HASL’s 2021

It’s been another very challenging year – especially for people living in bad housing and struggling on a low-income. Due to the Covid 19 pandemic, we have not been able to have our face to face meetings and instead we have been running weekly zoom meetings with our members. We had a few opportunities this year to come together as a group at our noise protest, summer picnic, and a housing meeting in Burgess park. It was amazing to see so many old and new HASL members in person at these events.

We’re really proud of everything we have achieved this year – if we can achieve this much by organising over zoom, just wait until we can meet in person again!

Over the year we have won victories big and small, we organised a massive response when our local councils tried to use the winter lockdown to take away important rights for people on the housing waiting list, we’ve stopped evictions, successfully challenged unlawful gatekeeping of homeless people, and helped people move from homelessness and slum housing into the safe and secure council homes they need. We’ve also launched our campaign for high quality, safe, secure family-sized council homes which we will continue building in the new year.

Every day across south London we are supporting people to understand and enforce their housing rights, we let people know that they are not alone, and we campaign for the good council homes we all need and deserve.

A big thank you to all our HASL members and supporters for your continued support. Our group is run by our members and the group would not function without everyone’s participation. Thank you to everyone who has helped in any way – participating in our zoom meetings, telling friends about the group, liking our social media posts, joining protests, helping to make videos and so much more! We’ve also loved working together with our friends Public Interest Law Centre and English for Action and many other groups and new friends we’ve made over the year.

We hope everyone can have a good rest over the winter holidays and we’re looking forward to returning with even more energy, strength and solidarity in the new year!

Here are some of our 2021 highlights.

Campaign for 3, 4, 5 bed council homes, end NRPF!

In March, kids from Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth, Akwaaba, and English for Action living in overcrowded housing and temporary accommodation launched our poster campaign calling for 3, 4, 5 bed council homes. They have also wrote personal messages on their posters:

“You wouldn’t get enough sleep if your house was overcrowded”

“Sharing a room with parents or sleeping somewhere that is not the bedroom isn’t fun!”

We did this to mark the first anniversary of lockdown which many children have spent trapped in tiny, cramped, poor quality housing.  We launched over 50 of these posters with a twitter storm at Minister for Housing Robert Jenrick to make sure he couldn’t miss them. We also sent him a letter explaining the need for high quality, safe, secure family-sized council homes and the need to abolish No Recourse to Public Funds so no one is refused good housing based on their immigration status. Children need space to play, rest and study!

You can see all the beautiful posters here

Challenging Lewisham and Southwark’s lockdown ‘consultations’

At the start of the year during a difficult winter lockdown, both Lewisham council and Southwark Council (and a number of other London councils) decided that that it was the best time to make significant changes to their housing waiting list rules. There is no doubt that they used this moment to try to quickly push through new rules that would negatively impact their residents suffering in overcrowded housing and temporary accommodation.

We immediately organised to make sure our members and other residents knew what was going on and how these new rules would affect them. We ran a number large online meetings with members from both boroughs to discuss the consultations and what the group’s response should be. After our online meetings we put together template responses to both Lewisham and Southwark councils’ housing waiting list rules consultations helping hundreds of people most affected by the new rules to engage with these badly organised consultations. Our 2 Southwark meetings had over 80 families joining each meeting!

The South London Press covered our concerns at Lewisham’s housing waiting list consultation and features one of our member’s cases.

Southwark News covered our demands for Southwark council to ‘pause, amend and extend’ the consultation to make sure that Southwark residents can meaningfully engage.

We know we had an impact! In September, Lewisham council announced the new housing waiting list rules. Some of the worst rules had been removed. As a result of our campaigning we successfully challenged Lewisham council’s harmful plans to push thousands of families in severely overcrowded housing to the bottom of the housing list. We will be writing a blog post on this with more information soon.

After Southwark council tried to rush through their consultation, they have now gone silent. Now they say that the new rules will not be agreed until after June 2022. This is conveniently after the May 2022 local elections. It looks like they are playing politics with people’s lives. We’ll be writing another blog post with more updates on this soon.

Southwark campaign on overcrowding – victories and challenges ahead

As a result of our community-led campaign and Favio and Elba’s legal challenge in the Court of Appeal Southwark council removed the cruel ‘deliberate act’ term from their new draft allocations scheme. We were hopeful that this would mark a change in Southwark council’s treatment of families in overcrowded housing. As a result of Favio and Elba’s Court of Appeal challenge, a number of other HASL families were able to move from severely overcrowded housing into spacious council homes this year.

Back in March, 18 HASL members also had a zoom meeting with the leader of Southwark council Kieron Williams and the councillor for housing Stephanie Cryan where we raised the council’s treatment of overcrowded families and other homelessness and housing issues our members face. Kieron William’s apologised for the cruel and hurtful overcrowding decisions that families had received.

However, despite the Court of Appeal victory, the council’s intention to remove their cruel ‘deliberate act’ term, and Kieron William’s apology, Southwark council’s culture of blame and refusal targeted at families in overcrowded housing has continued.

Milton’s family have faced years of bullying and blame by Southwark council and have been campaigning for years on their case. In June, HASL members turned out in force for a noise protest outside Southwark council town hall in support of Milton’s family and all overcrowded families. You can read our short blog here. Afterwards our members told us: “it was amazing to be part of” and “the union makes us strong”.

