Big housing weekend 2! Sat 6th and Sun 7th June

English for Action

English for Action at the March for Housing

After the great success of our housing weekend last month when we joined the Reclaim Brixton day and celebrated our second birthday, we’re back in June for another housing packed weekend!

On Saturday 6th June we’ll be joining ESOL teachers and students and housing campaigners from across London for a Housing and ESOL skill share workshop. The workshop will help us to strengthen our links between our groups and share skills and ideas of how we can work together – for example, we’ll look at how housing campaigners can involve and make  our work accessible to ESOL students. We’ll also look at how ESOL teachers can look at housing issues in their classes, teach housing rights and organise actions. See the call out below:

ESOL and Housing – Call-out!

ESOL teachers, ESOL students and housing activists have been linking up for years. Some people are indeed two (three?) of these things at the same time. But we can link up more effectively, more powerfully and just more! So if you are an ESOL/literacy teacher, a housing activist or a student interested in housing then you really must come to our skills share on Saturday June 6th.
Teachers will learn about housing rights, how to teach language around housing rights and how to take action effectively. Housing activists will learn how to better include migrants with English as an additional language in their struggles (what language is accessible, what language is not, how to deliver good workshops etc.) and how to take action (even more) effectively.
Where? St. Margaret’s House, 21 Old Ford Rd, Bethnal Green, E2 9PL
When? Saturday 6th June, 10-1:30 (lunch after provided by EFA)
Why? Over 11,000 families were evicted from their homes across England and Wales in January, February and March this year.

What? Training/skills share
Please come and bring your experiences to share!

SupperClubSingleColour (1)

Then on Sunday 7th June, join us for our third lunch club – this time in Elephant and Castle. Our almost-monthly free community meal is a chance for HASL members, supporters, and those interested in the group to meet up, socialise, and eat tasty, nutritious food together. We collect donations of food from local shops and cook it up together. If you’d like to help out collecting and/or cooking food, send us an email haslemail@gmail.com. Everyone welcome, bring your friends, family and neighbours.

Eviction resistance success in Camberwell!

photo credit: People's Republic of Southwark

photo credit: People’s Republic of Southwark

This morning, around 40 people (including residents from the nearby Aylesbury estate campaign, Eviction Resistance, Revolutionary Workers Party, neighbours, and us!) squeezed onto a narrow balcony in Camberwell responding to a call out from 14 year old Saffi to help stop the eviction of her family by Southwark council.

Saffi wrote:

“We constantly keep moving from one house to another nonstop for over the past years. This is extremely difficult because I am missing school and I have my GCSE exams and my family have been undergoing this difficult process all our life and I feel we need to put a stop to this. Thus I am pleading with all my might, that you come down and support us on along with some other generous people coming to peacefully protest and make our voices audible concerning the way the council are treating our community.”

Saffi, her sisters, mother, and grandmother are being housed by Southwark council in temporary accommodation, but as Saffi says, they have been continually evicted by the council and moved about – including being sent out to Plumstead. They are currently living on an estate that the council has marked for demolition.

The council were trying to evict the family for alleged rent arrears. They have lawyers who are appealing but in the mean time, collective action kept the family in their home. HASL have come across a similar situation which we wrote about here, where they evicted a family in temporary accommodation over alleged rent arrears and declared them ‘intentionally homeless’. But having rent arrears does not automatically make you ‘intentionally homeless’ as Southwark council seem to believe. We’ll be keeping an eye on Southwark over this.

Bailiffs and builders hid round the corner talking with a couple of police after witnessing the balcony full of people and banners determined to block their way.

Once we were sure the bailiffs had gone, Saffi’s mum delivered a powerful victory speech and invited us all in for a victory feast of jollof rice, chicken, and plantain.

Eviction resistance victory feast!

Eviction resistance victory feast!

A moving and inspiring morning! Thanks to everyone who came down!

If you’re facing eviction or worried about any other housing or benefit problems, you’re not alone, get in touch with your local group so that we can support each other and win! If you live in Lambeth or Southwark join HASL’s eviction phone network here and follow Eviction Resistance, London Coalition Against Poverty, and Radical Housing Network for housing action beyond Southwark and Lambeth.

