Why we need to ‘keep squatting legal’, and why ‘guardianship’ is no solution

Over at Ecologist Laura Laker looks at some of the issues around the current housing crisis and how squatting – in this context – poses more solutions than it does problems.

“The UK faces a housing crisis, with a growing population and spiralling rental costs made worse by the recent financial crisis. However, where many find it increasingly difficult to buy or even rent, a large number of homes in the UK remain vacant. A Halifax survey published in December 2010 estimated there were 296,000 homes in the UK left empty for more than six months; some estimate as many as one million homes could be created from empty buildings.

With rents in London now averaging £1000 per month it is unsurprising that many cannot afford decent housing. Homeless charity Crisis estimates up to 10,000 people in the UK live in squats, with up to 290,000 living in overcrowded or unsatisfactory conditions. The Empty Homes Agency estimates there are 1.7 million families on housing waiting lists.

Not surprisingly, some see squatting as the only option. However, recent media horror stories have left the public in fear of squatters and the government is now debating strengthening anti-squatting laws, which could criminalise occupation of even long-term vacant properties.”

Hackney Council plans to evict squatters and replace them with 'property guardians', in order to then sell off the real estate for development. http://hackneycitizen.co.uk/2011/10/07/hackney-council-to-evict-dalston-squatters/

After looking at why Squash opposes government proposals to criminalise squatting and how any new legislation will only serve to victimise the most vulnerable in society, the article goes on to identify ‘Dot Dot Dot’ and other property guardianship schemes as a ‘bottom up solution.’ This is something many of us working with squash take issue with. Against a backdrop of massive waiting lists for social housing, rising rents, empty properties, and also the proposals for the criminalisation of squatting, various groups are keen to present these ‘guardianship’ schemes as the solution we’ve all been waiting for. Potentially even as some sort of viable alternative to social housing. However, we would like to emphasise that this would be a very destructive direction to take in regards to housing. The big catch is that the ‘guardians’, who do still pay rent to companies like Dot Dot Dot, Camelot, and Ad-Hoc, have no legal rights as tenants and can be evicted with virtually no notice. Furthermore prospective ‘guardians’ are thoroughly vetted and then have to comply  with a series of petty regulations that the company decides, failure to do so can also mean eviction. The danger in viewing these schemes as a solution to the current housing crisis is that we are then party to a system whereby you can either afford to have tenants rights, or you cant. This is not the direction we want to be moving in; everyone deserves the right to a secure home and such devolution of tenants’ rights would only worsen housing inequality and further exploit those who can’t afford to protect themselves.

Read the full article here