Tuesday, March 12, 2013

An Englishwoman's Home Belongs to the Landlord in his Castle

 AFTER International Working Women's Day and the more commercialised Mother's Day, with the Socialist Workers Party row over treatment of women sandwiched in the interval, it seems we must thank the Metropolitan Police for providing elevating tableaux of women being evicted.

 Late on Saturday afternoon police and bailiffs called in by London Metropolitan University evicted people who had marked Women's Day the day before by occupying the Women's Library in Old Castle Street, Aldgate.

Around 70 protesters from campaign group Reclaim It! had moved in at 1.30pm on Friday, and were joined by activists from  UK Uncut, the Occupy movement and Disabled People against the Cuts.
They said the occupation was “part of a growing wave of feminist anger against the government’s austerity regime”.

Set up in 1926, and said to house the biggest collection of women's history in the country, the Library, which includes ehibitions as well as books, aroused wide concern last year when its closure was announced. The London Met branch of Unison set up a "Save the Women's Library' campaign in October. Since then it has been announced that custody of the library will be handed over to the London School of Economics.

But whereas it is in a purpose built premises now which London Met purchased just ten years ago, protestors fear it will have neither the prominence nor the accessibility at LSE. And meanwhile sections are being closed ready for the move. 

History lecturer and library user Josie Foreman said: “The Women’s Library houses a world-renowned collection of women’s history.”
“At a time when women are bearing the brunt of this government’s savage cuts, cuts which compound the gender inequality of our society, this history is more important than ever.”

Yesterday another page of that history was lit up when bailiffs bust in the doors of a block of flats in Muswell Hill, north London and evicted a dozen families. This time the Met were not only escorts for the bailiffs, but had until recently been the landlords. Residents said the evictions would "break up a community".

Caroline Gallagher, who worked for the Met for 26 years, said she was being "kicked out" of her home of 16 years.She and her son and daughter had been forced to move to her mother's house.
 "I was a traffic warden manager and worked for the Met for 26 years and I got made redundant in December 2011. I feel very let down. First they make me redundant and then they kick me out of my house. Then having to go through the housing process is horrendous."

Some houses were boarded up last week as a few people left after finding accommodation but others had to wait until they were evicted before local authorities would consider them homeless. Even then, though obliged to help families with children it seemd likely councils would only move them into temporary bed and breakfast hotels.
A Met Police statement said: "The land had been leased to Crown Housing Association to provide non-permanent accommodation for their own tenants who hold short-term leases. The lease to Crown Housing Association expired in December 2012 and it would be sold.

Crown Housing Association was formed in 1974 to provide sheltered housing for retired civil servants, expanding this later to include housing for people who work in any area of the public sector, such as the NHS, education, ambulance and police services, local authorities, as well as the civil service.   It also houses non-public sector people who are nominated by local authorities in some areas where it has properties. But yesterday it was claiming it had no alternative but to empty Connaught House of tenants.

Meanwhile, whatever happened to all those council flats and houses for which there were long waiting lists before the Tories hit on "right to buy"and Labour moe or less fell in with them. This was supposed to give existing tenants the right to buy their own home and take pride in looking after it, while if I am not mistaken there was even a suggestion at one time that councils might use money raised from sales to enable further building. That last bit was soon ruled out, and more recently the Tory theme changed from "giving people the chance to won their own homes" to ending security of tenure and saying that people earning over a certain amount should not be allowed to remain in council housing. Not that there's much of the latter left, or being built, anyway.

I've written before about how Tory councils like Wandsworth and Westminster sold off housing stock to private owners, not necessarily existing tenants or even resident in the boroughs. Westminster's Dame Shirley Porter ended up in trouble when she was found to be emptying council properties to sell in an execise aimed not just at gentrification but gerrymandering. But Wandsworth Tories got away with selling entire estates such as the new one by the river which came into their hands when the GLC was abolished.

A report published by the Daily Mirror shows the scam is much bigger than we imagined.  
It found that one third of ex-council homes sold in the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister are now owned by private landlords. In one London borough almost half of ex-council properties are now sub-let to tenants.

Tycoon Charles Gow and his wife own at least 40 ex-council flats on one South London estate.
His father Ian Gow was one of Mrs Thatcher’s top aides and was Housing Minister during the peak years of right-to-buy. The Gows live in a £2.5 million house in Esher, Surrey  Other wealthy investors own scores of ex-council properties via offshore holding firms in tax havens in the Channel Islands, the GMB union has found. The union's general secretary Paul Kenny said: “You couldn’t make it up. The family of one of the Tory ministers who oversaw right-to-buy ends up owning swathes of ex-council homes.”

 Wandsworth Borough Council has sold off 24,000 properties under right-to-buy since 1978.
For 15,874 the lease was sold, as they were in blocks of flats where the council kept the freehold.
The council said 6,180, or 39%, of the owners who bought those leases gave a different address for correspondence. It also revealed 95 landlords have five or more of these properties.

Research by the GMB suggests the owner of the 93 could be Charles Gow. In one single ex-council block of 120 flats in Sherfield Gardens, Putney, 62 of the leaseholds are registered to different addresses. The largest leasehold landlord owns the leases on 93 of its freehold properties, with the second largest having 32. Of these, Mr Gow owns 35 while his wife Karin owns another five.
Ian Gow was Mrs Thatcher’s parliamentary private secretary between 1979 and 1983.
Right-to-buy peaked in 1984, by which time he was Housing Minister. He was killed in 1990 by an IRA car bomb.

Land Registry records show his son began buying properties in Sherfield Gardens in 1996 for £100,000 each. His firm KCG is offering four-bedroom flats there for £1,500 a month.
The properties are now worth up to £300,000 and the Gows’ 40 properties could be worth £10million.

 Two sister companies based in Guernsey own another portfolio of former council properties.
Chelsea Estates Ltd owns 38 ex-council homes in Wandsworth, Westminster and Lambeth, while Birkett Estates Ltd has 19. They are controlled by ex-venture capitalist Alex Birkett Smith, 46 and brother James, 42.  The GMB found the pair and their wives also directly own another 27 ex-council properties in Wandsworth, meaning one wealthy family has almost 100 ex-council homes in the capital.

Westminster council said  31% of 8,910 leaseholders sub-let its flats. There are 2,084 households on waiting lists for social housing in Westminster. The council reportedly spent £2million in nine months paying for 120 homeless families to stay in hotels last year.

There are five million people waiting for social housing in Britain and house building cannot keep up with demand. Meanwhile, the private rented sector has almost doubled in a decade and 8.5 million people are tenants – one in six households.
  • GOOD NEWS  London Met University has reinstated researcher Jawad Botmeh, whom it had suspended, and this apparently means he can also resume his place as a staff governor. We are waiting to hear what the university will do about Jawad's union rep and  Unison branch chair Max Watson, and his head of department Steve Jefferys, who were also suspended.






Rich landlords have third of ex-council homes

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