Report from Housing Activists Conference by Tayieba Shah

housingThe Housing Summit was what I’d expected it to be. It was amazingly well attended over 250 people surpassing the expectations of I think the organisers and attendees alike. It was heartening to see so many people. It had good coverage of London and organisations outside London, from Bristol and people from Norwich. The Conference had great speakers and the morning was taken up by Speakers followed by questions and answers. The afternoon was broken up into work shops. I attended the young people and housing work shop. There were young Londoners under imminent threat of eviction, some of which may have taken place by now. Luckily for at least one attendee the people from Camden council were in attendance and personally offered to help with one young man’s eviction notice. The brief was to come away with at least 5 action points from every work shop -of which I do not have a complete list now available to me, but to continue to organise and oppose around the housing act was at least one other workshop.

Even though it was organised well, attendees from the floor wanted to be heard and share their stories. Time went quickly and we ended up having 10 minutes for lunch and rushing to our chosen workshops. There were excellent suggestions from the young people and the housing crises workshop. The one I can still recall was from a teacher who suggested that we go into schools and sixth form colleges to inform young people what is coming to them – Basically virtually no choices in housing whatsoever. Letting young people know and preparing them for what is going to be a very difficult task to make an adult lifestyle – having those lifestyle choices taken away from them, ensures that we recruit new activists while informing young people of their current reality in housing.

There was some heated discourse on whether guardian agencies could be recruited into helping more young people into housing. This was controversial as usually the guardians have been put into housing that families once occupied as in Dollis Valley and perhaps they had absolutely no place in real housing choices for anybody. Charging extortionate rents and giving people even less rights than normal tenants.

I have to say that even though I put my hand up all the time to ask questions and contribute, I was the only one representing Barnet and I was largely ignored and not allowed to speak. I think because all our stories are of people being evicted and not winning. It was clear to me that the organisers wanted only a positive contributions to the floor of the summit.

Unfortunately I could not stay beyond 4pm so missed the summary and conclusions of other workshops but I know it was a successful day. It was reassuring to know that there is a real opposition amongst some councils that the housing act is unrealistic and untenable and unworkable even if they were not short of money, most councils would find it impossible to implement. Also I learnt that pay to stay is not law yet and should not be treated as such. Some councils at the other end of the spectrum are implementing policies, like Barnet for example, that are not yet law and can be justifiably refused by people.

It was altogether a good day for axing the housing act and for networking with each other, getting to know new people in housing.

Tayieba Shah