Can squatters, private renters and council tenants unite?
The first time I heard a friend talking about squatters standing shoulder to shoulder with council tenants and private renters, I was doubtful to say the least. Ok, possibly the squatting community could share it’s experience with resisting evictions, of which it has plenty, but what did the groups really have in common at heart?
It was with this question I headed down to the OpenHouse2013 project which in it’s blurb states
“Whether you’re a council tenant facing the bedroom tax or a squatter threatened with eviction, a private renter dealing with a dodgy landlord or a member of a housing cops-op fighting to survive – this space is for you.”
A small group of activists using a squatted space to unite different housing struggles seems like a nice idea on the surface. I arrived a little early and had a chance to chat to one of the organisers. He explained that the space was another step towards connecting the dots between the various movements. I took a quick glance at the scheduled workshops; The squash campaign who are currently lobbying parliament to drop section 144 which criminalised squatting in Britain, ” Behind the rent strike” a film about how the people of Kirkby New Town opposed massive hikes in rent in the 70′s, Professor Danny Dorling on “The great housing disaster” and more. The workshops definitely represented all the groups, but I had still not answered my question.
Off to the first work shop of the day “fugitive images” where the speaker wanted to show how art could play a role in facing the housing crisis. The speaker showed amazing images of how they had replaced ugly orange boards that the council had placed over empty properties in an underhanded attempt to encourage the remaining tenants to leave. He showed a short extract of a movie he was making which included a women visiting her old home. As she entered the property which had been gutted she broke down in tears. Seeing that raw emotion finally made the penny drop.
There are a group of people, who if they even look at the bricks and mortar that make a home only see a price. They see potential profit or loss. They side with bailiffs and contractors that have the ability to “get the job done”. They look from afar on trading floors and behind estate agent desks. They are all but oblivious to the people that occupy what they see as there assets.
There are another group of people, the people that occupy those homes. While these people put some importance on the bricks, mortar and their upkeep. The real value is not in the house, but in the home. They place infinite more value in the painting that has hung awkwardly in the kitchen for the last 2 years, the stain on the carpet, the old wallpaper and the small porch where one of their children cried in their arms after their first break up. They see their home as a place of refuge from this crazy chaotic world. When the former group tell them they have to leave so as to benefit their bank balances or crazy regeneration schemes planned with out there consultation or consent, naturally they get angry.
If I had a choice to stand shoulder to shoulder with a group it would definitely be the latter. I can now do so, not because standing in solidarity sounds like a good thing to do, but because I share a common belief about homes and their sacredness. The dots have definitely been connected for me.
So if you are reading this blog in time and live in the London area try get down to open house. If you are looking for a little more intellectual stimulation on the housing crisis and what we can do about it this Friday 17th May Owen Hatherley will be speaking about recent urban austerity measures to reveal a policy of deliberate chaos. Or if you prefer socialising with those you share a common struggle with there is capture the flag the following evening followed by party to celebrate a what appears to have been an extremely successful week.