A Manchester Housing Action event took place in Salford on Sunday, aiming to bring together local people and groups working to find solutions to the housing crisis. The free public event included contributions from Generation Rent, The Radical Housing Network and Focus E15.
Speakers from Focus E15 shared their victories in preventing evictions and disrupting housing conferences in London, offering advice on how similar victories could be attained in Greater Manchester.
The housing crisis is showing no signs of abating. In Greater Manchester, 3,971 tenants were evicted for rent arrears (Apr 2013 to Mar 2015), the highest two year level recorded over the last ten years, according to a report in the Manchester Evening News.
Manchester City Council’s annual count of rough sleepers in Manchester during a night in November 2014 came to 43; it was 7 in 2010. Local charities estimate that the real number is double that of the annual official count.
The event at Islington Mill in Salford was well attended by residents of Salford and Manchester, who had much to contribute during the discussion sessions. Steve North, a Unison Union member spoke of his experience of private renting. He had been in 13 properties in 13 years and now fears he will never get a permanent home for his family.
“Our rights are non-existent,” said North, who expressed that he did not feel able to challenge housing issues as he would issues at work.
Along with North, John Clegg from Unite in the Community Greater Manchester Branch also pledged union support for campaigns fighting for tenants rights.
Members of Focus E15, a London based grass roots campaign for decent housing for all, travelled to Salford to speak at the event. Emer Mary Morris has been a Focus E15 member since 2014, when the group occupied flats on the Carpenter Council Estate in East London, which had been left boarded up and empty for years. Morris also spoke of Focus E15 actions in disrupting the MIPIM UK international property fair last year:
“We dressed up as delegates going to the conference and actually rushed the doors and got the conference closed down for a couple of hours, while Boris Johnson was meant to be the next speaker.
“It was a really playful celebratory attitude that particularly Focus E15 bring to the protest. It’s not about being violent or anything, we are actually being very celebratory.”
This year’s MIPIM conference, which began yesterday, is taking place at Olympia in London. Both Salford City Council and Manchester City Council will have stands there, with the cost of the stands being up to £505 per square metre according to a report in the Salford Star, which describes the conference as ‘the largest property orgy in the country’.
Pollyanna Steiner is a community organiser for Generation Rent, a national campaign for tenants rights, and one of the organisers for the event along with Kate Hardy and Tom Gillespie. Steiner was happy with progress made during the meeting.
“It was a forum for freedom of expression about housing issues people are experiencing, and a safe place for sharing that. It was a space for progressing and exchanging ideas about how to organise against the kind of issues we are seeing in the housing crisis; for example, resistance to eviction and how to collaborate and share resources when you have so much taken away at a community level.”
Kate Hardy, a member of Feminist Fightback, was involved with the Focus E15 campaign in London. When she met Pollyanna they had the idea of inviting Focus E15 members up to talk about their work in London. Hardy said:
“There is a serious housing crisis in Manchester, which I think has been relatively hidden up to now.
“You can obviously see that there is the Ark and there is visible street homelessness, but what hasn’t been quite talked about is the kind of things we heard today, about tenants having their leases changed, very poor conditions and lots of attacks on people with disabilities. It has really made visible all the different strands of the housing crisis that are happening in Manchester.”
When asked what advice she would give to the people of Greater Manchester struggling with housing issues, Morris answered simply: “talk to each other.”
“The strongest power they have against us is that they isolate us and try to make people feel alone. The more that you talk to each other, the more you realise other people are going through exactly the same thing that you are. The more you gather together and start organising and talking, the more you can build a consistent movement and fight back.”
First published in the Manchester MULE, October 21st 2015
Generation Rent – http://www.generationrent.org
Focus E15 – http://focuse15.org
The Radical Housing Network – http://radicalhousingnetwork.org
The campaign established as a result of the event is, Manchester & Salford Housing Action – https://www.facebook.com/1mcrsalfordhousingaction?fref=ts