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Just Where Do You Stand On Housing?

Just
Where Do You Stand On Housing?

Following
the government commissioner’s investigations into the London Borough of Tower
Hamlets and subsequent events, an opening for the position of Mayor of Tower
Hamlets has led the following candidates to announce their candidacy for the
position, with an election due on 11th June:

·         

Rabina Khan                    –
Independent

John Biggs                       – Labour

Peter Golds                     –  Conservative

Nicholas McQueen           – UKIP

John Foster                      – Green Party

Elaine Bagshaw                – Liberal Democrats

Andy Erlam                       – Red Flag Anti-Corruption

Vanessa Hudson              – Animal Welfare Party

Hafiz Abdul Kadir              – Independent

Motiur Rahman Nanu         –Independent

Balfron
Social Club is a non-funded grassroots campaign for
minimum 50% social tenancies to be retained in all social housing
redevelopments with a focus on Ernö Goldfinger’s masterpiece of residential social
housing Balfron Tower. We are aiming to highlight the catalogue
of failures that the London Borough of Tower Hamlets has allowed to happen to our
social housing in recent years.

Allowing
Registered Social Landlords control of local housing has allowed them to asset
strip prime property and prime locations. Entire housing estates are then
demolished or refurbished, rebranded and marketed as luxury flats overseas, out
of reach of local people, both geographically and financially.

The effect
has been that Housing Associations, like Poplar Harca and East End Homes, have
swept through the borough, leaving behind insecurity and poverty amongst our
friends and neighbours as they set about socially cleansing our neighbourhoods.
The occasional ‘affordable’ housing unit is then thrown in to satisfy a public
relations department that can then bamboozle those making enquiries into where
our social housing has gone, fudging numbers and terminology to make their
actions look acceptable.

Plans
to convert Balfron Tower into luxury apartments have been a step too far for
the people of Poplar. We are not going to stand back as the plunder of our
housing continues by those intent on dismantling what was built for us, as they
make cosy deals with their friends in finance at Canary Wharf.

But
what have our elected politicians done to stop this outrage so far? You would
think that such a serious issue of land grabs and the dismantlement of social
housing, especially in an area with such severe levels of homelessness and poverty,
would be taken seriously by politicians, elected officials voted in by member of
the electorate to represent their interests?

In
recent years, we have seen little that suggests that our elected
representatives are going to stand up for our housing, and to stand up and refuse
to let our social landlords push us around as they plunder our architectural
and municipal heritage, like the privatisation of Balfron Tower, or the planned
demolition of architectural masterpiece Robin Hood Gardens, soon to be
demolished and replaced by thousands of bland luxury apartments for workers in
Canary Wharf, but priced well out of reach of local people, even those earning
enough money to qualify for so called ‘affordable’ housing.

We
are asking that all of the above mayoral candidates issue a statement
addressing housing in the borough, and to advise us their position and intent in
this regard, and what, if anything, they are prepared to do to defend social housing,
or indeed whether they support the status quo. We believe that housing is a
major issue for the majority of residents in Tower Hamlets and could be an
issue that may influence how somebody may choose to vote.

It is
our opinion that the commissioners that recently investigated Lutfur Rahman should
turn their attention as to why the boroughs housing is being subjected to a
neo-liberal agenda of the asset stripping of taxpayer-funded housing, and
leaving behind the casualty of thousands of families, countless numbers of
schoolchildren, living with insecure short-term housing.

Candidates;
are you standing for Mayor of Tower Hamlets to see what you can strip off for
yourself and your powerful friends, or are you going to stand up and say that
enough is enough, it was the people of Tower Hamlets that elected me their Mayor
and I am going to fight for them, their housing and their quality of life?

Just
where do you stand on housing?

Balfron Social Club

Poplar, E14

19 May 2015

Balfron Social Club is on Twitter and Facebook.

Poplar Harca: Outstanding Landlord of the Year?

Firstly, a massive congratulations to Steve Stride and his Registered Social Landlord Poplar Harca, what an incredible achievement being awarded Outstanding Landlord of the Year at the 2015 UK Property Awards.

We find this to be an incredible achievement because you have managed to pull the wool over the eyes of much of the housing industry. However, you are not fooling your tenants or the locals who have watched as you have created almost total insecurity amongst your tenants, as you set about ruthlessly socially cleansing Poplar.

