The event was kicked off by two experienced and fiercely committed activists: Heather Kennedy, founder of Digs, and Lisa MacKenzie, rebel ethnographer and LSE researcher. Both activists shared a frustration that housing policy seemed to reflect the needs of investors and markets, rather than acknowledging that houses are supposed to be homes first and foremost.
For Kennedy, who started Digs in response to the injustices in private renting she and her friends experienced, similar realisations came through attempting to take the orthodox routes. Meeting after meeting with policy makers, MPs and housing officials proved time and time again that the market was being placed above the needs of the people it was supposed to provide for. Any proposed rent stablisations or increases in renters’ rights, which are the norm in cities from New York to Berlin, were seen as potentially “spooking the horses” – the horses being the landlords, whose returns were championed above all else. Kennedy concluded that the market was simply never going to deliver for renters and change needed to come from renters making their demands clear. You can read more about Kennedy’s thoughts on private renting and the development of Digs Hackney Renters in her Guardian interview.
The group then focused on the problems they had found in private renting and the housing market, and frustrations, numerous and deep felt, were aired. Letting agents fees, incentives to evict, lack of transparency. Fear of landlords and overall lack of rights for rents that prevented reporting repairs. Supply and demand problems with unequal distribution. The financialisation of the housing market, in which national and local government were complicit. Rising rents, deposit debt, benefit sanctions, cuts to legal aid, discrimination. The list went on and on. A feeling of anger and hopelessness descended with all of the problems out in the open. There was a seeming inevitability of families being forced out of their neighbourhoods, and London altogether, of communities slowly being replaced by more mobile and fiscally equipped incomers, of there being no recourse to landlords’ whims to double or triple rents, to ignore all health hazards, or to evict at will for the slightest of disagreements.
But from despair came resolve as the event turned towards finding solutions that would work for renters, families and communities first and foremost. With much animated and loud discussion of how problems intersect and which need to be solved before others can be tackled, the group came to the top three demands of:
- Increase tenants’ rights to resolve the imbalance of power between landlords and tenants, starting with the repeal of Section 21 (no fault evictions).
- Rent control now – not just caps on increases, but real control with decreases across London.
- Compulsory purchases of homes that have long stood empty , which will increase sales, renting stock or council housing.
- End to all discrimination; social, economic, racial, class, sexuality, gender, disability, that is enforced across the board, including the end of DSS restrictions.
- Abolish for-profit letting agents.
- Scrap Buy to Let.
- Scrap Right to Buy.
- Establish homes as for people, not for profit.
- Have no development that is not community led and approved.
- Implement indefinite tenancies.
- Have no evictions through developments – all tenants to be rehoused back in the community they were during and post development.
These demands will be brought to our newly elected MPs, and will constantly feed into our representation with Hackney Council. But above all they are a starting point, malleable and changeable, to enter the second phase of private renters activism for Digs and our allies. They will bring together renters and communities around a common cause to fight for the right to a safe and affordable home that has been so easily ignored by policy makers. They will start a discussion that will engage renters in standing up for all their shared and individual needs.
We have consulted and responded.
We have proposed and answered.
Now we make our demands. Now our representatives will accept and voice our demands. Now the needs of renters, families and communities will be put before those of the market and the investors.
Please join us as we support and empower one another to make a better deal for private renters in Hackney a reality for all.