urban75 blog

Renters occupy luxury flat in the Stratford Halo development, east London

With rents and house prices going through the roof across London, activists are campaigning hard to highlight the hardships being created by government policies and to fight for the provision of more affordable housing.

Here’s a report from an action that took place in east London last Saturday, as retold by our intrepid man-on-the-spot RV:

RV: Last Saturday, a trans-London coalition of private tenants, Let Down Renters, occupied a luxury flat in the Stratford Halo development to, tongue firmly in cheek, hold a housewarming party for home none of us could afford.

Firstly, the word ‘luxury’. The flat was fairly standard. Perfectly liveable, but undoubtedly average. It is the rent that’s a luxury: £1,875pcm for a two bedroom flat, furnished with what looked like the mid-range of the Argos catalogue. This was ‘yuppie’ by default, not design.

And why were we targeting Stratford on the East London/Essex cusp? A lot of us came up from South London, and yes, sadly there’s growing numbers of luxuriously priced transpontine appartments for us to (in my opinion legitimately) target….

But we chose Stratford Halo because developer Genesis, one of a number of tragicomically mutated housing associations, is benefiting from the government’s one (useless) solution to the rising cost of renting, the Build To Rent funding policy.

It is a scheme so pointless its financial details mean it can only operate in areas with high rents. It is essentially cheap loans for the builders of unaffordable homes. Whilst the Stratford Halo was built before this funding, it is indicative of what we can expect from it.

Rent is perhaps the biggest area of exploitation in everyday life, something that drags people towards poverty, stops us having children. It’s getting worse and the government appears to be willfully encouraging the situation. Something has to give.

I can’t possibly claim a handful of renters throwing an uninvited party is going to change all that, but it can help set the agenda (at last there has been some coverage of the Build To Rent policy, Owen Hatherley’s article being particularly good) and develop links between radical renters.

But what I found most encouraging about last Saturday was how easy it was. And how fun. A few hours of merriment and the Dulwich Hamlet fans amongst us even managed to sneak into Champion Hill for free just in time for an Erhun Oztumer goal.

Everyone can do this. Everyone should do this. The look of bemusement on the estate agent’s face when 15 of you turn up to a flat viewing and start unpacking party poppers, nibbles & a stereo is worth it alone.

Get involved in local housing groups such as Lambeth RentersSouthwark Tenants and HASL. Listen out for more Let Down Renters actions (though some will by necessity be semi-secret affairs). And even do it yourself. Their moneygrabbing makes them wide-open targets. Be imaginative. Up the ante. Out do us.

I for one am not going to get priced out of London without a fight.