On Tuesday, Coventry Socialist Party held a public meeting over zoom on the issue of housing. This was in commemoration to the 9th anniversary of the passing of Rob Windsor, a former socialist councillor in the city who amongst many other hard-fought campaigns also campaigned against the privatisation of Coventry’s council housing which has proved to be such a disaster for the city.
We were joined by Suzanne Muna, formerly the secretary of a Unite housing workers branch (and still on the committee), communications officer for SHAC (a network of tenants, residents, and workers in housing associations and cooperatives) and formerly a member of Unite the unions executive also.
She described how the privatisation of former council homes, as well as the role of housing associations in the lack of comfortable, genuinely affordable accommodation in the city. She also raised the issue of homelessness – pointing to the massive amounts of empty homes across the UK which go empty whilst accruing value for landlords who let them go empty.
The best way to solve these issues of empty houses and a lack of affordable accommodation is for affordable council housing to be made on a mass scale again.
With the relaunch of TUSC (Trade Union Socialist Coalition) the Socialist Party will work with trade unionists and community activists, such as those in tenants’ associations, to put housing at the forefront of our programme in the May elections. After the second world war housing was built on a mass scale to the needs of the community, and in Liverpool in the 1980s the Militant-led Labour city council built housing in a similar fashion. Not only were houses built, but community centres and halls to ensure communities could grow around new housing developments.
The discussion following from Suzanne’s talk was also important. With attendees talking about personal experiences of low quality and unaffordable housing. New developments in Coventry south were also discussed— where 1300 homes will be made – as attendees criticised the lack of affordable housing which will be mad available in the development.
Coventry Socialist Party will soon be posting an article on homelessness following this meeting, and will take the issues forward into the May elections through TUSC.
Anti-bedroom tax campaigners prevent a tenant from being evicted
Figures released by the Ministry of Justice have shown a record number of tenants were evicted in Coventry last year. 288 homes were repossessed in the city, a 14% rise from 2014 – and the Citizens Advice Bureau has reported a 100% rise in enquiries about homelessness.
Sophie Parks, communications and marketing manager for Coventry CAB, was quoted in the Coventry Telegraph saying “The cost of living and low wages are factors but undoubtedly it is welfare reforms that are the predominant cause [of the rise in evictions].”
The MOJ figures only cover private tenancies, but last year Coventry Against the Bedroom Tax campaigners prevented two evictions from social housing properties which were caused by the bedroom tax and other benefit cuts. Sadly more evictions are to be expected with benefit cuts continuing to bite.
Coventry Against the Bedroom Tax campaigners went into action at very short notice a few days ago. For the second time in a few months we stopped an eviction planned by Whitefriars housing association. CABT chair John Boadle wrote this report.
Holbrooks resident Steve G was in such a low state from illness and benefit cuts that he had been unable to deal with it and only phoned me the afternoon before bailiffs were due at 10.30am to throw him onto the street.
We set to work as a team. I phoned Whitefriars to tell them we wouldn’t allow an eviction – and remind them of the embarrassing blaze of publicity we caused them last time! They wouldn’t back off but offered last-second negotiations in the morning.
While some Socialist Party members contacted people asking them to come out in the morning, I went round to get the full details. It turned out to be other benefit cuts that had driven Steve into rent arrears, not the bedroom tax. This gave some cause for thought, but so what? We couldn’t just walk away.
In the morning Steve, Dave Nellist and myself met Whitefriars managers. Dave calmly explained that with proper benefits advice there were a number of ways the position could be sorted out. Mindful of the blockade assembling outside Steve’s house at that very moment, the managers backed down and went with us to the County Court to seek suspension of the eviction order.
While this was happening I drove up to Steve’s house and spoke to the protesters. Twelve people had made it, which at zero notice on a working day wasn’t bad, and they had already knocked on neighbours’ doors to tell them what was happening. I explained that we had won, but only because they had made the effort to get there.
