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.
We’ll be supporting our friends of Camden Housing Action Group who are in court next week for their protest occupation against the sell-off of council housing by Camden council. More details below. Please join and share their facebook event here.
2 protestors who occupied a residential building owned by Camden council in protest at its sell-off and the wider sell-off of council housing across London, will be at Highbury Corner Magistrates court next Tuesday 26th and Wednesday 27th August.
They are being charged under the Legal Aid, Sentencing, and Punishment of Offenders Act section 144 which makes it a criminal offence to live or intend to live in an abandoned residential building. Section 144 criminalises homeless people trying to find a home. It also criminalises protesters who are trying to take action against the housing crisis through protest occupations such as this one.
Come along for court support to show your solidarity. Join us outside the court at 9.30am, bring placards and banners. We’ll then head in for the court case at 10am.
Quality, secure, affordable social housing for all! Scrap LASPO section 144!
More info on the protest occupation here: http://camdenhousingaction.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/camden-council-houses-occupied-in-stoptheselloffs-protest/
Previous cases successfully challenging LASPO section 144 include:
Our friends across the river, Camden Housing Action Group, have occupied a council house that Camden council are trying to sell-off. Grassroots direct action for housing for all! Read their press release here and spread the word!
Monday 24th February – Press release – For immediate release
Stop the selloffs! Camden council houses occupied in protest
Photo opportunities – There will be banners on the building so people can take photographs from the street. We will try and get some photos up online soon – please contact email@example.com for more info.
Camden Housing Action Group is occupying council property on Southampton road to protest against its selling off to private developers.
Camden council has promised to the residents of Camden that no residential housing stock would be sold off, but non residential properties such as land and garages would be sold to fund new housing.
Without any consultation or public announcement Camden council broke its promise by offering up for auction several residential properties on Southampton road.
Camden housing action group is calling on Camden council to withdraw the properties from the sale, issue an explanation and confirm that no further sell offs will take place in the future.
Anna Gardener, a member of Camden housing action group said:
“Our occupation is a protest at the mass sell-off of desperately needed council housing in our borough, and the whole of London, which is exacerbating the housing crisis and amounts to social cleansing as low income residents are forced out of zones 1 and 2.
“Our occupation is also a challenge to section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders act which criminalises squatting in abandoned residential properties. By using the building as a protest occupation, section 144 cannot be applied. We want to show the importance of being able to still use abandoned residential buildings for community protests such as ours. Criminalising squatting will only make the housing crisis worse, undermining the right to shelter and protest.”
As residents of Southwark and Lambeth, we were disappointed (if not wholly surprised) to learn that the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, received a jointly signed letter earlier this week from the Head of Lambeth Council, Lib Peck; MP for Streatham, Chuka Umunna; and MP for Dulwich & West Norwood, Tessa Jowell, calling for the criminalisation of squatting to be extended to commercial properties.
The further demonisation of squatting, in a climate of increasing desperation and homelessness, couldn’t come at a more unwelcome time. Many residents across Southwark and Lambeth are increasingly struggling to keep up with the rising costs of living and, in far too many cases, to keep a roof over their heads. The squatting community has traditionally been a key component in providing a lifeline to those with nowhere else to turn.
There are thousands of empty buildings across London, many of which have been deliberately left for long periods of time. It would be far more preferable for these to be put to use by people who have nowhere else to live, rather than creating an entirely new criminal class of Londoners who are guilty of nothing more than being forced into poverty. If politicians are serious about reducing levels of squatting and trying to solve the root causes of something they present as a problem, they would be demanding and implementing the construction of truly affordable social housing and regulating the amount of rent private landlords can charge instead of pushing tenants out of particular boroughs, without much in the way of support, in the hope of attracting more affluent residents.
We only need to look at developments across our two boroughs in recent times for evidence of the ongoing process which this letter was attempting to strengthen: Entire communities are being broken apart; we have seen Lambeth Council aggresively pursuing residents who have fallen into rent arrears due to the imposition of the Bedroom Tax; we have witnessed the total destruction of the community at the Heygate Estate, against the wishes of its residents (some of whom were rehoused miles away from the area); residents of Rushcroft Road, Brixton, were violently evicted from their homes so that Lambeth Council could make a quick buck on the sale of the land; and house prices and rents rise ever higher and higher.
What this letter really emphasised was the immense gulf between the people who live in Southwark and Lambeth, and those politicans who claim to represent them. It is clear that if our ‘respresentatives’ had any real understanding of the lives and struggles of the people who live in their constitutencies, and if they had any pretence of representing their wishes, the last thing on their minds would be attempting to drive yet more people from their homes.
Housing Action Southwark & Lambeth is a relatively new group made up of residents of two boroughs who are working together to combat some of the problems that residents face; many of whom have been completely abandoned by the institutions which have a duty of care over them. We live the experience of Southwark and Lambeth residents. When we meet, we listen to each other’s concerns. We attempt to offer support, both moral and legal, to those who are finding themselves on the vicious end of an austerity climate that we did nothing to cause. We share in stories of the latest way in which housing offices have lied to us, misled us and threatened us. Everyone we meet is worried about where they will live when they can no longer afford to live in their current home. We are all struggling to make the next rent payment. The criminalisation of squatting does absolutely nothing to help with any of these conditions which rather begs the question: if our elected representative are seeking legislation against their constituents’ interests, exactly whose interests are they working for?