Social cleansing in Tower Hamlets? Whitechapel residents fight for homes

Residents of Treves House and Lister House in Lomas Street Whitechapel (off Vallance Road) continue to fight against plans by Tower Hamlets Council to demolish their homes.

The reason given for the need to demolish the two blocks of flats are increasing repair costs.

According to a report in The Guardian today discussions at the council have been ‘going on behind closed doors’ for a year.

Treve House, Whitechapel

Two bedroom flats in the blocks are currently valued at £350,000 with these prices set to rise significantly once the Whitechapel Crossrail link is completed putting any properties completely out of reach of existing residents.

The council’s plan is the now familiar approach of razing the existing properties, building new flats on the site and selling these on the commercial market with the hope that the profits from this would then provide some social housing on the site.

It is not known how many social housing properties would be available.

Tower Hamlets currently has around 22,000 people on its waiting list for social housing.

The situation is so bad that single men who apply to be on the housing list are sent them a polite but brutally frank letter explaining that the possibility of them obtaining social housing is almost nil.

Elsewhere in the borough development of the Ocean Estate in Mile End and Robin Hood Gardens (aka The Blackwall Regeneration Project) are underway.

Robin Hood Gardens

It is understood that there are approximately 80 council estates in London due to be demolished’. [If anyone has an accurate list of these please get in touch.]

Demolition not the solution

A blog post by Anne Power, Professor of Social Policy at the LSE ‘Council estates: why demolition is anything but the solution’ argues that demolition of estates can make social and housing problems worse, not better.

Professor Power also highlights the hidden costs of redevelopment of social housing.

These include the cost of rehousing tenants, the 5–10 year time lag inherent in emptying estates, the net loss of housing capacity and the reality that ‘affordable rents’ are absolutely not affordable for low-income families.

LW Comment

The hard reality is that local authorities are fighting a losing battle with central government administrations, both Labour and Conservative, that having been doing everything possible to destroy social housing.

In Tower Hamlets the problem is at its worst as it has to contend with an increasing number of young well-paid professionals from the finance and digital sectors who flock to the area who can afford to buy property, in contrast to the majority of ordinary working people who cannot.

The borough sits between the two global finance districts of the City of London and Canary Wharf but little if any of the wealth created there ever seems to end up in the council’s coffers.

On top of this Tower Hamlets is an area of widespread poverty and there is very little spare land. Rich overseas investors are quite content to buy land, such as the area at the top of Wapping Lane, with very little incentive to do anything with it. Why bother building homes, any homes, when the land is the real money spinner?

London’s housing and planning systems are broken. Until they are fixed the destruction of local communities will continue.

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