We are fairly sure that when you balloted your potential tenants as to whether the nil-value stock transfer from the London Borough of Tower Hamlets should go ahead, that would allow you to take control of tax-payer funded social housing, that you failed to mention that your real motives were the destruction of that which you claim to support; social housing. The result has been the displacement of those in secure social tenancies, the selling off of prime assets to private property developers, the demolition of social housing which is then resurrected as blocks of luxury flats without any social housing and creating an entire area living in fear of when their estate will be the next to fall to greed and property speculation. A wave of destruction is emanating outwards from Canary Wharf, making those at its periphery very nervous about their the security of their homes, and where their families are going to live when the axe falls on their estate.

image

Social inSecurity by Poplar Harca. Coming soon: luxury flats        pic: @balfronsocial

Was Poplar Harca ever under the delusion that they were set up to provide luxury flats for bankers? Outrageous manipulation of the figures in which they claim to have as many social housing tenants now as they did when they ruthlessly lied and cheated their way into possession of billions of pounds of tax payer funded housing are just lapped up by lazy journalists from journals like Inside Housing, content to buy into their PR without checking out any of the facts.

“Affordable” housing is not social housing. When you need a £60,000 income to even buy a part share in a home any claims for affordability is just another lie the housing industry and the National Housing Federation, are happy for us to believe. BMW’s, Porsche’s and even a Lamborghini outside a local “affordable” housing block is clear testament as to just how unaffordable “affordable” housing actually is.

No doubt Poplar Harca’s friends at locally based journal Inside Housing think that they deserve such a prestigious award, but they don’t.

Maybe, if Inside Housing were not in collusion with the planned dismantlement of social housing they would just walk out of their corporate steel and glass offices at Canary Wharf, walk the short distance to Poplar and speak to members of the public, some Poplar Harca tenants or even Poplar Harca staff, many of whom were trusted members of our community in secure jobs such as caretakers, going far beyond their job descriptions, further than the Estate Cleaners, on minimum wage, that you replaced them with.

image

Decanted, Demolished, Rebuilt, Sold: Printon House        pic: @balfronsocial

We believe that most people who work in social housing believe in its core principles of providing genuinely affordable homes to people that need them, and do not believe that the dismantlement of social housing is in the interests of our communities, or our country. We believe that Steve Stride of Poplar Harca has failed our local community, presiding over a phenomenal land grab that would shock people if they were to look beyond their highly effective PR.

We believe that it is time for Mr. Stride and his corrupt organization Poplar Harca to be investigated for the damage they are causing in our communities, for the insecurity they are forcing upon our friends and neighbours, and the ruthless land grab as they demolish social housing and replace it with luxury flats for bankers. Did we mention that Popar Harca have an HSBC board member on their board of directors, and always have had?

But investigated by whom? Homes and Communities Agency? Chartered Institute of Housing? National Housing Federation? London Borough of Tower Hamlets? All we see is signs of collusion and pound signs in the eyes of those who should be looking after us and protecting us from outrageous behavior like this, and a total disinterest in the interests of the people these homes were built for in the first place.

image

A “void” in Balfron Tower                                   pic: @balfronsocial                    

This destruction of our homes and our communities must stop.

It is time for individuals, tenants, the insecurely housed, housing activists and any organisations out there who believe that what is happening is a crime against our communities to stand up and make yourselves heard before it has all been sold off and there is nothing worth fighting for any more.

image

A “void” in Balfron Tower                                              pic: @balfronsocial                    

Too many Registered Social Landlords seem to be under the impression that they are luxury property developers rather than providers of genuinely affordable social housing serving our local communities.

So Poplar Harca, enjoy your worthless Landlord of the Year award, and feel pride in the devastation you are causing.

Shame on you.

Balfron Tower, Poplar

22 April 2015

Brutalism [redacted] – Social Art Practice and You

It has come to our attention that a new and ‘innovative’ art practice is coming to the area. It is an organisation that engages in… wait for it: ‘Social Art Practice’.

