Selling Central Brixton to Yuppies
Brixton community under threat from greedy developers
By 'Anna Key', 23rd February 2003
Occupants of about 110 flats in Rushcroft Road and Clifton Mansions - bang in the middle of central Brixton, just off Coldharbour Lane - are resisting Lambeth Council's attempts to evict them from their homes and sell their flats to property developers.
One block of eight flats in Rushcroft Road - Elmwood House - has already gone. Residents were 'decanted' (great word) by the Council's agents and their block sold at auction for £830,000. Word has it that the block was then re-sold for over £1,000,000.
The flats were 'renovated' by a property developer (code for ripping out period features) and put on the 'luxury housing market' at about £225,000 each. Hence about 10 units of social housing in central Brixton were lost to Yuppies, probably forever.
The Council plan the same for another eight blocks on Rushcroft Road, each containing up to 12 flats, plus Clifton Mansions (opposite the Albert on Coldharbour Lane) containing about 25 flats.
The buildings are beautiful Victorian Mansion Blocks, built in the 1890s to house artists and technicians from the old Brixton Music Halls. There's a sizeable community of artists occupying the flats today - musicians, painters, writers. Some quite well known artists either have lived, or still live, on the road, e.g. people from Alabama 3.
Many of the residents have lived in their flats for a generation, and have raised families here. Since the Council decided on an 'evict and sell' policy there's been a steady haemorrhage of long-term residents as some families accept housing transfers and move away from the road.
The Council or their agents then board-up empty flats and leave them to rot. Naturally they get squatted - it's a moral if not a legal crime to leave housing empty - and a new community now exists alongside the old.
This isn't some crack-infested gang of layabouts, but a community of normal people trying to lead normal lives. Some members of this new community use these boards.
If the flats are sold it will change the economics and sociology of central Brixton forever. We're talking classic destructive ill-thought-out 'regeneration' here. It's not even conventional New Labourism: the only 'stakeholders' are Lambeth Council, property developers, lawyers and Yuppies.
An influx of Yuppies on such a scale would change the pubs, the small shops, the cafés, the restaurants, the very atmosphere on the street. The whole 'feel' of central Brixton would alter. And the British disease of making personal profit from housing-need would infect central Brixton.
At present on Rushcroft Road there's roughly a 50-50 mix of public-private housing. Selling these blocks would tip the balance to about 20-80. And how long would the remaining 20% of social housing last? Especially if the Tories win an election and do what they've promised to do - allow right-to-buy on Housing Association property.
I'm not wishing to over-dramatise the situation, but we're contemplating the 'social-cleansing' of central Brixton.
The overwhelming majority of the people who live in the publically-owned flats would never be able to afford to buy Yuppie flats on the road, i.e. their own homes once they've been flogged by the Council and 'Hoxtonised' by a property developer. The community would be smashed and scattered.
Residents are resisting the Council valiantly. One resident fought a test case to the House of Lords and won. See Bruton v. London and Quadrant Housing Trust. Another group of residents is litigating at present. See here for a summary.
I'm not an expert on the legal toing and froing but what it boils down to is that the residents want to be legally recognised as Council tenants, gaining security of tenure, right of repair and right to buy. It's not much to ask.
The Council is resisting through the courts. The Council's already appealed one case right up to the House of Lords (and lost). Another test case, on the central issue of Council tenancy rights, is being litigated at the moment.
The Council claim they can't afford to repair the flats. They want to flog them off and spend the money on their crumbling tower blocks. Yet had the money already spent on lawyers been spent instead on repairing the blocks it's likely that each flat could have been renovated several times over.
There'd now be a stable community of Council or Housing Association tenants living in their flats, getting on with their lives and sustaining the central Brixton community.
Instead the obscene legal fight continues. The lawyers grow fat, the beautiful, historic blocks crumble and a community lives under permanent seige by a landlord who, literally, wants to sell the roofs from over their heads. And then to socially engineer the central Brixton community, replacing public sector residents with private sector Yuppies. It's like a combination of Bleak House and Blade Runner.
I've just had an eviction in my block. It made me very angry and upset (but not as angry and upset as the person evicted). Another U75 member was a guest in my flat when the eviction occurred, who I'm sure will be posting.
The person evicted was the nicest neighbour imaginable: quiet, thoughtful, just getting on with his life, not bothering anyone, minding his own business.
The eviction was very nasty. No violence but the police were there plus people from the Council, one of whom I've had dealings with before and is, in fact, a nice man doing nasty work for the politicians.
It's a horrible thing to throw someone out of their home. Even my cats were upset (ridiculous as that sounds). They started pissing on the floor, padding round anxiously and hiding under the furniture. One even went and pissed right by the front door, as if to say 'fuck-off!' to the bailiffs. They're normally completely house-trained (now).
The flat's now boarded-up. It had £20,000 (public money) spent on it a few years ago - central heating, new kitchen, new bathroom. Now it's empty and someone is homeless. If the Council doesn't rent it out and then manage it properly it will, of course, get squatted.
And if the person who squats it is some crack-headed moron the other residents in the block will have to throw him/her out. Or have their flats burgled for crack-money while the crack-heads equally moronic smack-head friends jack-up in the stairwells, drop their needles and generally menace and destabilise the community.
Oh, and it will have cost the Council maybe £5,000 in legal fees and court time - straight from the public purse - to secure the eviction. I trust the lawyers, when they spend their money, feel pleased with themselves.
That's Lambeth Council's central Brixton housing policy.
I know others with more detailed or specialist information will be posting shortly. For example there's an excellent new residents' association called APT Self Help which is trying to get negotiations going with the Council to end the madness.
I know people from APT read this site and may want to make their arguments here. I'm an APT member and urge others to join. You don't have to live on the road to belong. Hopefully APT activists will post up membership information etc. I think it costs £2 to join.
Pressure needs to be placed on the Council to stop stuffing cash into lawyers' pockets, to stop evicting people, to stop undermining a highly successful central Brixton community, to stop trying to Hoxtonise the geographical core of a unique part of London, and to do a negotiated deal.
The alternative? About 110 newly privatised 'luxury' flats in central Brixton at £225,000 a shot.
OK, Yuppies have to live somewhere. Good luck to them.
But they are being encouraged, by official Lambeth Council housing policy, to displace my neighbours, destroy my community and 'socially cleanse' central Brixton.
» APT Self Help - a community fights the developers in central Brixton
» Brixton bulletin boards
» Squats evicted, Ruschcroft Road, Brixton (March 2009)
» Brixton squatters face eviction as Rushcroft Rd residents get notice to quit (April 2013)
» Brixton's Carlton Mansions housing co-op fights for its future (April 2013)
» More Brixton housing news
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