B&H Housing Coalition launch

 This conference is free but numbers are limited so tickets must be booked at Eventbrite 

Agenda

0900: Registration and coffee

0945: Welcome and introductory comments

1000: Question and Answer Session (Each MP will give an introduction)

  • Lloyd Russell – Moyle MP
  • Caroline Lucas MP

1100: Introduction (5 minutes for each facilitator) to workshops/seminars: A briefing paper will be available for each workshop prior to the conference

  • Temporary & Emergency accommodation
  • Community led housing
  • Privately rented accommodation
  • Residents, including leaseholders, of council owned properties
  • Benefits and Housing

1230: Report back on each workshop/seminar

1300: Lunch

1400: Introduction to workshops/seminars on specific issues with an emphasis on the disproportionate effect of such issues on different sections of our community: A briefing paper will be available for each workshop prior to the conference

  • Health and Housing
  • Advocacy & legislation
  • Living rents, affordability, and social housing
  • Accessibility
  • Homelessness (including utilisation of empty properties)

1530: Report back on each workshop/seminar

1600: Brighton and Hove City Council: Policy & Practice

        An introduction followed by questions and discussion  – Larissa Reed, Executive Director for Neighbourhoods, Communities and Housing 

1700: Launch of the Brighton and Hove Housing Coalition & adoption of its aims and objectives

1730: Refreshments

Aims of Brighton & Hove Housing Coalition

1. To provide a city wide coordinating group on all issues relating to housing

2. To fight for, represent, and support the interests of  Council tenants and leaseholders, private renters, those involved in community led housing, and those seeking housing who are in temporary & emergency accommodation or are homeless

3. To work on the basis of:

  • Achieving truly affordable accommodation, particularly social housing, on the basic principle that housing is for people and not for profit.
  • Ending street homelessness
  • Temporary & Emergency Accommodation owned and managed by BHCC
  • Utilising empty buildings to provide shelters for those who are homeless
  • Ending the creation of “ghettos” of those with drug/dependency issues, single parent families, those in poverty, or people categorized by any form of so called social deprivation
  • Providing comprehensive and adequate access to benefits and resources in order to maintain tenancies and prevent homelessness.
  • Recognising that households be treated as homeless if they receive notice under an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (as prescribed by the “Homelessness Code of Guidance” [Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996] and by the {proposed} Homelessness Reduction Bill)

In order to achieve these aims The Coalition will:

  • Provide support for campaigning groups in membership or associated with BHHC
  • Provide up to date information on legislation, national campaigns, legal judgments, and similar material to every group involved in housing for people and not for profit
  • Establish a Working Group to examine all matters discussed by the B&HCC Housing and New Homes Committee to ensure robust analysis of B&HCC policies and their implementation
  • Co-ordinate and provide effective and free advocacy and advice for those in need with regard to housing and benefits linked with housing
  • Establish access to a pool of legal advisors to assist campaigns, groups, and individuals in the City
  • Ensure that information, knowledge, and experience is shared throughout community based organisations and initiatives in the city
  • Organise workshops, seminars, lectures, other events & initiatives on policy, legislation, advocacy & benefits advice, and campaigning

The Coalition will:

  • be independent of party political and B&HCC control or influence
  • be open to community based individuals and organisations involved in housing and housing associated issues
  • not include statutory bodies or state funded groups but such groups may be invited to participate on the basis they are welcome but must be accountable to, and not controlling of, community initiatives and demands.
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Guardianship schemes and the Synergy Centre

 

The Guardianship Scheme

Since the early 2000s Property Guardian Companies have marketed themselves as anti-squatting services. They offer landlords ‘security’ for their empty properties in exchange for a fee, and they then rent the properties to ‘guardians’ who are given a ‘licence’ (not a tenancy).  This has been marketed as a win-win; landlords can secure their buildings cheaply, guardians benefit from cheaper housing costs than in the local private sector, and empty urban spaces are put to use.

But by 2014 the proliferation of guardianship schemes in the UK had started to attract the criticism of journalists, who questioned whether these schemes were in fact part of a range of housing issues – including the gentrification of urban areas, rising rents, the increasing number of empty properties, and the erosion of tenants’ rights – rather than a solution for these problems.

In 2015 The Guardian newspaper found out that UK property guardians had become
“an underclass of renters with severely curtailed rights, who live in miserable and legally dubious conditions”

The Guardian and Vice News described typical properties run by guardian companies as bleak and overcrowded places, with scarce facilities, “rooms that were like chicken coops”, no natural light or ventilation, and residents complaining that it was “like squatting, but having to pay for it”.  The fact that the legal situation of residents has been weakened has encouraged the establishment of “a pattern of foul and shocking neglect and abuse”’ which is common to see in properties managed by Guardian Companies.

