Thousands gather in London to protest against lack of affordable housing
The March for Homes brings together campaigners, tenants and trade unionists to demand building of council homes and curbing of private rents.
Thousands of people gathered outside City Hall on Saturday to demand Boris Johnson urgently tackle the lack of affordable housing in the capital and curb the spiralling rents that they warn are “ripping the heart” out of London.
An estimated 5,000 encircled the building and urged the mayor to tackle the burgeoning housing crisis by building more council homes, control private rents and called off the proposed demolition of properties on up to 70 London estates.
The crowd marched in boisterous spirits, confident that they can make the increasingly divisive issue of housing a genuine general election battleground.
Leading the march as it crossed Tower Bridge in driving rain was Jasmin Stone, from Newham in east London, who chanted “social housing not social cleansing” with her friends.
The 20-year-old single mother said skyrocketing rents and unscrupulous landlords had already forced a number of her peers from a capital they can no longer afford.
She said: “I’ve already lost quite a few of them, it’s extremely unfair that young people cannot afford to stay in the city they love and grew up in.”
Behind her, protesters warned Johnson that the march was just the start of their campaign by holding aloft a huge banner that read: “This is the beginning of the end of the housing crisis.”
Many marchers argued that if social housing continued to disappear while rents increased then the capital would be transformed into a “boring” playground for a wealthy elite, its vitality and diversity lost to the super-rich.
Among the horde assembled outside City Hall was teacher Lydia Harris, 27, who urged Boris to start “putting people before profits.”
Harris, a member of the anti-capitalist collective Feminist Fightback added: “Boris has got to start helping others but then he’s lied before about rape crisis centres when he promised us money that never came.”
Nearby stood Derry Daly, 66, who described himself as one of the fortunate few because he lived in accommodation belonging to a London housing co-operative. “Hopefully this is the start of a powerful movement that will deliver rent control and a public policy to restate social housing.”
Organisers hope that the March for Homes, the first of its type to unify campaigners, tenants and trade unionists on the inequality caused by housing policies, will lead to a wholesale rethink.
Campaigners also hope the demonstration will draw attention to the developers increasingly targeting wealthy foreign investors with luxury apartments.
The march itself was split into two legs, one starting at Elephant and Castle, south London, and the other in Shoreditch, east London. The latter involved the pressure group New Era, named after the estate that six weeks ago was the scene of a famous victory when residents forced a US investor to abandon plans to evict families and triple rents.
One of those residents, Lindsey Garrett, was among the marchers, stating the message that their triumph could be replicated in dozens of estates facing destruction. “We’ve got to keep fighting. Boris needs to know that we won’t back down until there’s more affordable, fairer housing for everyone,” said Garrett.
Jan Nielsen, a teacher from Wandsworth, south London, told the crowd at Elephant: “London needs teachers but teachers can’t afford homes in London. There are newly qualified teachers in every school in London who have to travel an hour and a half to teach or are sharing bedrooms in flats with two or three other teachers. This is a disgrace.”
Gerlinde Gniewosz of the Save Cressingham Gardens campaign spoke of the fight to stop Lambeth council from demolishing the south London housing estate.
“When you look at it, it makes no financial sense. It’s rotten for the community.
“They’re going to replace council homes but the homeowners, who are often marginalised, have to leave and they’ll put private sale on top which no one can actually afford. If you look at what people can currently afford and what’s going to be there later, there will be a loss of affordable housing.
“It’s mirrored all across London. It’s a similar plight. There’s a lot of similarities. It’s a disgrace.”
Earlier, Yasmin Shelton, 22, from Grimsby, was among the first marchers to arrive at the east London point of Shoreditch church. “It’s disgusting. Rents are going up ridiculously. Tax the rich!”
Beside her Haringey lecturer David Downes, 48, said two-thirds of his salary was spent on rent, a situation that stopped him living a full life. “It used to take half my salary which was bad enough. It could go up any time. We desperately need rent control,” he added, waving a placard urging the government to evict the rich.
Architect Rob Connor, 34, said he was concerned that the plethora of wealthy developments aimed at foreign investors was damaging the multicultural aesthetic of the city. “London is about diversity. Housing policies that break apart communities are ripping the heart out of communities.”
Much of the early conversation among demonstrators focused on the latest bleak update on the housing crisis, specifically news that social housing across the south-east of England would become unaffordable for large families on benefits almost immediately after a Conservative election victory.
Some say the demonstration holds parallels with the “people’s march for jobs” in 1981 where hundreds of marchers walked from Liverpool to London to highlight the plight of the unemployed.
Johnson has admitted that London is suffering a “desperate shortage of homes”, suggesting that London homes aren’t just “blocks of bullion in the sky.”
However evidence suggests that wealthy international investors are increasingly targeting the capital’s housing stock, with foreign purchasers buying 80% of properties in a series of major Thameside housing developments. About 54,000 homes are either planned or under construction in the most expensive areas of the capital, analysts saying that most will be prices at close to or above £1m. Meanwhile just one new affordable home is being built for more than every five sold in the social housing sector under the government’s revitalised right-to-buy scheme.
Tom Chance, the Green party’s national housing spokesperson, said: “We’re here because we need a radical change of direction in housing policy.
“We want rent controls and more secure tenancies. This is a big change in policy that none of the other parties are willing to go for so we’re here today with other people to call for it through direct action.”