Residents from Hoxton’s New Era Estate marched to Downing Street yesterday to hand in a 300,000 signature petition calling on David Cameron to pressure new owners Westbrook Partners into keeping their rents affordable.
They had earlier rallied outside Westbrook’s offices in Mayfair joined by hundreds of supporters including comedian Russell Brand calling on UK chief Mark Donnor to meet tenants and “do the right thing”.
The American property speculator, which bought the 93-flat estate in March, is expected to start evicting tenants next year before refurbishing the properties and renting them out at market rates.
Residents fear their rents will likely treble, forcing them into hostels, homes for the elderly or out of London where rents are cheaper.
In a message to Westbrook, Lindsey Garrett, who has lived on the estate for 22-years and has co-led the campaign since July, said to the crowd:
“We are a community. We’ve lived on the New Era estate for many years. We are asking you to do the right thing and leave our homes alone. This is for our children’s future. Leave London alone.
“We’re asking Westbrook to address the residents, come and meet with us and do the right thing.”
As the demonstration made its way to Downing Street a police escort temporarily blocked off roads to let the good-natured protest move unhindered through the busy streets.
Ms Garrett said the government needs to bring in rent caps and longer tenancies for private renters and to allow councils to build more social housing, saying the solutions are “obvious”.
She said: “David Cameron talks a lot about families and communities and people getting back into work when all he’s doing is destroying that. We want him to step in and protect us from large corporations coming in and buying up houses, pushing up rent and pushing out real London people.
“It’s criminal and no one is doing anything about it, so we’re here to do something about it. It’s got to stop. We have every right to live in London. Why wouldn’t we, because we don’t earn enough money?”
New York support
Both the Prime Minister and London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, have been criticised for failing to speak out on behalf of residents or pressure Westbrook to negotiate. The petition means the matter should now be debated in parliament.
Ms Garrett also called on Boris Johnson to follow the New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s lead after he intervened in a dispute between Westbrook and its tenants earlier this year. The NY attorney general forced the company and its co-investors to pay out $1m in compensation to 1,700 tenants, repair its dilapidated buildings and sack its property management company.
The New York Mayor also spoke out in support of New Era residents in a recent interview with Russell Brand saying “sometimes it’s fair to say there’s a limit on how much profit [a residential property speculator] should make because you shouldn’t want to dislocate people from their lives.”
When contacted by the Citizen yesterday, a spokesperson for the London Mayor would only repeat a previous statement saying he had no jurisdiction over the estate and that local MP Meg Hillier and Hackney Council should ‘do all they can’ to help the tenants remain in their homes.
Boris Johnson’s deputy mayor for housing Richard Blakeway, Hackney Council’s mayor Jules Pipe and cabinet member for housing Philip Glanville, have all met Westbrook representatives to discuss the New Era Estate’s future, but with little said publicly afterwards.
However, it has been reported that Westbrook assured tenants on Sunday that their tenancy agreements would be respected until July 2015.
Philip Glanville earlier dismissed reports that Hackney Council would be able to purchase the estate or indeed attempted to do so earlier this year as had been rumoured.
He said: “The Council did not make a bid when it was put up for sale, and we’re also not seeking to purchase the estate now given the Government-imposed borrowing caps on the Housing Revenue Account, and the other pressures and commitments we have made on housing more widely.
However, both he and Mayor Jules Pipe, who joined the demonstration yesterday, said they would be encouraging Westbrook to consider selling the estate to an ethical landlord and expected to meet with the company later this week.
Westbrook Partners could not be reached for comment.
*This story first appeared in the Hackney Citizen on 2 Dec 2014