“Clearly, this government’s instinct is to defend the interests of the wealthy few. But there is hope – remember that they have been forced into an incredible number of u-turns this year.”
By Amina Gichinga, an organiser with the London Renters Union
“The government is clear – no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home”. Seems like a pretty clear promise right? Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick made it when the pandemic began. He made it repeatedly.
And yet here we are, five months later. The virus is still spreading in our communities, and evicting people onto the streets will only make that worse. Unemployment is about to skyrocket, wages certainly aren’t going to rise any time soon, and the half million renters in arrears haven’t magically been able to pay back their rent debt. That means that every single one of them is totally defenceless from a ‘Section 8’ eviction.
Except, we don’t have to be defenceless. We can fight back.
At the London Renters Union, we’ve already prevented a number of illegal evictions by standing up to landlords, including, in one instance, by getting a crowd of people to someone’s house to scare off the landlord from illegally evicting the tenants.
I organise with renters in Newham, east London, where we share skills and advice with each other on how to avoid eviction and, when they really do try to kick people out of their homes, how to resist it. Those of us who feel safe doing so are getting ready to physically resist by putting our bodies in the way of the bailiffs.
More than 200 people have already attended London Renters Union training sessions – and we want more people to sign up. You can do so here? Or you can join the union permanently here, and become part of a powerful movement of renters supporting each other with their housing issues and fighting to change a system that is rigged in favour of landlords.
And if you’re not in London, there’s probably a renters union for your town too.
On Monday, when we fear that the eviction ban really will end, we’ve got a day of action outside magistrates courts in Hackney and Stratford, where possession hearings will be heard. If you want to shame the landlords and the government who are making people homeless in the middle of a pandemic, give out information to local renters on their rights and show solidarity with renters at risk of eviction, then we’d love to see you! The info is here.
If, by chance, the government is going to keep its promise, it needs to make the evictions ban permanent – not just extend it over and over, incrementally, in a way that causes terrible stress for renters who never know if they’re about to become vulnerable to eviction. The government needs to cancel rent debt – because the pandemic isn’t renters’ fault, and paying for it should fall on those with the broadest shoulders. And the government needs to finally fulfil its promise to scrap ‘no fault’ Section 21 evictions.
Ultimately, though, this government has shown that it’s on the side of landlords and other rent-seekers. It’s done nothing to make us think it’s interested in ‘levelling up’.
During the pandemic, landlords – the people who already own hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of property – have had a stamp duty cut. They’ve had a mortgage holiday. And they’ve effectively been subsidized by the increase in local housing allowance. Now they’re being propped up by being allowed to evict up to half a million tenants who are in arrears.
Plus our housing laws are incredibly unjust and geared towards protecting the interests of landlords (many of whom are in the Tory party) – which means they are going to find it far too easy to evict renters from Monday onwards.
Clearly, this government’s instinct is to defend the interests of the wealthy few. But there is hope – remember that they have been forced into an incredible number of u-turns this year. Grassroots anger has forced them to backtrack on A-levels results, on free school meals, and on the surcharge for some migrant NHS and care workers.
This hasn’t been a year filled with optimism. But when I think of what our union has achieved, and can achieve, I know for sure: we’re only going to win if we unite and fight.
- Follow the London Renters Union at https://twitter.com/LDNRentersUnion
- Amina Gichinga is an organiser with the London Renters Union – @Aminaminky