Rushcroft Rd squatters ordered to leave

Written by on May 28, 2012 in Community, Council, Features, News - 13 Comments

Squatters living in Rushcroft Road, Brixton, are living in fear of imminent eviction after being ordered to leave by Lambeth council.

The letters were delivered by hand on May 14 stating that “the council will be taking steps to recover possession of the property.”

Residents were informed that council officers would visit the properties in the week starting May 21 “to find out details of the household”.

These residents had already received a renewal of a possession order earlier in the year and, if they fail to vacate the properties, the council will now send in High Court Enforcement Officers with eviction warrants.

The letter received by some tenants on May 14

 

Possession order renewal, February 2012

Pete Hambly, a former resident of Clifton Mansions and now squatting in Rushcroft Road, said: “Obviously getting the letter was a shock. They have to give you a letter asking you to quit. They haven’t sent anything of the sort yet.”

Another resident, who did not wish to be named, said: “I don’t have anywhere else to go. The council can give us options – they will offer to give us replacement housing. If I’m allowed, I’m happy to take replacement housing. I haven’t been offered it in the past.”

There are rumours among the Rushcroft community that the intent is to take the flats back in November, after the Olympics, but Lambeth Council did not confirm or deny this.

Hambly told the Brixton Blog:  “If there was a little bit of communication here it would be a lot easier on both sides. This is not Clifton Mansions again, it’s a completely different community. We’re speaking about families now. The woman across from me has two kids, both under two, and they wanted them to leave yesterday? I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

The council has informed residents it will set up a surgery for anyone who needs advice about their housing options.

The squatters have put the following poster on their front doors:

 

The key question is when the evictions will take place and what the council intends to do with the properties once they are vacant.

Other blocks evicted previously, such as Rosslyn House, have been sold to private developers, rather than remaining council assets for social housing use.

Councillor Pete Robbins, cabinet member for neighbourhood services, said:  “Bringing these Rushcroft Road properties back into use means we’re fulfilling our promise to retain social housing in the centre of Brixton – but these properties should be for the benefit of those who are in genuine need of housing, not for squatters.

“The squatters at Rushcroft Road have absolutely no right to be there and I am determined to take a zero tolerance approach. We plan tough action and are in the process of applying for bailiff warrants. The squatters will be notified that proceedings are imminent, but rather than force us to spend taxpayers money on legal proceedings it would be better if they just left now.”

Research data collected by Shelter shows that the number of households on the council housing waiting list in Lambeth rose in the last five years from 13,611 in 2006/7 to 23,894 in 2010/1. The number of households on the waiting list in neighbouring boroughs Southwark and Wandsworth stands at 12,570 and 5,299 respectively. Over the same period in Lambeth, the number of new affordable homes acquired went from 370 in a year to 1,010, clearly not keeping up with the rise in demand.

The nineteenth-century flats on Rushcroft Road have been owned by Lambeth Council since the 1970s, when they were compulsorily bought for demolition to build a new motorway and high-rise council housing in Brixton. These plans fell through and Rushcroft Road remained.

Many of the flats were sold, but some remained council-owned and were given over to short life tenancies, essentially temporary housing agreements. These tenants were later moved out by the council, the flats left empty and finally occupied by squatters.

Hambly, a music technician, described his reasons for squatting: “It’s really not about freeloading, it’s about opportunity. I didn’t want to earn £6 an hour on a building site my entire life, trying to make something of it. Not having to pay rent gave me freedom. I’ve been running a studio down the road for over four years now.”

In the past decade, several squats on Rushcroft Rd have been evicted, with the last evictions taking place in 2009 in Hereford House and Rosslyn House.

However, evictions continued in the area – the Clifton Mansions squat on Coldharbour Lane was brought to an end last summer using heavy-handed tactics with riot police and bailiffs to remove the residents there.

Clifton Mansions was put on the market in early 2012 for several million and has now been bought for an undisclosed price by Lexadon, a private property developer who own several properties in Brixton, including 354 Coldharbour Lane – previously the Angel pub and currently a temporary space for arts collective the Brick Box. Lexadon has already begun refurbishment of 22 apartments and four commercial units in Clifton Mansions. Information on their plans can be found here.

This article was updated on June 14 2012 to reflect the fact that Rushcroft Rd buildings were also short-life accommodation for a period in their history.

