You have got to see this

by Maria on September 23, 2014

Feminism, social activism, eye-catching stunt made eye-catching because it’s not a stunt.

About a dozen single mothers kicked out of their hostel in east London have occupied a ‘show-flat’ in the former Olympics estate that Newham Council is trying to flog while it has 24,000 households on its waiting list.
Instead of doing what they were told and being socially cleansed 200 miles away from family, friends, children’s schools and job prospects, these incredible women subverted one of London’s great middle class pleasures, the architectural Open House (I put my hand up, I go on it every year to gawk at other people’s houses), and occupied one of hundreds of empty, new-build flats. They set the place up as a community centre and are campaigning for the council to house the actual people it’s responsible for, showing they are real, articulate people with needs and rights, not a worthless blob of social problems.

Increasingly, I just can’t justify the amount of volunteer time I spend on Internet rights. Yes, we are handing over control of every aspect of our lives to insidiously corrupt and obviously ineffective states, and that is a terrible, terrible thing. But I live in a city of dirty billionaires and hungry children. This made me cry. Something has got to give.

@FocusE15 #occupiedE15



ZM 09.23.14 at 10:37 am

That is both sad and inspiring, Maria. Public housing provision is very insufficient here as well, and house prices and rents have climbed very high in Australia over the last 15 years. This has had the effect of pushing people on lower incomes and also new migrants away from the inner suburbs if the city that have been gentrified, and into the outer or interface suburbs which the government and developers refuse to adequately supply with service and infrastructure provision.

Single mothers were targeted by our last Labor government, when we had a female PM, taking away the extra financial support and stability they received as they were raising children – nominally to encourage more workforce participation . “The Gillard government saved about $700 million over four years by pushing single parents off the pension when their youngest child turned eight and on to the general unemployment benefit. Thousands of single mothers were more than $100 a week worse off after the change took effect at the start of last year.”

The deputy leader of the opposition, a woman called Tania Plibersek, came to our small town last week for afternoon tea and to meet people, and one nice woman I met earlier at a craft/landcare project who was a single mother spoke to the deputy opposition leader about how disappointed she was that Labor moved away from supporting single mothers. I hope Ms Plibersek listened.


Brett Bellmore 09.23.14 at 10:43 am

Oh, come on, of course it was a stunt. Nothing necessarily wrong with stunts. And, “At which point it turned out that their eviction notices were “a mistake” – all 29 of them. ” an effective one.

But definitely a stunt.


Lynne 09.23.14 at 11:55 am

That’s inspiring, Maria. In our small city, there is a sudden spate of new construction in the downtown, much of it highrises with apartments or condos above commercial ground floor units. The problem (and it is, in my opinion, a huge problem) is that _all_ the housing being built is luxury housing with one or two bedrooms. No affordable housing for families.

About your own work, no one can do everything, but if everyone did something, things would improve. So I need to believe.

Off topic—how is your puppy-now-dog? Any chance of pictures in the near future?


MPAVictoria 09.23.14 at 12:15 pm

“Off topic—how is your puppy-now-dog? Any chance of pictures in the near future?”

Ooo yes! Can we have another dog thread sometime soon? I would love to hear how the pup is doing?

Also women like this always make me feel guilty for not doing more. Very inspiring.


Maria 09.23.14 at 12:28 pm

Oh dear, the puppy… Yes, that one is on the list. All v. happy, cute pics will follow!


Maria 09.23.14 at 12:31 pm

ZM, yes, the mad thing is everyone in London *knows* it is arithmetically impossible for essential workers on comparatively low incomes to live here, but the amount of public and affordable housing being built continues to nosedive. And as for single mothers, well, they and others in need of public housing are being sent to B&Bs in the arse end of nowhere in cities hundreds of miles away.


ZM 09.23.14 at 2:07 pm


Our governments sold off a lot of our public housing – and we did not have as much as in the UK because homeownership here was more common.