Lambeth council – urgent action needed

Dear Lambeth council, Leader of Lambeth council Lib Peck, Councillor Jim Dickson Cabinet Member for Health and Well-being, Councillor Mohammed Seedat Cabinet Member for Jobs and Housing, and Councillor Sonia Winifred Cabinet Memeber for Healthy Neighbourhoods,

Today, a member of our group who is a victim of domestic abuse, was housed outside the borough of Lambeth where she feels safe and into temporary accommodation that is unfit for living. She has been housed in a borough she is unfamiliar with and far away from the vital support networks she has developed in Lambeth. The accommodation has broken fire alarms, a sign about cockroaches having been in the house, and serious damp and mould – please see photos below. The woman from the estate agents who showed previous people around said that people had refused to stay there – no doubt these people have been classed as ‘intentionally homeless’.

When we asked the placement officer if other Lambeth accommodation had been looked into – as the Supreme Court recently stated local authorities must do – the reply was that there was no accommodation in Lambeth. When we asked if Lambeth council had modified its policy on this the placement officer said there was a policy but they didn’t know what this was.

Our member and her young children are due to move into this unsuitable and dangerous temporary accommodation tomorrow – Tuesday 28th April. We are asking you to urgently find alternative, suitable accommodation for the family in Lambeth. Please email us today on haslemail@gmail.com to resolve this situation.

We hope this can be sorted out immediately so that our housing group does not need to make another visit to Olive Morris House this week for a situation that should not have happened in the first place.

Yours sincerely, Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth

Please tweet your concern and support for our HASL member to @lambeth_council

mould in the flat

mould in the flat

broken fire alarms

broken fire alarms

damp in the flat

damp in the flat

HASL’s big housing weekend!

HASL joined Reclaim Brixton on Saturday!

We had a stall in Windrush Square,

Our stall in Windrush Square.

Our stall in Windrush Square.

marched to the town hall where people tried to occupy it over Lambeth Council evicting and moving residents out of the borough,

Town Hall banner drop.

Town Hall banner drop.

marched around some more,

HASL on the march.

HASL on the march.

enjoyed the renovation work at Foxton’s,

Foxton's after a community makeover.

Foxton’s after a community makeover.

and then relaxed in Windrush Square

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o, and enjoyed the Ritzy’s film board :)

Ritzy advertising our eviction resistance tree!

Ritzy advertising our eviction resistance tree!

And then on Sunday HASL celebrated it’s 2nd Birthday with a BBQ at Papa’s park :)

BBQ going at Papa's park.

BBQ going at Papa’s park.

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Thanks to everyone who came down!

More photo’s can be found on our Flickr photostream.

Join us for the big housing weekend!

hasl birthday meme

The big housing weekend is upon us! We’re excited to be joining the HUGE Reclaim Brixton event this Saturday where thousands of people, including local campaign and action groups, from across Lambeth are descending on Windrush square to celebrate and protest in defence of our communities. We’ll be there to make lots of noise against bad housing, homelessness, and social cleansing! We’ll be joining the Guinness Trust estate feeder march meeting at the estate at 11am to march to Windrush square together. See here for other meet up points.

On Sunday we’ll be celebrating our second birthday with food, cake, games and good company at Papa’s cafe from 12pm. Everyone welcome! Join and share our facebook event here.

On Wednesday 29th April we’ve got our regular HASL meeting at 6.30pm at Renton Close Community Centre, Brixton Hill, SW2 1EY. Join us to reflect on the events gone, to think about what next, and to give and receive housing support and information, and to plan action.

On Wednesday 29th April at 12pm we will be leafleting outside Brixton Job Centre as part of Boycott Workfare’s week of action against workfare and sanctions. As everyone knows, benefit sanctions are causing homelessness and deeper poverty. We’ll be handing out Know Your Rights leaflets and speaking to people about their experiences and what we can do together to get the housing and welfare we need and deserve. Everyone welcome to join us and help out.

birthday flier

Lambeth Council making more people homelesss

bettertosquat

Image is from ‘Made Possible By Squatting’

HASL has found out from homeless members who squat in empty buildings that Lambeth council have been using business rates debts to get them evicted, leaving the buildings empty once again. There have been a number of long running squats in the area where homeless people took over disused abandoned commercial buildings, and when they were finally found by the owners they came to an agreement to stay till the building was needed. The owners tended to put the business rates they would have been paying in the squatters name (sometimes literally writing ‘squatters’ on the paper work!), which the residents would not have the means to pay and therefore would build up debts.