Crucially, guardianship has resulted in the substitution of tenancies with ‘guardian licences’, designed to deprive tenants of their rights. The trick is in the use of new terms: the tenancy agreement is called a ‘licence’, the tenant is now a ‘property guardian’, and rent has become a ‘fee’.

In some cases, guardians are also required to work in exchange for their accommodation, for example, in an ‘intern scheme’ run by Camelot across the UK. The Bristolian commented:
Camelot’s intern scheme… at best resembled the Victorian Workhouse… or at worst… it spells out the re-introduction of serfdom”.

Links:
The high price of cheap living: how the property guardianship dream soured
The UK’s ‘Property Guardians’ Live in a World of Constant Anxiety
Who’s guarding property guardians?
Scam-a-lot telling porkies again?
Ye Damned Chronicles of Scamalot #7 – Ye Interns & Hackney Council

Class struggle against Guardianship in Bristol

Things started changing when guardians started organising. In 2016 residents of Property Guardian Company Camelot in Bristol started to withdraw their ‘fees’ (that is, rents), demanding repairs and health and safety measures, and refusing to move out when asked to leave. The rebellion spread to a number of properties run by Camelot and Ad Hoc and has now reached London.

The struggle has led to the explosion of a scandal in Bristol, when the press was alerted about illegal and inhumane conditions in properties run by Camelot and Ad Hoc. It also led to a victory in court; on 24 February 2017 a County Court Judge ruled that rebellious guardian Greg Roynon was not a ‘licensee’ but an Assured Shorthold Tenant, with all the rights that this status implied. Also, as a result of the struggle, Bristol City Council decided to withdraw its properties from Camelot  and Ad Hoc and phase out their agreements with Guardian Companies.

Links:
Scandal of Bristol City Council’s empty nursing homes being rented out ‘illegally’
Bristol council to become first in UK to ban property guardian companies after six months of scandal around empty buildings

The role of ‘charities’ in restoring guardianship in Bristol

The rebellion of guardians in Bristol could have triggered the beginning of the end for guardianship and encouraged more councils to withdraw from similar schemes. Instead the guardianship licence has been rescued, and given a charitable facelift! In Bristol St Mungo’s Housing Association has offered to take over the council properties from Camelot and Ad Hoc and will continue to give guardianship licences to its new residents.

Challenged by journalists, a St Mungo’s manager, David Ingerslev, stated that they have created a ‘better version’ of the controversial guardianship scheme and added:

“To be honest, it doesn’t matter if [our residents] have a licence or are tenants, because we will meet all the requirements and more, as if they
were tenants anyway”.

If it doesn’t matter, why not give them proper tenancies?

Links:
Is this the answer to the housing crisis? Charity St Mungo’s is housing homeless people in empty council offices across Bristol

 The Guardianship Scheme at the Synergy Centre

The guardianship project at the Synergy Centre is organised by Space Mates and ‘coordinators of the Synergy Centre’ and inspired by St Mungo’s scheme in Bristol.

Details of the guardianship scheme at the Synergy Centre have emerged from a meeting between members of Brighton Benefits Campaign and members of the project board for this scheme. Other details are revealed by Space Mates’ website and Facebook.

To sum up:

  • Space Mates is not a homeless organisation, but a company, run by sole director Adam Palk.
  • Adam Palk and Nick Parker are at the centre of the project, called ‘Homeless Popup Property Guardians’.
  • Adam Palk and Nick Parker were Synergy Centre directors in the past, when homeless people were evicted from it with no notice. Adam Palk says that there will be ‘safeguards’ against abrupt evictions in this new project. Yet their ‘Guardianship Agreement’, sent by Adam Palk to Brighton Benefits Campaign, asks the ‘beneficiaries’ to sign the statement: ‘This is not a tenancy agreement and I will not obtain any tenancy rights’; and allows for immediate evictions.
  • The project is already advertised in town, aiming to attract up to 15 residents.
  • In this special version of guardianship, rooms like chicken coops with no natural light or ventilation (a real trend in guardianship) will shrink into… ‘pods’.
  • Actually, the ‘pods’ don’t exist yet. The first pilot ‘pod’ is currently being built. Meanwhile, residents are sleeping on sofas and mattresses in the club and in one room upstairs.
  • On 15 June 2017 we were told there was only one shower.
  • The place is dark and the ‘beneficiaries’ are told that the Synergy Centre ‘cannot afford to keep the lights on all the time’.
  • Other people, including the company’s director, have access to the place during the day as they please. The place can be hired out for events, including political meetings, during which time the residents cannot use it. When the ‘pods’ are ready, the residents will be required to dismantle them before the events and reassemble them afterwards!
  • The residents will be asked to claim Housing Benefit for this, so they must be liable to pay rent.
  • On the top of paying rent, the residents are required to work ‘in return for’ their accommodation. This work includes stewarding gigs, and cleaning and tidying up after events.
  • Brighton Benefits Campaign members were told that the residents are chosen from homeless people with ‘low or no needs’, but Space Mates’ says in their website that they are happy to accommodate residents with ongoing mental health, alcohol or drug problems. This raises questions of safety as currently there is no night supervision.
  • The Synergy Centre will have to vacate the building in October as the Council has sold it to Silver Coin, a private leisure company.