In London it seems very bad, and your developers seem more behind in keeping up with demand than ours. Prince Charles’ Foundation’s recent Housing London report notes that “Despite [UK] government pledges of one-to-one replacements for every unit of social housing sold, only 1,662 council home replacements started in 2012/13 and this year to date, while 10,954 council homes have been sold nationwide” The report also chastises developers for over-servicing the higher end housing market and very much under servicing the dominant mid-to-low housing market.

Another problem the report notes is that the 7 biggest developers are responsible for 40% of new houses – which is too much responsibility for them and they can not keeping up with the need for housing, so a greater diversity of developers would be better.

London has very low density for a major city, so the report suggests more mid rise developments of 5-8 storeys, possible based on the mansion block type, which it says is London’s great architectural legacy and popular in Notting Hill and Mayfair, and so maybe all Londoners would find it pleasant to have mansion blocks all throughout London to live in. The report critiques the big blocky developments of the 1960s (which makes me think of the Jasmine Allen estate in The Bill).

As well as people enjoying the pleasing aesthetics of mansion blocks, they would happily also be more sustainable than either high rises or low rises: “Ecologically, mid-rise housing also has the potential to contribute positively to the future of our city… [it] can be built using more ecologically-friendly, locally-sourced materials, especially in contrast to the glass and steel high- rises… Sustainable water and energy infrastructure systems can also be supported by mid-rise developments… [and] each person uses less energy, and emits less carbon dioxide, than comparable residents in more sprawled out communities.”

Finance is a bit of a problem, but the report says hoarding land can be deincentivised through taxing land hoarders, local authority pension funds can contribute £10 billion , the Mayor can start up his London Housing Bank that he wants, and a mechanism could channel funds from areas with high house prices to subsidise affordable housing in the outer boroughs etc.

The report also says that there is a lot of land owned by the State – so my idea to add would be it could release some of this land to developers but make lots of provisos – such as some social housing, some affordable housing, disabled access, open space etc. The City of Melbourne have used this method a few times quite well – although I am not sure how long their conditions have to be met by the property owners.


Pete 09.23.14 at 4:13 pm

Every time someone says “we should build new housing in London” I’d like them to produce a map showing exactly which unoccupied area they plan to build it on.

Mid-rise housing is clearly a key ingredient in lots of pleasant European cities, but in the UK it seems to be limited to Edinburgh and Glasgow. There certainly are areas of zone 1 which are low-rise, not just Victorian terraces but sixtiesish semi-detached houses. All it requires is the will of central government to provide housing for people .. which is where the whole plan falls down. You also have to deal with active hostility to housing “immigrants”.


Maria 09.23.14 at 5:14 pm

But Pete, every week I open the Evening Standard property section and there are scores of ads for new-build flats. So there is space. It’s not lack of space but, as you point out, lack of money and will that means there’s so little affordable and public housing.


Adrian 09.23.14 at 6:52 pm

As I read about this protest on my free, uncensored (if besnooped) Internet, I for one hope Maria keeps volunteering.


Philip 09.23.14 at 6:54 pm

Maria, I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said here and I can see why the housing being offered would seem to be in the arse end of nowhere to the people being forced to move it might not feel like that to the people living in Birmingham and Manchester.


Maria 09.23.14 at 9:01 pm

Philip, indeed. I’m a big fan of those cities..! But to a single mother who’s been evicted from a hostel (subsequently sold by the council turned into ‘luxury’ flats) and told the council will pay for a b&b 200 miles from everything and everyone she knows, they’re the arse end of whatever.


Ingrid Robeyns 09.27.14 at 8:56 am

This is very interesting – thanks for sharing, Maria.
To my mind, what happens in this case is just one of the many instances of the breaking-down of the welfare state – which we see in various countries across Europe (and -surprisingly- often by (local) governments that have the labour party in power or as a major party in the coalition). And I believe these women are totally right in becoming social activists. Thomas Piketty discusses how more progressive income taxation and a global wealth tax can curb rising inequalities and raise the money to sustain the ‘social state’ (=what others call welfare state), but this is unlikely to going to happen if more citizens become more politically active. And there are various ways for how to be politically active – I consider blogging also one form – and each of us has to find the way that suits their possibilities and character (not everyone is made for ‘direct action’, just as not everyone is made to write 700-page books with great political effect.)

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