 

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13 Comments on "Rushcroft Rd squatters ordered to leave"

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  4. Brixtonlonglife August 6, 2012 at 11:27 pm ·

    I moved in to Rushcroft in 2000 and did not break in,instead I was given keys,and took over a former L&Q tenant’s property.It was a burnt out mess.I wept like a child when I was left there.But I pulled myself together,bought paint and since have spent a decade restoring this place to a fine home.I have spent thousands of pounds and thousands of hours in fixing up the property and been through Hell to get there.The flat had been occupied by junkies,blood,graffitti and rodents in the months since the tenant had left.

    I have been unemployed for spells as an ‘artist” but have run companies and been self-employed as well as a local employer and recruitment officer locally,helping hundreds of Lambeth residents find at least some sort of employment over the years and help others set up small businesses.One theatre tour made over 95000 pounds,employed local people and ALL of that money was reinvested in Brixton.

    I have been through 4 court cases,the house of lords and european court of human rights.I represented myself in the last hearing but still was not given a chance.My eviction notice expired in 2006.These may seem like semantics but how can Lambeth Council treat people in this fashion.We are not the enemy.We,and I include at least 100 good people in this,have had the sword of Damocles hanging over us since 2003 and it is actually unbearable now.

    I actually admire Pete Robbins for coming on here and talking publicly.How many Councillors of all parties have we spoken to over the years who have simply lied,or hidden or moved or been ‘voted out’. Looking carefully at the latest communication from the Lambeth lawyers(poachers turned gamekeepers from my previous dealings with them!),this latest ‘extension’ of their ongoing Possession Orders were signed off at a Hearing in Cardiff. Councillor, I address you directly..we were given no advance warning of this and I am perturbed by the fact that this decision was taken in a local court so far away from the region concerned. Obviously this far flung corner of English&Welsh Law was designed to make it nigh on impossible for the majority of we’silent 100′ to attend the proceedings? Away in a quiet corner,with no fuss seems indeed to be the real reason this decision was meted out so far from Brixton ?

    I do respect & understand your intention to get tough on individuals such as I. I do however request the right to fight my case to remain and ask you here…publicly…when are you sending in the bailiffs?

  5. elahrairah June 8, 2012 at 11:43 am ·

    The Cllr is forced to admit he was lying, and tried to blame someone else.

    Same old rubbish. I bet your kids are dead proud.

  6. Pete Robbins June 8, 2012 at 8:38 am ·

    Richard – thanks for your comments/questions, and for your patience in waiting for me to reply. I entirely respect your efforts to defend your friends and neighbours, but I doubt it will be a huge surprise to you that I disagree with some of what you say. I’ll try to address all your points, but would be more than happy to discuss further.

    In reply to your first point I completely understand that people are living there, and am happy to accept that many, if not all, are perfectly nice people. Of course being a squatter does not equate to being a proto-anarchist nut job. But that doesn’t change the fact that they have no right to live in these properties -and that they were well aware of what they were doing when they chose to move into a property that they didn’t have permission to enter. Members of my family and some of friends have been squatters in the past, and they aren’t bad people either – but equally I didn’t think, when they were evicted after living there for years, that their rights were being infringed, and in truth neither did they. Every week I, and other councillors, meet families who come to us in need of housing – or indeed rehousing – many, if not all of whom, are also perfectly nice people. Frankly, how pleasant and decent people are is irrelevant when it comes to someones right to housing – this should never become a debate about the deserving or the undeserving poor. But it should be about fairness.

    Lambeth, like all councils, operates an allocations policy which determines who has priority access to social housing. It isn’t a perfect system, but it’s as transparent and fair as possible, and attempts to do something which is indeed very difficult – to weigh up who is in most need of access to social housing, using clear criteria including overcrowding, medical need, family circumstances etc. Needing to live near your place of work or being part of a particular community are important as you say, but they aren’t the only determinant of need. (By the way, Lambeth will soon be consulting on changes to the allocation policy – an opportunity to look at all these different factors).

    Likewise (notwithstanding some punishing changes that will soon be implemented by the Tories) there is a longstanding system of housing benefit by which people on lower incomes are assisted with their rent – indeed almost two thirds of residents of Lambeth council homes receive housing benefit, covering all or part of their rent, and of course this applies to people living in private rented housing too (the majority of Lambeth residents).

