On Monday 3 July about 200 protestors entered the foyer of the London Borough of Haringey’s Civic Centre in protest at plans to knock down a significant percentage of local council housing and replace it with estates of mainly private housing. CPGB-ML members took part in the protest, not as ‘outside agitators’ but as council tenants and members of the working class.
The protestors wished to enter the public gallery to attend a meeting of the Labour council’s cabinet, which was in the process of rubber-stamping the plans. The police had other ideas and protestors were blocked from entering the public gallery, which is their supposed right as citizens of a ‘democratic’ country. The protestors then decided to continue their protest in the foyer, hoping that their voices would be heard in the council chamber.
Sadly, despite the protest, the Labour cabinet agreed a plan not only to destroy social housing but also, potentially, to build a new type of segregated housing estate, where lower income tenants may be forced to enter their block behind separate ‘poor’ doors while richer residents enter the block via a different door and enjoy a better communal environment and services.
Thus we see that even under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour party in office is pursuing the same old policies of promoting the interests of the wealthy and trying to keep the working class in its place.
The destruction of Britain’s remaining social housing
Across London, and elsewhere in the country,, housing estates are being knocked down, to be replaced with new developments built on the demolition sites. The new estates are mainly private with a token amount of social housing added on. The most notorious example of such redevelopment so far is Heygate in Southwark. Once this was knocked down and rebuilt, the 2012 total of 934 council tenanted properties on the estate were replaced by 180 ‘affordable’ rented properties (at 50 percent market rent in this case) and only 74 social rented properties.
In Haringey, the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) is intended as the vehicle for estate demolition and rebuilding. The HDV is an arrangement whereby the council knocks down council estates and then transfers the land to a joint venture that is supposedly half owned by the council and half owned by the property developer Lendlease. The ‘50/50’ arrangement means that in the event of disagreement Haringey must buy out Lendlease’s stake in the project and wind the whole thing up, something they are hardly likely to be able to do given the huge sums of money involved.
Therefore in practice Lendlease will control the HDV with Haringey councillors sitting on its board as the latter’s puppets. The board of the HDV will not meet in public, will not publish minutes and is not subject to Freedom of Information requests. The 50/50 arrangement is just a cover for an outright corporate land grab that demolishes whatever meagre democratic rights council tenants may enjoy at the moment.
Haringey council has been lying about its plans to demolish council estates for years. It has announced in statement after statement that 40 percent of new housing has to be ‘affordable’, but the small print of the HDV strategic business plan states that this 40 percent is subject to a ‘viability’ test.
The business plan eagerly points out that the cost of estate regeneration can be used as a reason to reduce the amount of affordable housing provided when the viability test is undertaken. So the 40 percent figure is entirely lacking in credibility, and developers will actually be able to build much lower percentages of affordable housing using the ‘viability’ con-trick.
Most of the ‘affordable housing’ built will not be really ‘affordable’ in any case. So-called affordable rents can be as high as 80 percent of market rent. Much of the rest of the affordable housing is likely to consist of shared ownership products that are likely to cost households in Haringey at least £1,000 a month in mortgage payments, rent and service charges.
Segregation via the ‘poor door’
One thing Haringey council is actually being honest about is the licence it will give to developers to bring in segregated housing schemes. The cabinet was open about this when asked by Haringey council’s scrutiny committee. In particular, Haringey council states it will allow a ‘separate core’ arrangement in new blocks.
Basically this means that richer tenants will pay for a separate entrance from poorer tenants, leading to separate communal stairwells and corridors to their flats. The separate entrance for the lower income, social housing tenants is popularly known as the ‘poor door’.
The Guardian spoke of this being an increasingly common feature of new developments, reporting: “One building bordering the City financial district, [where] the Guardian discovered wealthy owners accessed their homes via a hotel-style lobby area, while social housing tenants enter through a side door in an adjacent alley alongside trade entrances.” (Poor doors: the segregation of London’s inner-city flat dwellers, 25 July 2014)
The role of class traitor Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, should be highlighted here. Before standing for election, he announced in a 23 July 2015 press statement that he would ban the use of poor doors in new developments. In general, he posed as a left-winger and this deceived many idealistic socialists, who wasted their time campaigning for him.
In his manifesto for the election in 2016 he used vaguer language about discouraging poor doors – and now here we are with a Labour council happy to endorse the use of poor doors as they are well aware Khan will do nothing to stop their use. The councillors are, of course, similarly aware that his promise of 50 percent affordability in new schemes was a pack of lies too. The target has now gone down to 35 percent, and of course this can be reduced further in developments via the ‘viability’ con.
The people of Haringey will not stand for segregation. Think what this means on an estate like Broadwater Farm, which the council is considering demolishing. The majority of people on this estate are from ethnic minorities. At the moment they live on a council estate where all housing is equal and all enjoy the same facilities. What if they are told they must move to new segregated housing blocks?
This is the kind of humiliation that was heaped on black people in the USA up until the 1960s and is now being planned for the people of Haringey in 2017.
It is vital that the people of Haringey learn of the plans to destroy their social housing and impose segregation. Up until now some council tenants have not been moved by the anti-demolition campaign because of legal obligations to rehouse existing tenants in whatever council housing stock remains available after mass demolitions are carried out.
It will be a different story when they learn of Haringey’s Labour council’s segregationist plans. Ultimately, those who wanted to impose segregation in the USA were defeated by the struggles of the people in Birmingham, Alabama and elsewhere. The new segregationists, who want to impose humiliation on all working-class tenants, both black and white, will be defeated too by united working-class struggle.
The Labour party is a party of racism and the rich. The working class must understand that voting for people like Khan, or even Corbyn, whatever the latter’s good intentions, in the final analysis makes no difference. Only the seizing and holding of state power by working people, the great majority, led by a genuine communist party, can truly bring the working class a decent, dignified and sustainable life.
Down with the Labour party segregationists in Haringey!