The caption for the photo reads:

An old woman evicted from her south London home just before the First World War: by now old-age pensions and the national insurance scheme had laid the basis of the welfare state, but few municipalities recognized a duty to house their citizens.

This is the reality of what existed before the introduction of council housing. And it’s what is returning to Britain again with the introduction of IDS’ ‘bedroom tax’, inflationary house values that only benefit the buy-to-let market, and the construction of ‘affordable housing’, which is still well above many people’s ability to purchase.

We can’t let them get away with it.