This post is not about this particular organisation, it about the very existence of such organisations. It is about the artists, theorists, and community workers who are contextually obliged to work in this area of art practice. It is about the times we live in, social cleansing in the UK, and the ways in which policy makers and developers are colluding to expropriate art practice for their own ends. It is about how talented and well meaning people are fed through an art world, increasingly co-opted by their very own educations, to foster and facilitate the process of social cleansing. It is about the ways in which councils, developers, and the government are using the word ‘art’ to create chaos and homelessness, forging policy and a community aesthetic that actually implicates the very people it displaces.

Social practice is the new ‘relational’, an art practice with a long history. Art education, generally, has become increasingly aimed towards that which ‘engages’, art that generates ‘dialogue’, art that allows for a participatory medium, art that offers and creates a ‘desired path’ for both practitioner and the community he or she is working in. From galleries to grass level projects, the practice of art has become ‘socially engaged’, ‘participatory’, and is designed to foster ‘social change’.

All very well, we say. Art and its practice is cyclical and reflects the needs and desires of its times. However, it must be recognized that our current ‘times’ have been co-opted at every turn. The ‘practice’ of our everyday lives is channeled through commodified movements around and within our city. Our private lives are curated from without, and it is near impossible to resist the puppet string, let alone recognize it exists.

There is a two-fold problem when it comes to art practice in our time: firstly, universities and institutions themselves are increasingly coming under pressure to conform to and woo corporate funding. Austerity cuts have seen the field of education funneled through practice that ‘benefits’ society, in a way that is measured out by successful funding grants, bursaries, and transfer payments.

The two-fold aspect in play is that austerity and government pull back on funding for education, the arts in particular, means that much of the money available is private, and or publicly funded with corporate interest at play. This is reflected in the increasingly managerial university or institution. This is reflected in the ways in which projects and individuals are funded. This is reflected in the production of the ‘art professional’, the ‘art policy maker’, the ‘artist manager’, the ‘head of creativity and innovation’. This is reflected also in how an emerging artist who truly wants to engage in their practice in any meaningful way either becomes completely marginalized and unable to work, or they join the club to make ends meet. The ‘cultural sector’ job becomes the prize.

There you have the perfect storm: the birth of the community based Social Art practitioner, feeling lucky to get that first commission, that first residency, that first step in the ‘art world’. The community based Social Art practitioner, is ready made, pop up, and funded by the lottery, in partnership with councils and developers. The Social Art practitioner is placed in sites of contestation, and asked to do the footwork of those who really are creating concrete social change: the social cleansers.

The material conditions of these sites of contestation are complicated, and there is a blind field. While social policy makers sit in premium locations like the RSA to discuss and tweak a ‘response’ to (response being a code word for ‘how do we talk about this so it doesn’t look so bad?) community ‘problems’, real artists that struggle to exist economically and spiritually are not invited to the table. They are outsiders, and are excluded. That is until they are ‘commissioned’ by the agents of ‘social cleansing’ to go into the community and ‘work’ with residents.

There is a double narrative in play here in London and Poplar, a particularly difficult site for policy makers to navigate simply because the architecture itself is literally ‘hot property’. We are seeing a revival in appreciation for Brutalist architecture generally. Specifically, Balfron Tower, its history and its architect render it materially necessary. Unlike other social housing sites in and around the UK, Balfron Tower must stand; demolition and the erasure of its bricks, mortar, and social history cannot be achieved.  It is to be socially cleansed, and we make no bones about the actual desires and wishes of the community; that there is maintained a minimum of 50% social housing on the site. However, as Poplar HARCA systemically clears the site of its original community, it is replacing the real community with a community of artists. It is using the élan of ‘art’ to sell up, to create a ‘new and vibrant’ community that justifies the huge price tickets on developments nearby.

Balfron Tower is literally ‘hot property’, prime real estate, simply because it has been stolen from the community and replaced by a purposefully curated arts community. Increasingly, the terms and conditions of this new and innovative community are that they conform to an aesthetic. Their work and their projects are checked for their degree of acceptability against a backdrop of community decimation. Those that do not conform meet with intimidation and eviction. It is risky for these struggling and emergent talents to speak out, to produce truly politically engaged art. There are some severely unhappy artists facing homelessness, and or giving up on their art careers altogether if they do what is their trade: produce work that reveals that which lies beneath the surface. They have been forced to produce and reproduce a surface veneer, and are changing how regeneration looks. They are scared to speak out. But there are rumblings echoing in the drying rooms and the lift shaft, mysteriously stripped of their machinery.

