Tuesday 24 April 2012

Newham's 'Social Cleansing' An Inevitable Consequence of Olympic Gentrification

The coverage today about Newham council's shocking decision to write to more than 1179 housing associations to try to move families claiming housing benefit to other parts of the country has been presented as a battle over the government's housing benefits cap. Housing Minister Grant Shapps has accused the council of "playing politics" in the run-up to the local elections and insisted there no justification for forcing families out of London.

But there is more to this story than how best to tackle long waiting lists and whether the council can afford to place families in private accommodation. It may well be true, as the council claims, that the government's new weekly limit on housing benefit (between £250 for a one-bedroom flat and £400 for a four-bedroom property) is already starting to push people out of expensive parts of London into Newham. However, the letter it sent to the Stoke-based Brighter Futures Housing Association makes clear that one of the main reasons why the local private rental sector in the borough is beginning to "overheat" is the "onset of the Olympic Games and the buoyant young professionals market".

As Dr Mary Smith of the University of East London's London East Research Institute explained in A report on the impacts of the Olympic Games and Paralympics on host cities [PDF] in 2008:
“Olympic host cities usually see rises in house prices due to an expectation of inward investment, a belief in regenerative abilities of the Olympics to change the neighbourhoods around it, value and kudos accruing to the Olympic area as a site of some symbolic worth, and a process of gentrification in areas surrounding the Olympics”.
Dr Smith adds that “as a result, each modern Olympics has displaced people – whether from their homes or accommodation”. The result in Sydney in 2000 was that in ‘greatly accelerated gentrification corridor’ in the district leading from the centre of the city, house prices rose exponentially and there was “a move into the area by middle income professionals and an eventual move out by lower income earners or those on government benefits who were hit worst by the rises in rent, or at least could not guard against them”. What we are seeing in Newham is the same effect – an inevitable consequence, it seems, of becoming an Olympic host city.

However, there is another reason why Newham, unlike other Labour councils, has taken the drastic decision to transport people on benefits out of the borough. Gentrification, regeneration and the influx of a new middle-class has long been central to the council's vision of the borough's future and as the Newham Recorder pointed out today, Mayor Sir Robin Wales “has spoken previously about the post-Games regeneration of the likes of Stratford and Canning Town resulting in more people being attracted to living in the borough”. Having 'the UK's largest regeneration project' in Newham may 'overheat' the market but if it is a choice between the 'buoyant young professionals' and the homeless, a Mayor who has persistently linked housing entitlement to worklessness (it's a common thread through the council's “Sustainable Community Strategy”) will always blame the 'undeserving poor' and their failure to find a job.

Displacement is always, as Mary Smith observes, “a matter of planning and priority”. Choosing to ignore the interests of the poorest and most vulnerable is why the the council is prepared to ship the 'problem' elsewhere, no matter how traumatic this may be for the people who are forced to move and who may have depended on their neighbours and their local communities. It is also why, regardless of the housing benefits cap, the accusation of 'social cleansing' by the council is entirely legitimate.


Anonymous said...

Newham has been waging a propaganda war againt local Landlords and is treating Landlords unfairly. Newham is the 3rd cheapest place to rent in London.

Newham Council is accusing Landlords of increasing rents, these are malicious lies. I have a housing benefit tenant and the rent she pays has been the same since 2008. The housing benefit rate (LHA) has only gone up by a few pounds since 2008.

Yes, it is true in this current market, there is a gap forming between private rents and housing benefit rent. But here is the thing. Newham Council should be THANKING Landlords such as me for evicting housing benefits tenants in favour of new higher paying private tenants.

Instead Newham COuncil is using every opportunity to smear and insult Landlords.

Even Ken LIvingstone has stuck his knife in.

We are not greedy as Newham Council likes to portray.

Newham Council's bright new idea is to burden Landlords with Landlord Licensing, which will cost up to £500 per year per property. Is it fair, I get stung for an extra £500 for a LANDLORD LICENSE, when I have not had a rent increase since 2008?

My costs are going up. Plumbers, Builders, Boiler maintenance, Electricians, Insurance and tradesmen etc... all have put their prices up.

Clearly, Newham Council wants to pressurise private landlord to evict their housing benefit tenants so that they can pay for the new Landlord License.

Newham House prices are falling by 5% despite the Olympics. I am better off selling up.

People may not be aware. The Government has frozen the housing benefit rate (LHA) until April 2013. Between 2008 to 2013 (5 years), I would have no rent increase at all. I wish Newham Council would stop the lies about rent increases.... they are playing policitics ahead of the Mayoral elections.

Newham COuncil increased the rents for Council tenants by 7%.

Perhaps, you want to put a FOI request to find where Westminister, Kensington have put their poor....

Click for Newham Letter said...

Here is the letter Newham sent out to the housing associations:

ICTY Watch said...

On the subject of housing, I see in today's Stratford Recorder (p 16) that property companies with developments in Newham paid for the council and mayor's trip to a property fair in Cannes.

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