Hackney residents seek a new era for affordable rent

By John Watts

Residents of the New Era Estate in Hoxton held a family-led demonstration with their supporters on 1 December, calling on Westbrook Partners to keep rents affordable, following their recent purchase of the property. Families living on the estate say that are at risk of being made homeless by the proposed treble rent increases.

The protest began outside the Westbrook Partners offices in Berkley Square, Mayfair where they held a rally, before walking to Downing Street to hand in a 300,000 signature petition.

The New Era Estate in Hoxton has a history of affordable housing and is home to 93 families, many of whom have lives there for generations. Linsey Garett, chairwoman of the New Era residents association and a young mother who works for the NHS, said: “My parents live on this estate too. There are families like mine who have this area in their blood.”

The treatment of the New Era Estate residents by Westbrook Partners has again raised the issue of gentrification in the capital. Jules Pipe, the Mayor of Hackney recently said that the treatment of the New Era Estate tenants is unfair and that the proposed rent increases are ‘tearing the heart out of Hoxton’.

Their story has come to represent the plight of low-income Londoners in the face of huge rent hikes, cuts to housing benefit and the insatiable appetite of foreign investors for London properties, pushing house prices well out of reach for local families.

The steep rise in house prices in London has seen rapid social and economic change over the last decade. Property prices this year alone have risen by 20%, whilst wages have drastically failed to keep pace. The National Housing Federation has warned that you’ll now need to earn more than £100,000 a year to afford a typical 80% mortgage in London.

Long-standing communities are being torn apart in what many people at the protest said was an outrage. An elderly lady attending the protest, who didn’t wish to be named, said that she had two daughters and their families living on the estate who were not able to come because they were working on zero hours contracts in low paid jobs and couldn’t afford to take the time off, so she had come in their place.

Russell Brand, who has been campaigning passionately on behalf of the residents and seemed to have been the focus of the massive media presence rather than the petition or the New Era Estate residents, again reiterated his support and the ‘awful way’ Westbrook was treating them.

The issue is no longer just something affecting the low paid. Key workers and those on an average income are also being forced out of their local areas.

When the petition was being handed in a chant went up of, “HOMES FOR PLEBS! HOMES FOR PLEBS!” which brought smiles to the Downing Street Protection squad. Even the police know that key workers like themselves need affordable housing if they are to continue to live and work in London.

As a Hackney-based business and social enterprise that works with long-term unemployed and marginalised people, Poached Creative and our writers are closely following the New Era Housing saga. Read former trainee Sam Hooper's recent guest post on In My Shoes and look out for our forthcoming feature in the next issue of The Pavement.

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