This morning Wednesday 3 July at 9.30am the community at Grow Heathrow will find out the long-awaited verdict from the Court of Appeal. The renovated greenhouses at the once derelict market garden in Sipson have been home to the group for three years and in that time Grow Heathrow has become a thriving community hub and example of Transition off-grid culture. Here one of their original core team, Joseph Blake writes about the housing crisis in our latest issue:
In the UK we are currently facing the worst housing crisis this country has ever seen. The statistics show there are approximately 1.8 million households currently on social housing waiting lists. Disguised as the Localism Act, the Conservative flagship policy has allowed councils to neglect their duty to house people, as more and more of the country’s housing stock enters the rental market, where rents are currently unaffordable for many.
It is therefore no surprise that homelessness rates have also risen. Government figures record a 30% increase in rough sleeping since 2010.. In addition to this, hostels across the country have seen a 28% increase in demand, meaning that there are few options left. Perhaps more shockingly, research published in January shows that private companies are beginning to make money out of the homeless with two unnamed “private providers” awarded contracts that could be worth as much as £5 million to sweep people off the streets.
Some campaigners are arguing that the solution lies in the fact that there are now one million empty properties in the UK. Top housing academic Professor Danny Dorling recently pointed out that there are more bedrooms per person in Britain than there has ever been — enough for everyone to have two each in fact.
Moreover only 43 Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs) have been awarded to councils seeking to bring empty properties back into use. New restrictions on EDMOs introduced in Autumn 2012 mean that they will become even more difficult to enact.
After the introduction of the new law on squatting last September, which made it a criminal offence to squat in a residential property, many are fearing this law actually encourages property speculators and foreign investors to keep properties empty, which has the effect of pushing up rent prices.
On 4th March 2013, concerned MPs, Lords, lawyers, homelessness groups, academics, campaigners and squatters met in the House of Commons to discuss a repeal of the law.
The campaign, co-ordinated by SQUASH (Squatters Action for Secure Homes), was launched with a report entitled “The Case Against Section 144”. The report highlights how homeless people have gone to prison for using empty properties to keep a roof over their heads and shows that out of 108 people displaced so far, none of them have been caught in someone else’s home. This contradicts the basis upon which the law was brought in and confirms what hundreds of legal experts feared as the law was passed.
John Mcdonnell (Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington) who endorsed the report said: “People are being made unnecessarily homeless and very vulnerable people are suffering as a consequence. This legislation was based upon prejudice and has only made matters worse. This new evidence demonstrates so clearly the need to repeal this misguided law.”
Grow Heathrow, the squatted social space, community garden and campaign against airport expansion, a major project of Transition Heathrow, is one such example of the possible solution. Once an abandoned site with 30 tonnes of rubbish scattered across the gardens and greenhouses, it has now been turned into a thriving community space that provides organic vegetables and plants for the local community, while at the same time providing 15 people with a place to live.
On 1st April, a massive wave of new welfare reforms came in, including the ‘Bedroom Tax,’ which impacts on the very poorest within society who already use housing most efficiently. Campaign groups and activist organisations are organising the resistance, and are urging Transition groups to become involved.
Joseph Blake has been campaigning with SQUASH for two years now, fighting the government’s continued criminalisation plans. He was also involved in setting up the Edge Fund; a new grassroots fund for social justice and is still associated with Transition Heathrow and Plane Stupid.
Message from GrowHeathrow: We’d love you to join us at the Royal Courts of Justice (courtroom 70) at 9.30 on Wed. Better yet, come show your solidarity where it’s most important – at Grow Heathrow! Join us on site during the day and into the evening. The bike workshop will be running all afternoon, we’ll be cooking up a delicious dinner and there’ll probably be a campfire and music. You’re also welcome to stay over on Wednesday night, ready for our community workday on Thursday.