Adding up the cost of privatisation…

Lewisham profit before people leaflet, Housing Crisis in Lewisham

The leaflet LPBP produced to explain their action...

A SQUASH campaigner gives his view on today’s Lewisham People Before Profit action – and offers Lewisham council and the government a maths lesson…

What kind of madness is this? Why doesn’t this equation add up?

On one hand there are thousands of people in need of somewhere stable to live, in the middle is Lewisham council, and on the other hand the many potential homes they own that have been left empty for years. Why does one plus one equal nothing?

Today an auction was scheduled,at a five star hotel in Kensington, in which dozens of houses were to be passed from public to private ownership.

Lewisham council claim it would cost too much to refurbish these houses; they’re taking the easy way out and selling them off cheaply to the private sector. Many are bought by speculators who are happy to hold onto the properties long-term, waiting for house prices to rise – a blatant case of profit before people.

So the 16,500 people on Lewisham council’s waiting list remain in hostels, bed and breakfasts and other temporary accommodation – meaning another equation that doesn’t add up is the councils financial argument for the sales. Even if the estimated price tag of ¬£40,000 to bring each house into a liveable state was accurate (and many could be made into lovely homes for far less), this one off cost to refurbish is matched by what the council spends to house one family in bed and breakfasts for one year. There are currently around 50 families in bed & breakfast accommodation in Lewisham, a further 350 in hostels and around 1000 families are in temporary accommodation here – all paid for by the tax-payer.

If the money the council spends on private companies to secure empty homes, the cost to repair the extra damage done to the buildings by years of neglect, and the social costs of people living in unsettled and precarious situations are added to the accounting, we can see in sharp relief the lunacy of the council’s housing policy .

Fortunately, since Lewisham council are no longer working for the people of Lewisham, the people of Lewisham are working for themselves. Over the weekend, five houses were squatted by an alliance of People Before Profit and the squatting community of South London. At an auction in Kensington¬†today, in light of the occupations, all five houses were withdrawn from the sale, keeping several desperately needed homes in public possession and resisting the onslaught of profit-for-the few privatisation. A small but significant victory for common sense and the common good, which could resonate across the terrain of the U.K’s housing crisis.

Perhaps the council can’t see that squatters are uniquely positioned to be the missing link in the equation they can’t solve. Fixing up houses is second nature to long-term squatters, and many are used to living in conditions that would be unsuitable for families. The blight of long term empty homes can be a thing of the past if people that are prepared to refurbish homes for themselves are allowed to move in and get on with it. What makes the council blind to such a common sense solution?

If the government has their way this pro-active, hands-on approach to putting life back into empty homes will very soon become a crime. Maybe they can’t add up either…