Enter the clowns: the eminent arrival of Social Art Practice. Funded by its partners in both government and UnPopular HARCA, their aim is self-generated. Their aims are: “engaging more citizens creatively; providing viable options for artistic employment; and initiating positive social change through ‘self-direction’, ‘wellbeing’, and ‘community feeling’.”

We have seen this time and again at other sites, now long since demolished. Housing developers, and indeed socially engaged, council funded arts organisations use a similar language. There is a new currency: ‘social capital’ and ‘enterprise’. ‘Social practice’ and ‘place-making’ are the new policy buzzwords.  Planning and policy is being forced through this language, and it changing how regeneration looks, and presented up as ‘grassroots’. All the while, meaningful grass-root community led practice is evicted, torn down, decanted.

We here at Balfron Social Club are loathe to criticize the organisation, or the people who must do this work, as we are more than aware that they too, are pawns in a much larger game, being moved about a chess board created by high finance and a neo-liberal agenda for ‘social change’ that does not have room for any of us. ‘Community feeling’ is a precursor for decanting. If we can all feel good about our pop up art, our participation in dialogue, if we can just be kept that busy…when the eviction notice hits the floor maybe, just maybe we will play along.

But no, the ‘positive social change’ being suggested by this new arrival is nothing short of a rebranding exercise and an attempt at damage control. We at Balfron Social Club are not fooled by the arrival of an ‘arts’ practice, sponsored by the very organisation that effectively swept through the estates, asset stripping as they went.

There was a time that housing was seen as a right. Now it has been created in the image of asset management. This is being curated by policy makers and planners, through development companies, councils, and rebranded through arts practice. There is an undercurrent at Poplar, it is getting louder and there are some very unhappy people.

Brutal, indeed.

Balfron Social Club

Poplar
13 April 2015

50% Balfron Tower- Initial Statement

We started this campaign to maintain a minimum of 50% social housing in all redevelopments / refurbishments of social housing stock because time and time again we sat back and watched as the Registered Social Landlord Poplar HARCA, who were voted in to manage a number of estates in Poplar following a dubious stock transfer from Tower Hamlets, have set about dismantling the ethos of social housing and are instead behaving like ruthless property developers without appropriate concern for the communities over whose homes they now manage.

We believe that the mission to create social housing was not to make people purposely feel insecure in their homes, but to provide housing in which the ruthless pursuit of money could be left to those that wished to pursue it, and that working class people could find a place to call home, become members of a community and raise their families without fear of eviction as these ruthless developers go about carving up all that is good in society in the name of greed.

Poplar HARCA are attempting to undertake the gentrification of Poplar, one of the few remaining areas within inner London that remains relatively untouched by private property development, and an area that has been historically neglected. Poplar HARCA’s director Steve Stride is on record as saying that he intends to turn Poplar into ‘the new Shoreditch’, and has set about trying to achieve this using dubious techniques such as ‘artwashing’, a process poorly carried out with all the finesse of a wrecking ball. Now that the property bubble has savagely priced Londoners out of the housing market, both in terms of buying property and now even renting somewhere to live, property developers have turned their attention to those that they seem to see as undeserving of this old fashioned notion of social housing, to remove them and relocate them, dispersing communities throughout London and further afield, all with their beady eyes upon carving up the remains of social housing amongst themselves, at the expense of our communities and families.

We do not believe that Poplar HARCA are being honest and true to those that voted for them to manage the estates formerly managed by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. We have poured through the paperwork relating to the stock transfer and their unrealised promises of new kitchens and bathrooms have become a dystopian vision in which new property doesn’t even reach the market for local people, instead being sold off-plan in Asian markets to cash buyers, many of whom don’t even plan to let the property to tenants and are content to live off the asset appreciation that spiralling house prices are achieving, whilst leaving communities in desperate need of homes to live in, to be near their support networks and to raise families without fear that property developers will soon be coming for their homes as planned social cleansing forces people out of London leaving in its wake a sanitised ghetto for wealthy property investors.

