17 Mar 2015

Housing crisis protesters call for affordable homes

As thousands of people join the biggest-ever rally to protest against the shortage of affordable housing, film director Ken Loach tells Channel 4 News the shortage is crucifying people’s life chances.

The protesters have been occupying houses in the estate since last week. More than 20,000 people have signed a petition calling for a halt to evictions and the right to return for former tenants.

On Tuesday night, Russell Brand, one of the most high-profile supporters of the housing protesters, is expected to stage a sleepover in one of the occupied houses in support of the demonstrators.

The former residents say they have been forced into homes that are too small, too far from schools (meaning some of the children have had to miss school) and none have been told where or how they will be housed long term.

The remaining families have been given a deadline to leave. Barnet Homes says it is providing assistance “to whom it has a housing duty”.

A spokesperson added: “43 households have been housing in the borough, 21 outside the borough, but in London, and one out of London, in Potters Bar.

“Wherever possible, Barnet Homes will endeavour to find households suitable alternative accommodation within the borough, but due to the shortage of properties this is not always possible.”

‘Illegally occupied’

A high court challenge by two former tenants failed to stop the evictions last month, as did a protest outside Barnet Council’s offices.

In a statement, a spokesman for Annington property, which owns the estate, said: “Annington Property Limited became aware on Sunday, March 8 that a property it owned at 60 Sweets Way, Whetstone, had been illegally occupied by squatters.

“Annington has commenced court proceedings to obtain a possession order so that it can evict the squatters and take back possession of the property?.?

“These properties have long been earmarked for demolition and Annington advised tenants of this back in 2012. Since then Annington wrote again to tenants in July of last year to ensure that they were all aware of the need to vacate the properties in January 2015.”

London rally

Meanwhile, in central London, more than 2,500 people gathered in Westminster to protest the housing crisis at the Homes for Britain rally. The protest, which included major developers, housing associations and charities, was called to warn that the lowest housebuilding levels since the 1920s meant demand for homes was outstripping supply.

The Housing Federation, which organised the event, says Britain needs 245,000 homes a year – but only 125,000 are being built.

The event received support from across the political spectrum, with speakers reportedly from leftwing film director Ken Loach to Ukip leader Nigel Farage.

Mr Farage said that tighter immigration controls would reduce demand, the Guardian reported, saying Ukip would build “a couple of hundred thousand homes” homes a year on derelict land as “a brownfield revolution”.

In contrast, Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said: “Everybody, including migrants, has the right to somewhere decent to live.”

“Politicians need to pull their heads out of the sand and realise that housing has become a major general election issue,” Henry Gregg, of the National Housing Federation, said.

“We are calling on all the political parties to end the housing crisis within a generation and build the homes that young people desperately need.”