With Public Interest Law Centre, Milton and his family launched legal action against the council’s decision that their severe overcrowding is a ‘deliberate act’. Milton and his teenage daughter powerfully explain their situation in this Southwark News article. We have fact-checked Cllr Cryan’s statements in the article here. The family’s case was also covered in MyLondon where it received almost half a million views and was picked up by the Mirror as well.

For years, we have repeatedly campaigned and warned Cllr Kieron Williams and Stephanie Cryan about the toxic and hostile culture in the housing office targeted at families of colour and migrant families in overcrowded housing. We were unsurprised but still sickened when a HASL family of 5 who have lived in a room for over 10 years were asked if they had thought about returning to Peru to solve their overcrowding. The family were also represented by PILC and even though the council blamed them for their overcrowding saying it was a ‘deliberate act’ the family were still able to move from their room to a permanent council home this month just in time for Christmas. Earlier this year, PILC had also helped the family remove the racist No Recourse to Public Funds condition and access welfare benefits and the housing waiting list.

Families in severely overcrowded housing have won significant victories against Southwark council’s cruel treatment with the help of other HASL members, supporters and our friends at PILC. They shouldn’t have to go through these efforts because they should never be blamed in the first place but as long as Southwark council’s culture of blame and refusal continues, we will keep on fighting it.

Lewisham overcrowding challenge

Our member Zaida went to the High Court to challenge Lewisham council from banning her from the housing register despite living in overcrowded housing because she has not lived in the borough for 5 years. Here’s our Lewisham group showing their support on zoom. Unfortunately the legal case was not successful. But we will keep on fighting for council housing for everyone and against strict local connection criteria which discriminates against migrant families and everyone who suffers from insecure private housing.

Workshops, events and other activities

At the end of August we had our HASL picnic which was our first in-person social event in over a year and a half. It was an emotional and special afternoon seeing old friends and meeting people who we had only ever met on zoom before.

The warm autumn weather also meant that we could have our first big housing group meeting outdoors in October. We had 100 people join us for our housing meeting and it was great to run our big group meetings again together.

We joined the Brixton Community Rally with other housing groups and campaigns fighting for our local communities against social cleansings and private developments.

Our members Fowsiyo and Pamela were interviewed by English for Action students and talk about the causes of London’s housing crisis, what we do to fight the housing crisis together, our victories, legal aid cuts and so much more! Watch, ‘like’, share, and subscribe to the EFA youtube channel here

Our member Pamela also featured in this renters rights video.

In February, HASL members joined Akwaaba, a social centre for migrants based in east London, to run a workshop on racism in housing and sharing our experiences of organising collectively for housing rights and high quality council homes for all. We also delivered a talk on housing campaigning with a new Ealing and Hounslow housing group. We also ran a social housing rights workshop with our members who have recently moved into social housing.

We also joined NEON’s housing movement builders training in July and October this year where we met with other housing campaigners from across the UK.

Protecting homeless families’ rights

In February, Southwark council were forced to settle a judicial review case that 2 HASL members took against them for operating an unlawful policy pushing homeless families into private rented housing and families in temporary accommodation further down the housing waiting list. As a result of the legal challenge that was taken by Camden Community Law Centre, Southwark council ended this so-called ‘trial policy’. We’ve experienced first-hand in Lambeth a similar ‘homeless prevention’ scheme which forces families into private housing and we know how disastrous these schemes are. In their housing waiting list consultation, Southwark council also proposed to bring this scheme into the housing allocations policy and we strongly opposed this in our responses to the consultation. We have another blog about Southwark’s unlawful policy coming soon!

Some of our other victories

Waltham Forest council have tried to force a number of homeless families to Stoke on Trent, or other locations across England, including one of our members. A strong twitter storm made Waltham Forest council stop the eviction of Monica and her family from temporary accommodation. We collected some of the press coverage here. We know these cases aren’t isolated cases and we’re disturbed at what is happening in Waltham Forest council’s housing office where homeless families face this appalling treatment.

With the help of Lewisham Law Centre, our homeless member successfully overturned Lewisham council’s decision to force her and her family into unsuitable private housing. We’re really concerned at Lewisham council’s use of private sector discharge which they are targeting at single parents. The private sector is a main cause of homelessness, families should not be forced back into it. We’ll be campaigning more on this issue with our members.

Back in August 2020 we wrote a blog with our member who was facing her 3rd section 21 eviction notice. With the help of GT Stewart solicitors the eviction company’s dodgy section 21 notice was thrown out of court! 

Throughout the year, a number of our members have been able to bid for secure social housing, the last few months have been particularly busy! We’re so happy for our members who have been able to move into secure social housing but we know the hardship and difficulties they suffered before they were finally able to get their new homes. One of our members was living with her young son in a small room with no natural light or ventilation. Southwark council’s enforcement officers said it was not fit for people to live in and should only be used for storage. With our help and PILC, our member was put into band 2 on the housing register and is now has a spacious 2 bedroom council home. One of our members who is suffering from a number of medical issues and was sofa surfing was helped by the group to get higher medical priority on the housing waiting list. She was then able to successfully bid for a housing association home. She told us that our group’s work “you do it with your heart…I want to comfort people and I want you to know that I will come to support others”

Our group has also helped families to make homeless applications and challenge unlawful gatekeeping, helped people get their correct banding on the housing register, helped people understand their rights, helped people to find lawyers for their housing cases, helped people to request suitability reviews which has seen them re-housed closer to their home borough, and provided emotional support as well. In our group zoom meetings our members have been incredible at providing support, sharing experiences and rights information.

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