19 Dec 2014

New Era housing estate sold after protests

East London estate is sold by multibillion pound US investors to charitable foundation after protest campaign featuring Russell Brand

New Era, in Hoxton was owned by Westbrook Partners, a US private equity company, which bought the homes in March with the help of Tory MP Richard Benyon, whose Benyon Estate acted as managing agent but pulled out in November. The estate has been sold to Dolphin Living, part of the Dolphin Square Charitable Foundation, an independent affordable housing provider and developer.

Protests erupted earlier this year after the company announced plans to raise rents on the housing estate to market levels, which would have meant the eviction of poorer tenants and the destruction of a close knit community. But a deal has been agreed with the new owner to keep rents at current levels for the whole of next year.

Jon Gooding, the chief executive of Dolphin Living, said: “We want the New Era tenants to feel secure while we have some meaningful consultation with them about not just rents but also repairs and renewals, to secure the long term future of the estate.

“We have written to residents on the estate with the pledge to work to understand their circumstances and then develop a rent policy that is demonstrably fair. The complete moratorium on rent increases until 2016 will allow time for this consultation to take place and for us to win the trust of tenants.”

Westbrook, an $11bn asset management firm agreed the deal after negotiations involving Jules Pipe, the mayor of Hackney, London’s deputy mayor, Richard Blakeway and the local Labour MP, Meg Hillier.

Substantial profit

Westbrook had expected to make a substantial profit by increasing rents on the estate – and reducing its tax obligations by transferring ownership to an offshore company based in the Channel Islands. Families had said the company’s plan to increase rents from about £800 a month for a two-bedroom flat to more than £2,000 was effectively social cleansing.

But a fiercely fought campaign by three woman on the 93-home estate gained the support of Russell Brand, leading to heavy media coverage and a 300,000 signature petition to David Cameron, urging him to take action.

Anyone who comes into this estate and takes it on will do so with trepidation. Lindsay Garrett, chair of the New Era residents’ association

According to the Guardian, the terms of the draft deal are said to mean the homes will stay as private rented accommodation rather than becoming social housing, but the new owner is believed to have offered some guarantees about rent levels for at least a year. It will then look at how to set future rents, although this is likely to mean increases.

“This is brilliant news and a victory,” said Lindsay Garrett, chair of the New Era residents’ association. “If they are going to offer us affordable long-term rents, we welcome it. But they have to put the deal on the table. We will continue to make sure the residents get the best deal we can. Anyone who comes into this estate and takes it on will do so with trepidation.”

Johnson confirms deal

Boris Johnson earlier reportedly confirmed the deal at City Hall, saying: “We are very sure that there is a favourable and a fair outcome for the tenants who, I agree, had the shock of seeing their rents potentially go up, and what I want to achieve is the sale of that estate to a social landlord.”

Jules Pipe, the elected mayor of Hackney, said “This result is what we have been calling for from the outset, so we’re pleased that Westbrook has now done the right thing. I want to pay tribute to the tenants of New Era, who have run a tireless campaign to save the community they care so passionately about. Dolphin Square’s commitment to existing rents and tenancies until 2016 is welcome, and we will continue to seek assurances from them about their future plans for the estate.”

Westbrook Partners did not return requests for comment.