Note: Adam Palk has said that we have ‘misunderstood’ something in our report on the meeting of June 15th. Brighton Benefits Campaign is still waiting to know what. We will be happy to correct this publication if so.

While St Mungo’s claims that their guardianship scheme is a ‘better version’ of Camelot’s, the scheme at the Synergy Centre, run by Space Mates and ‘Synergy Centre organisers’, seems to be its… nightmare version!

At least Camelot’s guardians could use their building as their home…
At least squatters control who goes in and out of their home and don’t have to pay, or work, for it…
At least night shelters have professional supervision overnight (and sometimes even a canteen for breakfast)…
At least workhouse residents were not expected to assemble and dismantle their own pods!

The scheme at the Synergy Centre is a combination of all those ‘housing solutions for the poor’, with the worse aspects of each! Yet those who run such a scheme plainly feel, like their Victorian counterparts, that ‘the poor’ have no choice, and should be grateful for this.

Also, the scheme appears unpractical. Up to 15 people will be crammed in the place, with no time to build 15 ‘pods’ or additional showers before October, when the Synergy Centre is evicted from the building.

This raises even more delicate questions, such as;  is the scheme really serious, and  what are its real aims?

 The ideology behind Guardianship

It is unacceptable that campaigners for tenants’ right have ended up encouraging the use of the Guardianship scheme, a scheme that is threatening to become the norm, and which has already created an underclass of renters with severely curtailed rights, who live in miserable and legally dubious conditions.

It is dangerous that housing campaigners and charities have accepted uncritically the ideology that the poor should be ‘grateful’ for substandard accommodation because they have no choice but the street. If this ideology is normalised, all landlords will adopt it, and most of us will end up living in slums if not actively homeless.

It is also unacceptable that housing campaigners and charities dismiss the past issue of workfare (unpaid work for one’s benefits) and the ongoing issue of modern day slavery (unpaid work for substandard accommodation) at the Synergy Centre – and refuse to criticise the underlying right wing ideology.

As Brighton Benefits Campaign has discovered, both the Synergy Centre and Space Mates consistently conceptualise the unemployed and homeless people as idle poor, and suggest that these people need to be stimulated into being ‘productive’ and ‘industrious’ and to engage in ‘meaningful’ activity:

“By volunteering and getting involved in the running of the Centre, guardians will benefit by adding value to their lives and providing themselves with meaningful occupation of their time and being members of a supportive and industrious team”

“In particular, Synergy will seek to develop ways of tackling the unemployment trap and poverty trap… particularly how to develop or maintain
the necessary motivation and work ethic required to remain an active and productive member of society, even when access to paid employment may
be limited by the economic circumstances.”

Links:
Homeless Popup Property Guardians
The Synergy Centre mission statement
Synergy Centre ‘Big Clear Out’

 Productive… for whom?

We can understand why councils might embrace any scheme which gets homeless people off the streets and out of sight.  Brighton and Hove City Council have made it clear where it stands with its pledge to clear the streets, police harrassing rough sleepers and the introduction of PSPOs to criminalise the homeless.

But  real campaigners for rights should be asking the crucial question:  Who gains from guardianship and who loses?

Space Mates’ guardianship licence application form makes it quite clear.  Guardians will be expected to pay rent (license fee) for a ‘pod’ in a shared space, without enjoying tenants’ rights. They will be expected to work without pay for the privilege.

Far from being a charitable exercise, such guardianship schemes provide cheap security for owners of empty properties, and often considerable profit for those operating them. These schemes attack housing and employment rights, and represent a further assault on squatting.  We have to oppose them.

Guardianship and the Synergy Centre – download full report

Posted in Articles & Information, Housing rights | 2 Comments

Brighton Benefits Campaign meetings

Day of Action Against Sanctions 2017

Following a productive organising meeting last night, Brighton Benefits Campaign will be holding regular meetings again to plan actions including the relaunch of the Enough is Enough campaign against all benefit cuts.

The next meeting is on Thursday 27th April at CASE Central, 4 Crestway Parade Hollingdean BN1 7BL, starting at 7pm.

Contact us on brightonbenefitscampaign@riseup.net if you want more information.