In numerous instances we have watched as Poplar HARCA dismantles communities from their estates, for example, Leopold Estate in Bow. Existing social housing is demolished, and subsequently rebuilt as homogenous entities, devoid of any architectural merit or character but offering a greater number of units into the same amount of space, and reducing the number of social housing units dramatically instead replacing them with token ‘affordable’ housing, priced at 80% of market rates and without the security of a long term social housing tenancy. The majority of the new units are then sold to private property investors, invariably based overseas, and who have no intention of either creating community or contributing towards it. The cost of renting a one bedroom flat in the Bow / Poplar area is currently about £350 per week, so an ‘affordable’ rent of 80% of this is still way out of the reach of the majority of working Londoners thus forcing working people to rely on housing benefits to subsidise their existence, and to subsidise property investors who get their loans paid off using tax payers money. We don’t believe that this is in the interest of our communities, leaving them feeling more isolated, more insecure and more exposed to the impact of the property bubble busting, when (and of course, if) this happens.

The case of Balfron Tower is somewhat unique. This long neglected building has benefited from a recent interest in its brutalist style of architecture, and has been popularised by its star architect’s notorious reputation, not to mention the spacious and well-designed apartments which offer superb views across London. Commissioned by the LCC’s architects department in the 1960’s, Balfron Tower subsequently suffered criminal neglect by the local authority and was subsequently transferred to Poplar HARCA, reportedly for the sum of £1. After years of lying to the local community as to their intentions for Balfron Tower, Poplar HARCA recently announced a joint venture with luxury property developers LondonNewcastle to redevelop this grade II listed concrete block. Their intention is to sell all 146 flats on the private market, presumably following the pattern established by the demolition of the neighbouring Aberfeldy estate and its subsequent rebranding for the Chinese investment market as Aberfeldy Village. The plans are to retain no social housing whatsoever within this purpose built social housing tower block. We feel that the architect Erno Goldfinger would be turning in his grave over these plans to cannibalise one of his greatest achievements.

We think that the time has come to stand up, be counted and to object to the plans of the property developers ripping our communities apart. We think that the time has come to stop their ruthless empire building in its tracks and to say NO! We have recently seen what collective action can accomplish in the form of the superb actions by the New Era 4 All campaign, and we believe that the time has come to fight for our communities against this greed and corruption. None of this redevelopment is being done for us, these developers don’t have our interests in mind and have clearly shown how much contempt they have for us by not even including any social housing whatsoever in the Balfron Tower redevelopment.

We understand that the infrastructure of social housing is now ageing, and that following years of managed decline and lack of investment that many properties are now at the end of their life. Action must be taken to address this and the current political climate considers private investment in public assets to be a desirable thing (contrary to the mounting evidence that it is not). We accept that in order for social tenancies to be maintained money has to come from somewhere in order to refurbish and rebuild our estates. However, we do not accept a wholesales transfer of 100% of social housing into private ownership under any circumstances. We believe that this is tantamount to a neoliberal asset stripping by the establishment intended to create further impoverishment of the working classes.

Our demands are simple, any redevelopment of social housing, whether in the hands of local authorities or Registered Social Landlords must contain a minimum of 50% of the redeveloped units available as social housing (social housing, not affordable housing) to be let to the local community. These units should be offered with secure tenancies and at rents that are affordable to the average working person, not that of your average property developer. These new social housing units should not have their own separate entrances, nor be of inferior quality to the private units and they should be evenly distributed throughout buildings and that Right to Buy should not available on these properties. We believe that the 50% figure will allow the promotion of mixed communities, that they not unreasonably claim to desire, and will allow investment into our neighbourhoods but will not allow ruthless property developers to walk all over us greedily carving up our homes for private gain.

We have chosen to target Balfron Tower for a number of reasons, mainly because it is in our neighbourhood. The people that were decanted from Balfron Tower were our neighbours, our community, and we don’t want their homes to be ‘occupied’ by absentee investor landlords or bankers from nearby Canary Wharf. We also think that the unashamed greed to claim 100% of the homes within Balfron Tower is totally unacceptable and highlights the ruthless greed of Steve Stride and Poplar HARCA and their approach to the community they were elected to serve.

It is time for the moral majority to stand up and fight to retain what is ours. Politicians have abandoned us to greed, too scared to speak up in favour of their voters instead fearing the wrath of those who hold the real power in society. If we don’t do something about it, it won’t be long before we have nothing left worth fighting for.

Poplar, London

22nd December 2014