    The point of having a transparent system of allocations and housing benefit is that everyone is treated equally. I don’t know the individual circumstances of people who are currently in the Rushcroft Rd properties, but I do know that they have had, and continue to have, exactly the same opportunity as every other person in Lambeth. If they are on a low income they will receive housing benefit. If they are in priority need for social housing they will get it.

    To put it bluntly, I think it would be perverse to punish people who have played by the rules of a fair and transparent system, by instead rewarding people who chose to enter a property and set up home there rent free. Why should that give them the right to stay there forever, even if they now started to pay rent? It’s great that they have become part of the central Brixton community, but who’s to say that future tenants won’t too? The only difference is that they never got the chance, because they didn’t think it was OK to move into somewhere they didn’t have the right to. You might disagree, but I have to say I think you would be in a tiny minority of Lambeth residents.

    Now, you may point to the fact that these properties lay empty for a long time, and frankly you would be on solid ground – it is ridiculous that it has taken so long for the council to get to grips with properties such as these, and for them to be brought back into use. But now that the council has finally got its act together and taken a decision over how best to use them, it is absolutely right that they should now be vacated. The current occupiers do of course have the right to contest the warrants of eviction, but I think it’s highly unlikely they will have a leg to stand on. That’s what prompted what was, now I look back on it, a rather trite point about it being ‘better if they left now’.

    In an ideal world every single one of these properties would be brought back into use as social housing and let to people on the waiting list. But, as everyone is well aware, Lambeth’s budget is under huge pressure – capital budgets in particular (at a time when schools, roads, and libraries are all currently in need of investment). The main problem is that the properties in question are in pretty poor condition – it will cost a significant amount of money to bring them back up to a standard at which the council can legally let them to tenants. Because there is so little capital available to do this there is a need to dispose of some of the properties so we have the money needed to refurbish the rest and bring back them back into use as council flats (off the top of my head I think 24 flats will be brought into use, but I might be wrong). It will cost a lot more to refurbish these properties – frankly it’s not particularly economic when compared to the rental income they will generate as social housing – but we took the decision to refurbish these homes precisely because of the point you make about a shortage of social housing in the centre of Brixton – particulalry large family-sezied properties. Local ward councillors were particularly vocal about this, and they were right to be.

    Everyone who is currently in Rushcroft Road will be given access to advice about what their other options for housing are, and of course they have the right to apply for social housing – where they will be treated in exactly the same way as other applicants. Obviously I can’t say if everyone will or won’t be rehoused in social housing, but I would doubt that everyone will be – its determined by need and some won’t qualify, and will have to do what everyone else in Lambeth does: find a place to rent that they can afford, with or without help from housing benefit, again depending on their circumstances.

    On your last point, my comment about ‘zero tolerance’ of squatting wasn’t posturing – I am entirely serious about following this approach. You must understand that the vast majority of Lambeth residents – and particularly those that are trying to get access to social housing without jumping the queue or circumventing rules – feel it is an injustice that some people choose to jump the queue by forcing entry to a property and living rent free, and would be furious if they were rewarded by subsequently being given the right to live there. Squatters regularly break into council properties, often in the short period between old tenants moving out and new tenants moving in, causing huge disruptions (I’m sure you’ll understand that most squatters are not as responsible as the people who are currently in the Rushcroft Road properties), unnecessary expense, and ultimately stopping social housing being used by people who have the right to live there.

    However my comment absolutely wasn’t designed to demonise the people who are going to have to move our from Rushcroft Road either – as I say, I’m sure they are perfectly decent people. But that doesn’t mean they have more rights to live there than any other people in Lambeth.

    This has turned into a bit of an essay – sorry for the length. But hopefully I’ve addressed your points, even if you don’t agree. Thanks again for your patience waiting for me to reply!

  7. Richard Pope May 28, 2012 at 8:46 pm ·

    I am a central Brixton resident of 7 years (I own a flat with my girlfriend for anyone who is looking to frame what I say below). I have had a connection with the place for much longer and have lived the bulk of my adult life in Lambeth.

    I think Cllr Robbins’ comments above are wrong.

    They are though understandable. The centre of Brixton is a very tight community and it’s hard to explain to people who don’t live here what it means to us all.

