Waltham Forest Trade Unionist and Socialist coalition held an important and successful public meeting on the housing crisis on 3 December. The meeting was joined by four residents of Fred Wigg and John Walsh towers, Sandra Sharpe who has been fighting the bedroom tax, and several young people concerned about the situation in private renting.
Nancy Taaffe, prospective TUSC candidate for Walthamstow in next May’s general election, introduced the meeting and highlighted the different campaigns that have erupted in the last year. For example, the Focus E15 Mums campaign was launched by single mothers in Newham who faced eviction from their homeless hostel because of cuts by the Labour council. The New Era campaign is fighting extortionate rent rises and possible eviction.
Nancy pointed out the important role of residents refusing to move when faced with eviction. She also called for councils to use their compulsory purchase powers to forcibly take over housing when huge rent rises are threatened and transform the units into social housing.
Locally, we are at the start of a campaign to defend Fred Wigg and John Walsh towers in Leytonstone. The council is trying to force through renovations of the blocks by a private developer. Nancy called for the £10 million (that the council has said is available) to be spent on the renovations – not held hostage to force residents to agree to the council’s preferred plan (including privatisation, sell-offs and building between the blocks).
Nancy said that those residents who want to move should be able to do so with the guarantee of secure tenancies and social rents elsewhere. But those who don’t want to move should refuse to go. We have to argue that social housing is a public good – when people move on to somewhere else, the housing should go to others from the community who are in housing need.
The consequence of these attacks on social housing, Nancy said, is that younger people are a captive market in the private renting sector. They face completely uncontrolled rents and crippling insecurity. TUSC calls for rent control, democratic rent councils to decide fair rents, an end to the bedroom tax and a mass programme of building and renovating council homes.
Louise Cuffaro, chair of the tenants federation, who chaired the meeting, appealed to people to collect signatures on the TUSC petition calling for rent control in the borough. She said that those social housing residents on the tenants committees in the borough could potentially get thousands of signatures between them in support of private renters, who in turn should get involved in the campaigns to defend social housing. In this way, this TUSC meeting was important for bringing people with different individual housing concerns together to agree on common demands and strategy.
What was universally agreed is that the Labour Party is not willing to take the types of action necessary to guarantee everyone a decent, affordable home. The movement developing against the housing crisis needs a political voice, which is why building TUSC, including through May’s general election campaign, is a vital part of the struggle.