Two of us waited with Steve’s family for him to get back. An appointment to get expert benefits advice had already been made and it was great to see the looks on people’s faces changed from despair to hope. There are people out there who will help, if you ask the right ones. They had asked Geoffrey Robinson MP to help, but their call was only returned by an assistant that afternoon; he would have been talking to homeless people if it wasn’t for us!
We’d like to thank everyone who took part. We’ve now prevented two evictions at the eleventh hour, and we’ve helped a few more people before it got to that stage. With Tory benefit cuts biting, the situation will be looking even bleaker for ordinary working class families – that’s why we need a fightback against austerity now more than ever!
“Most people know the Bedroom Tax is a bad thing, and all parties except the Tories are committed to repealing it. But unlike the rest the Socialist Party has always made it clear we would do whatever it takes to defend people suffering its effects. Two years ago we set up Coventry Against The Bedroom Tax. We held public meetings with 200 in attendance, lobbied, protested and publicised, gave advice to many, went to tribunals and court hearings. We helped people get thousands of pounds via appeals and Discretionary Payments. We expected eviction attempts would be reached a year or more back, but Housing Associations like Whitefriars have been slow to take that step, not wanting to look like the villains of the piece.
Suddently this changed when Charterhouse resident Archie Millar phoned last week to say he was to be evicted at 10.00 on Monday. Archie has lived on St Margaret Road since 1976, becoming the tenant when his mother passed away nine years ago. He used to work for Parcelforce but is now unemployed, getting £72 JSA plus his rent via Housing Benefit. The Bedroom Tax means a £25 shortfall in that, which he’s expected to meet out of his JSA leaving him with just £47 a week to pay his bills and live on. Clearly that’s impossible and despite making some payments Archie’s £1700 in arrears. He tried everything to come to terms with Whitefriars. They wouldn’t let him move to a smaller place because he’s in arrears (talk about Catch-22!) and blocked him taking in a lodger even though that was endorsed at a court hearing. Eviction would leave Archie homeless. He tried Welfare Rights advice but all they could offer was the phone number for the Salvation Army and the RSPCA for his dog.
We couldn’t let that happen. Our resources are fully committed to the TUSC election campaign, but we got to work on helping Archie. Dave Nellist approached Whitefriars with a detailed proposal but to no avail, and we organised a protest and media coverage over the course of a weekend. We contacted scores of Party members and other volunteers and about 30 people assembled outside Archie’s house in time to confront the Whitefriars representative, bailiffs, locksmith, and eventually two vanloads of police who took position scattered along the other side of the road.
The protesters included trade unionists, students and local residents. Some neighbours turned out because they knew Archie, others just because they know what’s right. Archie commented ‘I never knew there were so many good people around’. We packed into the front garden and on the pavement, Archie was in his house with the door firmly locked and a burly trade unionist outside! The protest was deliberately kept peaceful and disciplined to avoid the police intervening. But the atmosphere was determined and excited, with placards, the TUSC banner, laughter and chatter. The media turned up and were very helpful, filming, photographing and interviewing throughout.
Sarah Smith, a Coventry Against the Bedroom Tax organiser and TUSC candidate in Woodlands, pointed out that CABT called for Whitefriars and other social landlords to implement a non-eviction policy for bedroom tax arrears two years ago! She said “Labour claim they’re against the bedroom tax – if that’s the case, why haven’t the three Coventry Labour councillors on the board of Whitefriars stood up and opposed Archie’s eviction, and any others?”
Three TUSC candidates (Sarah Smith, Nicky Downes and Lee Cooper) join the protest
The forces on the other side of the road were obviously a lot less cheerful, realising they were not going to get Archie out without a struggle and the world’s worst publicity. The stand-off continued for an hour. During that time Dave Nellist negotiated with Whitefriars, whose bosses were clearly finding themselves in an unfamiliar and awkward position, under the glare of the media spotlight, anxious to find a way out without appearing to back down too much. Finally they called the eviction off and the bailiffs’ van sped away past the protestors, to a chorus of cheers and jeers. We got Archie out, thanked everyone and ended the successful protest, proud of showing what solidarity and people power can do.
