On the usual way to work, via Brixton tube station on Monday morning I saw police troops and protesters out on Rushcroft Road. It looked like people were being evicted and there was heavy police presence. I had the camera with me so I did take some pictures of the scenes.
And as it happens I also struck conversation with some other people that were there. One of them, a young man seemed to know what was going on and he also knew people that lived in those properties. ‘There are people in their 50s there’, he said, ‘who will not be able to find anywhere else to live. There are are also people that work, teachers, people living with their families, etc. What they are doing is ruining the local community. For the last 30 years the council wasn’t interested in these houses and now that they want to sell them, they’re evicting people settled for a long time’.
Listening to this guy who was clearly on the side of the squatters being evicted, I thought of someone else I know who is a squatter, my friend José, a Big Issue seller (here is a previous post I wrote about him).
What this guy was arguing about that resonates with José’s views too, is the housing and affordability crisis. For someone working in housing policy, this is all too familiar, things we talk about and listen to everyday. How the average age of people buying their first homes is now 37 but set to rise to 43; how in order to buy a house (in England), you need to earn almost 7 annual salaries (the correct figure is 6.65 and measures the multiple between median house prices and earnings, i.e. a house with a price that is in the middle of the price range and a level of income that is in the middle of income ranges; data from CLG). But this multiple is 17 in Westminster, meaning you need to earn 17 times a median annual salary to be able to buy a median priced house in Westminster. I don’t have numbers for Lambeth (this blog is not meant to be for work but it shouldn’t be too different.
So the housing crisis is a problem that everyone seems to be aware of apart from governments (even during Labour house building did not reach the levels needed of 240,000 homes a year). Councils are often in a difficult position as they want to increase housing supply and have a more direct role but are limited in what they can do at the moment by borrowing caps.
But back to the eviction story and what struck me the most is the general feeling I got that there is a real tension in Brixton between gentrification (defined in many possible ways, one being ‘the yuppies are coming’) and a desire to make Brixton an attractive place for investors.
What was mostly being contested on Monday, by protesters, people passing by and residents was the feeling that the desire to attract investors and developers alike was dominating over the the local community.
‘They are going to sell these houses for private expensive flats’ a lady said behind my back. ‘Yes’ confirmed the man I had been speaking to. I searched for the council’s development plans in Rushcroft road but couldn’t find anything apart from what is being said in various articles that Lambeth Council, has plans to sell the buildings to developers for an estimated £5.5m and will develop half of the properties as affordable housing.
Given the very controversial affordable rents in Brixton (in a recent decision councillors approved plans for Barratts Homes to change the provision of 48 homes at their Coldharbour Lane development from “social” housing provision to “affordable”) the controversy is likely to continue.
But given the overall direction of housing policy and levels of investment (£3 billion in the recent Spending Round compared to a total of £100 billion investment in infrastructure) these heated controversies and tensions are likely not only to continue but get worse.
Government policy is to be blamed and seeing what the consequences of it are locally is really disheartening.
‘One of the residents’, said the guy I was talking to, ‘cannot walk. He will not charge back against the officers but will instead be homeless again searching for a roof over his head’.
- YUPPIES OUT! Living on the front line of gentrification in Brixton (newstatesman.com)
- Stop Evicting Brixton (lambethsaveourservices.org)
- Flames in the street as police move in to evict Brixton squatters (standard.co.uk)