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Hands off the Butterfields estate!
Resist evictions and gentrification - homes for people, not for profit
Sarah Wrack, Waltham Forest Socialist Party
"Everyone talks about community but this is a real community and they're breaking it up!" That's what Joyce, one of the residents on the Butterfields estate in Walthamstow told me after a street meeting on 13 February which the Socialist Party helped tenants organise.
The Butterfields was owned by Glasspool - a charitable trust which charged relatively low rents compared to the rocketing local market rate. But without a word to the tenants, Glasspool sold the properties to private developers.
At least 15 households have now received eviction notices saying they must be out of their homes within two months and six properties have already been up for sale at auction. The company that now owns 63 of the properties, Butterfields E17 Ltd, is openly saying that more evictions will follow with further rounds of sales.
Glasspool claims there was a promise that nobody would be evicted. Tenants want to see the contract that was agreed and are considering lobbies of Glasspool and the new landlords.
They will also join the Socialist Party lobbying the budget setting meeting of Waltham Forest council on 3 March. We have raised the idea that the council could step in and compulsory purchase the properties, making them council homes on council rents with secure tenancies for all current tenants.
As a very last resort, the tenants should at least be offered immediate council housing elsewhere in the borough.
Joyce told me that a tiny patch of land next to her house and the space currently occupied by two garages behind it have just been granted planning permission for new houses to be built.
This is the pattern across Waltham Forest. The council is selling off public land to private developers to build shoebox sized buy-to-let flats to satisfy the ballooning private rental sector in one of the most rapidly gentrifying areas of London.
The Butterfields homes have been there since the 1930s. As Anna said at the street meeting: "This is a nice street, it's quiet and the houses are nice. They're not perfect - we all know of the problems with [at this point everyone joined in to complete the sentence] mould. But we're used to dealing with that and the prices are reasonable."
Local Labour MP Stella Creasy has highlighted the situation in the national Guardian and has written to all the tenants expressing her outrage at Glasspool's behaviour. But her proposed solution is that evicted tenants should be given a lump sum as compensation.
This might help with immediate costs of moving but it won't make up for the lifetime of inflated rents compared to what they pay now. And it won't compensate the whole community for losing yet more 'affordable' housing in favour of rip-off buy-to-let landlords.
Most of the Butterfields residents are low paid, some need benefits to help them pay even the rents they have now. Mr and Mrs Rashit invited us in for a Turkish coffee after the meeting. Dogan is retired and receives a small pension. Sukran works as a cleaner in a school two hours a day. She receives housing benefit and already has to top up £130 a month from her minimal wage to make the rent.
They're already on the waiting list for council housing. But they don't want to move away from their friends, Sukran's job, and Whipps Cross hospital where Dogan gets medical treatment regularly. Their daughter lives ten minutes away.
Joyce explained to the meeting that she has an assured tenancy and can't be touched for now. But she wants to be involved in the campaign to defend her neighbours. "I've got friends here. My neighbour over the road died recently and I'd been looking after her. It's that kind of street."
The street meeting agreed to call another meeting a couple of days later which everyone took away leaflets for and promised to spread the word.
The second meeting started with reports from residents who had been investigating Butterfields E17 Ltd.
Marc-Anthony had been to visit the registered address of the company but there was no sign of it. Nicole had looked into the two registered officers of the company, who have had a number of short-lived small businesses before.
The meeting agreed to launch a public campaign and organise a public meeting appealing for support from other housing campaigners, trade unionists and the whole community.
There's a battle ahead at the Butterfields but it's clear that the residents are overwhelmingly up for a fight. They know the alternative is ending up in a private rental market that's gone mad and probably being forced out of the borough, if not out of London.
Linda Taaffe spoke at the meeting from the Socialist Party and explained the importance of getting organised and keeping track of who lives where and when evictions are threatened so that we can mobilise to resist. At the second meeting Anna and Sylvia took responsibility for going door-to-door to make a start on this.
Marc-Anthony summed up the mood on the estate saying: "We know we might not win, but we've got to try to do something."
■ Public meeting: 7pm, 24 February, Shernhall Street Methodist Church, E17
■ National housing demo: 12pm, 13 March, Lincoln's Inn Field, WC2A 3TL
The above version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 16 February 2016 and may vary from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.
Additional report posted on 18.2.16:
Picket of Savills' auction
Yesterday a small group of Butterfields' tenants and supporters scored a big victory.
Six out of around 60 properties from their estate were listed on the Savills auction list at the swanky Marriott hotel in Grosvenor Square, London. Hundreds of buyers streaming in were handed appeals by pickets not to bid for Lots 28, 29, 60, 61, 93 and 129.
Calls were made not to buy properties where people lived. Some potential buyers wanted no trouble and promised to avoid buying properties with people in them.
However, Savills had no such sympathies and threw campaigners out who tried to go into the auction to see for themselves the gory process of selling people's homes.
Some had no moral barometer. Two properties were sold for £300k each. But then two were withdrawn and at the end of the day two remained unsold. In effect the campaigners won 4-2!
Tenants and all supporters are invited to come along to the next Butterfields Campaign to Stay meeting on Wednesday February 24th at 7pm at Shern Hall Methodist Church, Shernhall Street, London E17, where a proposal will be put to return to the Marriott with a mass picket, should there be any Butterfields dwellings listed as lot numbers at the next auction on 2nd March.
For more information contact 0795 2283 5588