The fate of three separate housing estates in London serves to reveal the growing scandal of the housing crisis in the capital, with working class people being pushed out of their homes to service the demands for profit on a massive scale.
“This is a striking example of how the bourgeoisie solves the housing question in practice. The breeding places of disease, the infamous holes and cellars in which the capitalist mode of production confines our workers night after night, are not abolished; they are merely shifted elsewhere!” – Engels, the Housing Question.
Three thousand working class people once lived at the Heygate Estate in Southwark; their home until 2014, when the ‘developers’ came knocking. Since then ‘Elephant Park’ has replaced it, and no affordable housing has been made available to the previous tenants.
Just 74 of the new properties built are within the price range of those now “cleansed” from the area. The majority of the other homes on the new estate are not being made available for people to live in - they are there as investments. Simply put, the London property market is now the new gold rush.
This is no exaggeration. According to data presented by Transparency International UK: “across the 14 developments and 2,066 properties, at least 76 per cent of properties were bought by beneficiaries coming from overseas.” A former Southwark housing officer named Terry, who had lived on the estate since 1974 but had to move, mourned: “I feel I have been forced to give up my home to accommodate the building of homes for overseas investors.”
The residents were handed ‘compulsory purchase orders’ – a name given to glorified eviction notices in an attempt to make the crimes against the poor seem legitimate.
To rub salt into these wounds, the residents who owned their homes on the estate bought them through Thatcher’s Right to Buy Ponzi scheme back in the 1980s. When handed these compulsory orders they were effectively forced to leave, as the compensation offered was a pittance. Some residents were offered as little as £80,000 - nowhere near the value of their homes, and certainly nowhere near the value of the new luxury properties built to replace them.
“We remain committed to regenerating the Aylesbury Estate for the benefit of local residents." – Peter John, Southwark Council Leader.
This leads us to the Aylesbury estate, also in Southwark, and seemingly next on the chopping block of gentrification.
People again are being offered less than a third of what their homes are worth as they are socially cleansed from areas that are now dubbed ‘up and coming’ (up and coming for whom?).
We are told the way to success under capitalism is to own your home after years of hard work. That didn’t work for David Bailey, who is now losing what he spent his life pouring money into on the Right to Buy scheme, just like those kicked off the Heygate Estate. David’s 30 year old son, David Jr rightly said: "I call it legal theft. We watched it with the [nearby] Heygate [estate] and we can see it coming down the street.”
Southwark council even audaciously ignored its own reports. The residents overwhelmingly chose refurbishment over regeneration (70% voting for refurbishment) in 2003, and yet that didn’t matter - Aylesbury got the same treatment as Heygate: compulsory purchase orders.
In 2013, the average house price in London was approximately £400,000, and yet some on this estate received even lower remuneration than Heygate, being offered as little as £75,000! Beyond that, the council practically stole a four-bedroom home for £147,500 from a former resident.
These are the shameful acts of a Blairite Labour council, where councillors care more about lining their pockets with developers’ money than meeting the needs of the people it ‘represents’. They cynically stated that they would build 1,500 new council homes by 2018, whilst destroying estates left and right; and yet in the last few years they’ve built a dismal 291 affordable homes and their new target is a wholly insufficient 400. Now they’re saying 11,000 by 2043. How many more families will be brutally kicked out of their homes in that ridiculous time frame?
That’s why it is necessary to call for deselection of these careerist councillors in the fight for a socialist Labour government, as they will only serve as roadblocks to progress.
It doesn’t end there. As if Kensington & Chelsea (K&C) council weren’t loathed enough in the wake of the Grenfell disaster, another estate - Silchester Estate, which is currently home to over 700 families - has had the noose of ‘regeneration’ tightened round its neck. The occupants know the council doesn’t want to improve their living standards and, before planning permission had even been requested by K&C, the Save our Silchester Campaign sprung up to counter the plans for demolition of the estate.
Working with the Grenfell Action Group, it took nine months and constant freedom of information requests to K&C just to receive the bare minimum details about their future. Whilst being more secretive, K&C are just as brazen as Southwark Council, but now their moves are under constant scrutiny, with Grenfell’s burnt out husk looming above us as a stark reminder of the ills of capitalism and the disgrace of London’s housing blight.
The repercussions of Grenfell may halt hundreds more families from becoming homeless, for a brief period at least, as demolition was put on hold on 10th July.
That is why we must all continue the struggle against the Conservative government and their ilk. Labour councillors put forward a motion regarding Silchester during the infamous 19th July K&C council meeting, though the Conservatives voted it down. It demanded that the Council:
- …Terminate the Silchester “Red Line” regeneration project immediately, repaying the thousands of pounds spent on this project back into the Housing Revenue Account; and
- Review plans to regenerate all other estates and blocks in North Kensington immediately to ensure that, if regeneration does go ahead, they will provide both replacement and additional social rented homes.
Improvement as neglect
Karl Marx wrote in Capital that:
“The swifter capitalistic accumulation, the more miserable are the dwellings of the working-people. ‘Improvements’ of towns, accompanying the increase of wealth, by the demolition of badly built quarters, the erection of palaces for banks, warehouses, etc., the widening of streets for business traffic, for the carriages of luxury, and for the introduction of tramways, etc., drive away the poor into even worse and more crowded hiding places.”
Marx could easily have written these words today, not 150 years ago.
Fighting for the right to basic, affordable and decent housing has been an uphill struggle for generations in Britain. How is it acceptable that those who have spent years trying to buy the bricks and mortar they now dwell in can have it snatched away at any moment? How is it acceptable to have so many homeless with so many empty homes? How is acceptable that working class people can be burnt to death in their own beds because of the pursuit of profit?
This story isn’t new: poor quality construction, the lack of safety improvements, and sheer neglect have been the blight of estates since their beginnings, after the bomb damage of the Second World War forced a Labour government into building them in the first place.
The capitalist class burn the working class to death in their homes or they demolish them altogether - and then offer us no alternatives! They don’t build social housing and instead force their crisis upon us. They pretend as if they’re renovating neglected working class areas; however, it is always the residents that are worse off after all is said and done.
This is their level of contempt for us. That’s why only a planned socialist economy that puts the essential needs of people first can achieve safe and affordable housing for all.