What next? Well Whitefriars are suspending their action until June now, while a long-term solution is found. This should have happened before, but Archie would have been out on the street without our action. We expect something acceptable will be found, negotiating with Whitefriars and the Council, especially in the context of the Bedroom Tax’s forthcoming abolition. But if not, we’ll be back. Media coverage since Monday has been very complete, with reports from the Coventry Telegraph, Coventry Observer, BBC Coventry and Warwick radio, Free Radio and BBC Midlands Today. The latter posted a video of the protest on Facebook which has had almost 300,000 views! They commented that this shows the action caught people’s interest and they are keen to do a follow-up to tell viewers the final outcome.
Personally I am proud of how Coventry Socialist Party responded to this sudden threat. It shows how committed and organised we are, even at short notice and when our attention was focussed in another direction. I think the successful outcome came from us being able to organise lively direct action, effective media relations, knowledge of the issue, negotiating skills and an established reputation in the local area. We use those strengths battling away all the time but it’s great when you do win! No-one who participated will forget this for a long time.”
“No room for unfair housing!” – Coventry Socialist Students protest against dodgy landlords
No room for unfair housing
Coventry Socialist Students have been campaigning on the issue of sub-standard housing for months, so when we heard about a University-organised “housing fair” on Monday 21st, at which several landlords, letting agencies and student halls companies were advertising their services, we felt we had to protest!
A group of us hung a banner from the balcony of the University Hub which read “No room for unfair housing” and chanted slogans including “Dodgy landlords hear us say, rip off rents? No way!”
Kris O’Sullivan, President of Coventry Socialist Students and a candidate for SU Community Rep, spoke at the protest; “In Coventry, and up and down the country, the university experience is being ruined by dodgy landlords who are charging extortionate amounts of rent for often sub-standard accommodation, and regularly ignore the tenant rights of the student occupants.”
Coventry University has a 28,000 strong student population at any given time; however, there is only a limited amount of purpose-built accommodation for students, meaning the majority have to rent through private landlords.
The University’s security quickly came to get rid of us, but we weren’t going to leave until the landlords got the message!
Security tried to grab our banner
We want the university to work with Coventry Council to create an accreditation scheme to register all private landlords, in accordance with SU policy. This in particular will benefit local residents as well as students, we should be united in fighting dodgy landlords. We also want to establish a democratic, student-run letting agency to provide students with an alternative to the existing providers. We also need thousands of new council homes to be built – thousands of Coventry people are on the waiting list, they deserve a decent place to live with affordable rents!
If you’re a student and you want to fight dodgy landlords, for decent housing and for socialism, join Socialist Students!
Four Coventry Families Threatened With Eviction Every Day
Recent figures released by the Ministry of Justice show that in the past 12 months 1,392 families in Coventry were threatened with eviction – more than four every day. This shocking statistic is part of a growing problem in Coventry and across the country, as more and more of us struggle to make ends meet because of cuts and rising living costs.
Many of these families are in rent arrears because of the “bedroom tax”, and as a result are being threatened with eviction. One of the housing associations threatening to evict tenants is Whitefriars, which has 3 Labour councillors on its board – they should be fighting the bedroom tax, not threatening those affected by it!
Coventry’s Labour Council lets landlords exploit tenants with few restrictions, and has taken no action over the growing number of eviction threats being made and the increasing problem of “landlordism” across the city. However, this is perhaps unsurprising as, according to the Coventry Telegraph, 8 Labour councillors are landlords themselves!
Anti-bedroom tax campaigners marching against evictions
Coventry Council should be fighting cuts, not implementing them – and building decent homes for people to live in. There should be compulsory registration of landlords and a cap on rents. Now someone putting that forward would be worth voting for!
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