    It’s a friendly, supportive, strong place – in part a product of the mix of people and the stability a mix of housing types brings (squats included).

    From friends I know that Pete is a good councillor, and I think (hope) that if he knew central Brixton, as well as I’m sure he knows his own Larkhill ward, he wouldn’t be so bombastic.

    I’m going to publish a longer blog post about the recent changes in central Brixton, specifically about how our (tiny) community is having it’s voice muted. But I wanted to respond to a few of Cllr Robbins’ points now:

    1) Pete, it is wrong to say that the flats are not “in use”. People live there, many of them have done for a very long time and many are the sort of people who you really want to have as neighbours and I am proud to call friends. People you can trust and ask for support you when you need it.

    2) I really don’t understand the “genuine need of housing” point you make. You seem to be suggesting that anyone who is squatting is some sort of anarcho-nutjob who has another house in the country, and who just crashes in Brixton for the lols. The people you are talking about include teachers, charity workers and people on genuinely low incomes. Some have been moved out of social housing by other redevelopments’ or hikes in private rent rates.

    If the need to live near your place of work and to help maintain the strong bonds of your community isn’t a genuine need, then I don’t know what is.

    3) On maintaining social housing in central Brixton, I’m not sure where you mean. Clifton Mansions has been cleared to make way for private rental, or at best a degraded version of social/’affordable’ housing.

    The residents of Moorlands are struggling to get their voices heard over the redevelopment plans there, and now the Council is proposing to clear Rushcroft Road. Can you explain how many soocial housing units you mean and where they will be? If you only answer one question in response to this, can you confirm that everyone who fulfils the criteria living on Rushcroft Road will be rehoused in social housing in Central Brixton?

    4) The term “zero tolerance approach” is just unhelpful and is making residents scared. I am a taxpayer, and I don’t want my money spent on posturing when you could be using it to reach a sensible, more measured, solution.

    In short, I’m disappointed. Brixton is better and bigger than this sort of thing.

  8. Sherman May 28, 2012 at 8:42 pm ·

    Ed,
    you seem to be labouring under the misapprehension that squatting is illegal. It’s BEING MADE illegal by the current government, but prior to that, we’ve had over 800 years of british law allowing squatting, so why would they be “permanently living in fear”?
    This isn’t arcane legal history, either. This is the kind of stuff we used to learn for “O” level history back in the ’70s.

    • Ed May 29, 2012 at 9:12 am ·

      Thank you, Sherman, for the gracious correction.

      Let’s not waste time arguing about semantics – many aspects of the paths to and from squatting are illegal and as such squatters are at permanent risk of prosecution despite the actual act itself being technically legal.

      • Sherman May 29, 2012 at 7:54 pm ·

        Ed,
        you’re making assumptions. Any proveable criminal activity on the part of squatters pertaining to gaining entry to premises invalidates the right to squat. If quite as many squatters engaged in such activity as often as you imply with your use of the word “many”, then you might have a point. As it is you’re retreading the same set of squatter myths that inform the gullible that someone entering your property while you’re out and staying there is “squatting” rather than criminal trespass. The legality of squatting isn’t “technical”, it’s statutory (for the time being).

  9. Mrs Miniver May 28, 2012 at 3:31 pm ·

    Other groups of Lambeth squatters got their acts together and worked hard for years with the Lambeth Federation of Housing Co-ops and LBL to negotiate tenure and re-housing. Rushcroft Road never really put in the effort, they were rarely at LFHC meetings, didn’t pay their subs and only turned up in emergencies wanting help.

    They had the same chances many other groups of squatters, short-lifers and co-ops had. Of course being turfed out of somewhere you have lived for a long time is difficult and unpleasant, but free rides don’t last forever, put in the work if you want something out of it.

    I hope they all find new homes and it is sad that the buildings will now be sold off instead of housing a local community.

  10. Ed May 28, 2012 at 11:42 am ·

    I wanted to sympathise but then read this little doozy:

    Hambly, a music technician, described his reasons for squatting: “It’s really not about freeloading, it’s about opportunity. I didn’t want to earn £6 an hour on a building site my entire life, trying to make something of it. Not having to pay rent gave me freedom. I’ve been running a studio down the road for over four years now.”

    Also, seeing as these guys are squatting, aren’t they permanently “living in fear” of being caught breaking the law and dealt with accordingly?

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