Facing high rents, poor standards and no security, most renters have it pretty bad. But we’re well aware that we’re not unique in having major issues with our housing. We know that the root of the housing problems faced by the majority of people is the same: a system that puts profits (and the interests of those who make them) ahead of people’s basic need and human right to decent housing.
So when an email from Chuka Umunna, MP for part of Lambeth, dropped into our inbox inviting us to meet him tomorrow, we felt that we had no choice but to challenge him on his regressive stance on a related housing issue: squatting. We sent the following response:
Thanks for your invitation to meet with you this Friday to discuss the issues facing private tenants in our area. As just a few of the roughly 25,000 renters in your constituency, we’d love to share with you first-hand our experiences of increasingly unaffordable rents, chronic insecurity of tenure, atrocious housing conditions and the generalised exploitation by landlords, letting agencies and others (such as gas and electricity suppliers).
But your recent statement in favour of the further criminalisation of squatting suggests that you’re not on our side, or on the side of the majority of people who are struggling for secure, decent and affordable housing. With a massive shortage of social housing, no chance of buying a house, soaring private sector rents and now the criminalisation of rough sleeping, squatting is not such an unthinkable thing to do but fast becoming the last housing option for an increasing number of people.
We’d expect the Tories to side with wealthy property owners who can afford to leave their properties empty while thousands of people are homeless. But from a party that’s meant to champion social justice and decency, we expect a commitment to action that tackles the root causes of homelessness, not further criminalisation of a group that includes very vulnerable people. We need real change, like a massive council house-building programme and controls on private sector rents. It’s criminal to outlaw squatting when there are so many people without decent, affordable housing, and so many empty buildings.
We’d love to hear that you’ve reconsidered your previous remarks on this, and if that’s the case, we’d be happy to meet with you to discuss the problems with the current housing system, and ways they could be addressed by those with a commitment to social justice. Otherwise, we feel our time is probably better spent on other things.
Unfortunately, although we received a reply, there was no indication that he has changed his position, so we won’t be going to tomorrow’s meeting.