The housing crisis is a war- Squatting is our (not so) secret weapon

On every street, down every alleyway, and in every housing estate in London you will be hard pushed not to notice a strange and almost haunting phenomenon. This city is plagued with it, ravaged by it, consumed entirely in some cases by its slow rot and crumbling brick; the empty houses, offices, and factories that pierce endless soulless rows of chain stores and corporate commercial ventures. Even shiny central London’s prestigious Oxford Street sports two such bastions of emptiness; whilst elephant and castles monolithic heygate estate is a ghost town of over three thousand empty homes. Yet crying out against the cold, in the darkened doorways and silent stairwells of abandoned buildings, the homeless are freezing to death.

In the last year alone, there was between a fourteen and seventeen percent rise in the number of homeless people in England and Wales, with 48,510 households being classified as homeless in 2011[1]. At the same time there are nearly a million empty or abandoned homes in the U.K, 300 thousand of which are long term empty[2]. We are in a state of war. On one side we have ordinary people savaged by cuts to housing benefits, 1.7 million people long social housing waiting lists[3], mass unemployment, and now new laws against squatting; and on the other we have politicians, land lords, and developers fighting tooth and nail to keep house and land market prices high. The government has no centralised targets for the number of houses needed, and puts no guidelines on what this housing should be, or how much it should cost; despite the crisis house prices in London continue to rise[4]. The market therefore is rife with developers and speculators who are happy to see their shiny centres of yuppiedom sit empty, and callously wait till their over inflated rents can be met.

This year, I lived in an abandoned property in Dalston situated behind Kingsland station. The eight bedrooms and two bathrooms that in the past had made a micro bedsit empire for its owner (grossing him nearly £1000 a week) had been empty for more than a year and had been left to rot (when we got in, windows had been left open to allow for damp, wind and rain, one floor was entirely flooded, and many pipes and radiators were left damaged or leaking). On speaking to local residents as to why an enterprise which would have grossed its owner around £40,000 per year would be left completely empty (no dole scum such as myself could afford to lose that much money a year) we uncovered some sickening information about our slum lord millionaire. The slum lord, one Isah Gluck was a real estate and property villain, who heavily disguised himself behind a number of shell companies, fake development agencies, and other tax dodging guises; his main aim for our building, to let it fall down. The really interesting bit though is why. It turns out Mr Gluck had dreams of moving up the ladder from slum lord to respectable proprietor of the white middle class dream- the swanky condo in an edgy part of town, next to the coffee shop selling things most people can’t spell let alone afford, and the rent that starts in quad figures a month. Standing in his way however was planning permission, and the only way out of this was to let the building simply crumble something he could only do so long as none lived there. He, unlike the rest of us, could afford comfortably to lose 40 grand a year safe in the knowledge that in a few years time that yuppie palace would be well in vogue and worth millions.

It’s slum lord filth like Gluck who perpetuate the housing crisis, keeping all of us on the streets, in temporary accommodation, and hostels so that they might make a fat buck out of our poverty: there greed is our misery- we must go on the attack, and take what they won’t give us. Undoubtedly (as in the case of Gluck) they will fight us, (like some spoilt child deciding it wants its long forgotten, damaged toy, the very second a new child starts playing with it) they may evict us, but they will never destroy us- we have nothing to lose but our chains.

There is a simple fact greater than the situation we find ourselves in, and the line those in control of property have drawn in the sand against us, is a fundamental fact- regardless of the housing crisis, regardless of situation, and regardless of government- rent is theft, we must all join the rent strike. How is it that the rich, the landed, the powerful, have all convinced us it is just and right to pay them for the so called privilege of a roof over our heads; that we should drag our sorry selves out of bed five days a week, twelve hours a day, to enter into their work money system, break our backs and still barely, just barely, afford the cost they put on our right to shelter.

A storm is brewing inside the heart of this housing crisis (in the same way that it exploded in the Thatcher years) soon many thousands of us will be faced with a choice- the street or the squat. In this writer’s opinion, it is awareness of this coming storm that has pushed the hegemonic serpent of privilege (sometimes called the conservative government) to act against squatting. The rich know that if ordinary people are left dying on the street they are powerless, marginalised, and unlikely to form resistance; but if they are allowed to re-expropriate the properties landlords have stolen from them they will grow in strength and number, imagining alternatives to the ownership of property and taking for the common good that which the rich have kept for themselves- your landlord fears you, always remember that.

In response to the attacks on our right to shelter, we must arm ourselves, where they cut our benefits, we must cut their sources of income through rent strike, when they fire us from jobs, we should sack them as our landlords and use our rent for home improvement, and when they evict us from our homes we must squat theirs- as workers, unemployed, students and all others we have the keys to every door they claim to possess- we just have to grasp the confidence to use them. The answers to this housing crisis will not come from governments, policy makers, or Balfour fucking Beatty- this crisis to them is only another money making opportunity, another opportunity to keep us down; for us this crisis is our lives- what we do now will make the future. This crisis of housing will only end when each and every one of us fights back until every mouth can honestly speak the words “everyone and no one owns this house”; one avenue along the road to this reality is to squat that which they would have us pay for. It is time we woke up to the evils of property; it is time we squatted the world.

Peter Bonanno

[1] Guardian Article http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/mar/08/homelessness-jumps-repossession-unemployment

[2] Report by the Charity Empty Homes

[3] From Shelter article “The Housing Crisis” http://england.shelter.org.uk/campaigns/why_we_campaign/the_housing_crisis#_edn2 Stats taken from Housing Strategy Statistical Appendix Data 2010, Communities and Local Government, 2010

[4] http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2012/aug/14/housing-market-flat-london-price-rises

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