 

 

Posted in Meetings | 2 Comments

One Day Without Us – stand with migrants!

odwu-poster

Since the June referendum, both EU nationals and non-European migrants living in the UK have come under enormous pressure. Inflamed by anti-migrant hostility from the media and politicians, racism and prejudice are being openly expressed, accompanied by a steep rise in hate crimes – including murder.  Benefit claimants – the unemployed, disabled people, lone parents and the low paid – have now been joined by migrants as scapegoats blamed for all our ills, rather than the corporate greed, grasping landlords, feckless bankers, media tycoons, tax dodgers and all those profiteers who are driving the gulf between rich and poor ever wider and destroying our society.

Our government of millionaires and landlords now plan to use Brexit to launch a further assault on the rest of us. Human rights and environmental protections can be cast aside, as once again profit is put before people. Three million EU citizens who have made their homes in the UK face losing their rights. One million are threatened with deportation.

We cannot just stand by and allow this to happen. On the UN World Day of Justice we are inviting migrants from across the world to take part in a nationwide Day of Action to show how important migration is for our society and to defend the principle of free  movement.  This is also a great opportunity to convince more MPs to join the opposition to a headlong rush into Brexit disaster.

We invite British-born citizens to stand alongside the men, women and children who are our doctors, nurses, carers, students, teachers, farm workers, scientists, shopkeepers, restaurant staff, taxi drivers, writers, workmates, classmates, friends, neighbours, family and partners. Whatever your nationality and place of origin join us and make February 20th a day of protest, solidarity and celebration.

For 24 hours, take time out from your normal activities. Close your business, leave your classes, march or have a party, hold a meeting or a rally. Take the day off work if you can. Wear badges and armbands, put up posters or give out leaflets, make placards. Hold mini demos at lunch or tea-time, have a five-minute silence, stand outside your place of work for ten minutes or an hour or more. It’s time to stand up and be counted. Let people know who you are and what you do.

Britain was created by migration. Whether you are an immigrant or not, whether your family arrived 4, 40, 400 or 4000 years ago, join us in celebrating and defending our multi-cultural society, our  migrant colleagues, neighbours, friends and fellow citizens, and the  human right to free movement.

Posted in Action, Events, Migrant rights, Solidarity | Leave a comment

Public meeting: Migration Ethnicity & the aftermath of the referendum

migration-ethnicity-the-aftermath-of-the-referendum-poster

We live in a society created by migration, a land populated by people from many places who arrived over millennia, individuals and communities who came to find a new life, to work or to trade, to flee war and oppression, brought here as servants or as slaves. The flow has never been one way and emigration, whether voluntary or enforced, increased with colonialism. Yet until the turn of the 20th century there were virtually no restrictions on migration or free movement, despite constant wars and conflict, and large numbers of migrant workers, traders and communities from all over the world settled in London and other cities.

This changed with the 1905 Aliens Act (primarily intended to keep out Jews from Eastern Europe fleeing persecution). Restrictions have proliferated ever since,   usually as a reaction to popular fears driven by media scare-mongering, as well as incitement from the political right, and all of it more or less racist. More anti-immigrant legislation has been enacted in the last decade than ever before.  Now with the Brexit vote we are faced with a potential lockdown on free movement of any kind, alongside a rise in hate crime and racial abuse directed not only against EU citizens but anyone who might be seen as ‘foreign’.

Why has this happened?  There is evidence that a rise in rampant nationalism is directly related to social decay, as people become frustrated and angry at being  unable to access a decent life. Over the past decade the rights of ordinary people – employment, housing, healthcare, education, justice, social security – have been increasingly denied with the introduction of ‘austerity’ and the giving of trillions in public money to bail out banks.

Yet we see the blame falling not on feckless bankers but on migrants, benefit  claimants, disabled people and the poor. Nationalism is a useful tool to divide and rule, to misdirect attention from those actually responsible – the millionaires and capitalists who put private greed before public need, who pay low wages and exact high rents, who run the media as well as the government. Is it any surprise that they encourage the rest of us to blame each other?

At the same time, the Brexit vote has highlighted endemic deep-rooted prejudice within our society, and not only in working class communities faced with social meltdown. Racism is institutionalised, fostered by ignorance and narrow education, maintained by a culture of blame and lowest-common-denominator national pride, and inflamed by the media and the right.

How do we stop this? By mass education, by challenging prejudice and lies, by countering abuse and hate-crime at every opportunity, by organising to defend communities and individuals under attack, and most of all by the development of solidarity. Solidarity with workers wherever they come from and with all those  struggling for their rights. We may feel helpless as individuals, like a tiny cog in a vast machine, but brought together we can create change. In the final analysis we all have a common interest, and a common humanity.

Join us in finding out the facts, hearing the experiences of migrants and others, and working together on strategies for the future.

Facebook event https://www.facebook.com/events/101479910299882/

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