The council business rates team has not been chasing the squatters for the debts (knowing they can’t pay!) or even the owners (as the squatters are liable for the rates). Instead they have been sending bizarre letters that seem to imply the owners need to evict the squatters for the purpose of business rates compliance. Here is one of the letters:
Re: National Non Domestic Rates – address redacted – Property reference: redacted  I write in regards to the above premises.    The Council has been recently informed that there have been squatters occupying the  premise since the 15th February 2013. If this is correct, please supply documentary evidence proving this, showing the action being taken to move them out. This can be in the form of a police report, court order or notice of eviction from an enforcement company.    I trust you find the above in order.    Yours sincerely,
 
The above letter is asking the owner to show action being taken to move them out, but yet the owner is under no obligation to do so. The phrasing of this letter has put pressure on the owners to evict squatters they were happy leaving in the building. In one case the owner told the squatters this was because they felt they could face financial charges if they didn’t evict the squatters due to these letters off the business rates department. This is disgusting behaviour off Lambeth using business rates as a weapon to get homeless people evicted.
They have tried to say they have been doing this to put the buildings back into ‘beneficial occupation’. But the stories of two of the buildings are far from this. Before evictions the two buildings HASL are aware of housed 20-30 homeless people in total, with community meals, martial arts training and film showings taking place. Now one sits empty and boarded up with holes in the floors to prevent it being re-squatted and the other has security sitting in it 24/7 to stop it being re-squatted. To whose benefit is this new ‘occupation’? Lambeth may now be getting its business rates but in total over 50 people could be homeless as a result.
This fits into Lambeth Labour’s wider attitude to homeless residents. In 2013 Chuka Umuna, Tessa Jowell and council leader Lib Peck published a letter calling for squatting to be fully criminalised. The law has not changed yet but through bullying owners with business rates the council have been trying to make squatting impossible in Lambeth. While Lambeth force homeless people out of empty buildings they are denying homeless families the stable social rents they need and are selling off truly affordable housing with the short life coops. We demand Lambeth stop this disgusting practice and let people put abandoned buildings to truly beneficial use by housing themselves in them.
The Freedom of Information request can be found here.

More housing benefit cuts to come…

A whole raft of cuts to housing benefit, including the benefit cap, bedroom tax, cutting of housing benefit for those aged 25-35 years old, and more, since 2011 has increased poverty and homelessness across the UK as people struggle to meet soaring rents with less and less income. On top of this, a further cut to housing benefit could be coming in soon in the form of housing benefit sanctions.

For a number of years the government have been talking about extending the brutal sanctions regime that is currently terrorising claimants on JSA and ESA to housing benefit. Under their plans, people in part-time work who claim housing benefit could have their housing benefit sanctioned if the DWP decide they are not doing enough to increase their hours or find better paid work. The government said they would be trialling this in April this year as part of the protracted roll out of Universal Credit, but so far, no one has heard anything more about this. Read more about this from welfare blogger Johnny Void. Eventually if the government’s plans are realised 1 million more people could be subject to the benefit sanction regime which is already causing suffering, hunger, homelessness, and deaths.

And it doesn’t stop there – Theresa May announced last month, in an attempt to stir up racial hatred and to attack both migrants and welfare, the Conservative’s plans to stop housing benefit to migrants who do not learn English if they get a majority government after May (which looks very unlikely).  Already, the government has made JSA for migrants conditional on them learning English, and is now threatening to extend this to housing benefit. No one should be forced to learn English or do any other training or unpaid work under threat of destitution. These moves also undermine the role of ESOL teachers who want to teach people who want to be there voluntarily. ESOL teachers have not signed up to policing their students and getting their benefits removed if they are late or don’t turn up for class. Whilst making lots of noise about forcing migrants to learn English, the government recently announced huge cuts to Further Education of 24% meaning that many ESOL courses are under threat.

Boycott Workfare is a grassroots group that has been fighting the government’s workfare schemes and benefit sanctions for years now. There is a week of action against workfare and benefit sanctions from 25th April to 2nd May which we will be joining.

Sanctions to housing benefit will cause even more homelessness and poverty in our communities. HASL will fight all cuts to welfare and in solidarity with migrant groups and others fighting these racist policies! And we invite you to join us. We want quality, secure and truly affordable homes for all!