With campaigners currently continuing their blockade outside their homes on the Guinness Trust estate in Loughborough Park in Brixton, we thought it would be useful to explain how the current situation was reached.
It’s quite a complicated story, so we are grateful to the Lambeth Housing Activists providing us with the following piece. We have also written to the Guinness Trust and invited them to put forward their version of events, which we will publish if they respond (which, given their current track record, isn’t too likely).
The Loughborough park estate in Brixton was a 1930s estate of 390 social rented flats – until Guinness began their regeneration programme to demolish it and replace it with 487 new-build apartments.
When Guinness started on this regeneration strategy more than a decade ago they decided not to take on any more housing association tenants with full life-time tenancy rights and as vacancies came up they brought in ASTs (assured shorthold tenants) who could keep the buildings occupied temporarily before they bulldozed them – but would not need to be rehoused by Guinness when they evicted them.
Many of the existing tenants, however, were not happy with the regeneration plans and opposed the move to new high-rise blocks which would lead to higher rents and would destroy the beautiful old buildings on the estate which had a unique architectural value.
They lobbied and challenged the planning process and tried to set up their own tenants association but were blocked by Guinness and eventually ignored by Lambeth.
The planning permission was delayed by many years but in the end Guinness even threatened to sell the estate outright if they were not allowed to go ahead with their regeneration plans and Lambeth capitulated.
Guinness promised only 30 extra social housing units in the new development for rent to people on Lambeth’s housing waiting list – but even this was a deception as the number of social rented housing tenants had already markedly decreased (being replaced by ASTs) so the net effect of the regeneration will be a REDUCTION in social rented flats on the estate from the original 390 down to 211.
The majority of the apartments will be open to part-buy-part-rent at full market value or ‘affordable rent’, which is up to 80% of market rents, which is still way out of the league of the ASTs or anyone else on an average or low wage.
Today, as Guinness evict the last round of ASTs to complete phase 3 of demolition and new buildings, they are using even more precarious tenants – Camelot Guardians – who can be evicted without any due process and are not actually considered tenants at all!
The Camelot tenants today are like the ASTs were in the past. Most are poor people who are prepared to live in substandard housing because they cannot afford anything more secure. But the ASTs were not temporary.
Many of them have been there over ten years now and have made Loughborough Park their home and had their children there and even upsized to bigger flats within Guinness as their families grew.
When the first set of ASTs were evicted in 2012 they were simply told they had no legal rights and they had to go. Guinness said Lambeth had a responsibility to house anyone who was vulnerable and that they shouldn’t worry they would be looked after. Single people just had to fend for themselves and many left the area to find anything affordable.
Many of the families were put into private housing far from Brixton, trapped on housing benefit to pay their rent, and still travelling back to Brixton with their children to school.
At least one family we spoke to has been moved 3 times in the past 3 years by Lambeth to different temporary housing and still has nowhere secure to live.
When Guinness prepared to start this latest phase of evictions and demolitions the ASTs who were left saw what had happened to the last set of ASTs to leave the estate and some of them decided to fight back and refuse to leave.
They have held protests, occupied an empty flat, lobbied the council, launched a petition and tried to get their voices heard in the media.
They have tried to shame Guinness for its treatment and some of this pressure has worked.
Guinness improved their ‘offer’ to the remaining ASTs – giving them the opportunity to apply for secure Guinness tenancies, first outside London only and then finally inside London as well.
In the past few months some ASTs have been offered and accepted Guinness flats in other areas and have moved into them.
Guinness had attempted to send bailiffs to evict one tenant, Arinola, in February and threats of mass resistance to the bailiffs led to them withdrawing the bailiff action one day before the eviction was due to take place. Arinola is still there and still refusing to leave.
However Guinness has also enlisted the help of Lambeth Council to put pressure on those tenants whom the Council would have a responsibility to rehouse if they became homeless – people with young children and with health needs – to accept placements in private accommodation.
The Council have threatened to downgrade the Council band they are in if they don’t accept this offer now, which would make it very unlikely they would ever succeed in bidding for a council property in Lambeth (no time to explain the very confusing banding and bidding system here but this is a nasty threat!).
Almost all the ASTs have now received possession orders telling them to leave by the 28th of April otherwise Guinness will seek a court order for bailiffs to evict them 2 weeks later. One of the women who received that letter this week is due to give birth in mid-May.
Some of the ASTs have won the right to have their eviction cases heard in court and are awaiting the opportunity to challenge Guinness on their legal right to evict them.
The Lambeth Law Centre is taking their cases and arguing that Guinness are in breach of their own guidelines as well as HCA guidelines by evicting people indiscriminately without any assessment of their individual needs or circumstances.
Of course we have no guarantee that this defence will succeed and we know that tenants ‘rights’ in court are pitiful compared to the ‘right’ of landlords to do what they will with their property.
So we need to keep campaigning, we need ongoing solidarity for these tenants and we need maximum public pressure on Guinness to stop these evictions going ahead.
So here are some of the outstanding questions we have…
- Guinness is a charity and pays no tax because of its role in housing vulnerable people – so why can it behave like any grasping private landlord and just use and abuse its tenants in this way?
- Where is the investigation by the HCA (Homes and Communities Agency) to look into the legality of a social landlord like Guinness using AST tenancies and Camelot guardians on a long term basis, instead of using their housing stock to provide decent secure homes for people in need?
- Guinness are lying about their demolition dates and creating artificial deadlines for people to move out of the blocks, because they are still moving ‘property guardians’ into the flats as soon as any AST tenants leave. Why can’t Guinness transfer the people on ASTs onto secure Guinness tenancies so that they can stay where they are until a suitable flat in the area becomes available?
- Why is Lambeth encouraging people to leave Guinness flats and move into private flats they can’t afford, even though many of them are challenging Guinness in the courts to stop theses evictions in order to avoid becoming homeless and avoid adding their names to Lambeth’s long housing waiting list?
- Why is Lambeth Council not putting pressure on Guinness to stop paying exploitative property guardian companies and open up their other empty flats to provide housing – even temporarily – to the hundreds of homeless people in the borough who are currently housed at huge public expense in unsuitable temporary private flats, hostels and B&Bs?
- As the value of property in Lambeth has increased and the housing crisis has deepened why is Guinness, Lambeth Council, the Government, and the Mayor of London, not investigating ways to refinance the whole regeneration project, or refurbish rather than demolish the remaining blocks, so that they could increase the amount of social rented flats on the estate? How little would it cost for all the ASTs to be rehoused in Loughborough Park so that the housing waiting list could be reduced rather than increased?
These tenants are taking a stand which serves to shame the whole political establishment about the human cost of the housing crisis they are presiding over. They all deserve our support!
Come with the Guinness Tenants to the Windrush Square Reclaim Brixton Gathering on Saturday April 25th. Meet at 11am at the entrance to Loughborough Park estate (walk to the top of Somerleyton Road and follow the road around to the left to see the estate entrance) to go down to Windrush Square together.
Discuss this on the urban75 forums.
Guinness Trust AST Tenants Facebook page
Lambeth Housing Activists
Sign the petition: Stop the social cleansing of Brixton. Stop the evictions of tenants from Loughborough Park Estate
Background info and video:
Guinness Trust, Brixton fights the landlords
Guinness Trust estate campaign continues in Brixton