How to tackle the London social housing crisis?

Six ways race researchers must change to rescue Black tenants from aggressive renewal plans

By Thomas L Blair © 11 March 2016

The late Dora Boatemah of Angell Town, Brixton
The late Dora Boatemah of Angell Town, Brixton

Seasoned race consultants and campaigners have united against the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill and the Immigration Bill. They reflect  growing concerns for the deteriorating conditions and human rights of social housing residents.

Researchers for the Institute of Race Relations say policies to “‘radically transform’ over 100 ‘sink estates’” will have disastrous consequences. Proposals to ‘knock them down and replace them’ may be a   “pretext for the removal of particular populations, by cutting down avenues of redress”, according to Dr Jon Burnett.

Furthermore, the bills’ would bolster eviction powers and extend ‘Deport first, appeal later’ immigration provisions.

Hence, residents are growing militant in Winstanley (Wandsworth), Broadwater Farm (Tottenham), West Hendon and other troubled London  estates. They fear the hidden policy agenda for high-value properties and luxury housing will demolish their communities.

Predictably, Black African and Caribbean tenants would suffer first and hardest. They are most likely to live in the targeted  1960s estates for low-income families.

Networked organisations have sounded the alarm. The Burnett report questions the “impact of the legislation on the inner-city communities of multicultural Britain”. Moreover, it raises ” wider questions about the future of the welfare state”.

In the lead with the IRR are the Kill the Housing Bill campaign, Shelter, Social Housing Under Threat (SHOUT), Architects for Social Housing and the Radical Housing Network.

However, they are not the remedy to the woes of Blacks corralled in obsolescent housing.  Black tenants’ progress needs more than liberal race studies. Researchers may unveil the hypocrisy of regeneration politics, but in many cases “urban renewal” still  means Black removal.

Thus, we can see that desk research has two fatal flaws. Top-down studies tend to repress original thought. Moreover, they elevate one class, those who know and who are listened to, above the subjects of their research.

Of course, there is no single means to save threatened urban centres of Black life. Nevertheless, the late Dora Boatemah showed the way struggling against deprivation and for tenants’ rights on Angell Town Estate, Brixton in the 1990s.

Boatemah developed a distrust of the politicians, contractors and consultants who built and managed the estate. They mouthed the same old “top down” renewal solutions. With the slogan “It’s time  for change, a time for tenant’s rights”, she rallied her 2000 neighbours, forty per cent Black and a collage of ethnicities — white British, Asian, Hispanic, Turkish, Portuguese, and Kosovans and Bosnians.

What’s wrong here, she asked them and answered in her straight-talking accented English style. Solving unemployment, poor housing, and lack of facilities must be central to the renewal equation. Reining in the planning consultants took some doing. She got it right when she told them “Don’t bring us any more of your fancy designs. Ask us to brief you first… we have our own ideas”.

Accordingly, here are six ways race researchers can arouse the indignation and the conscience of many and the participation of Black communities.

  1. Heal yourselves. Change your perspective from “objective”, hence disengaged, liberal researchers to professionals working with people in  communities.
  2. Be part of the solution not relentlessly adding to the negrophobic view of Blacks as hopeless problem people.
  3. Participate in local community and citywide action for fair housing and planning policies.
  4. Link with Black public intellectuals and arm activist youth with new skills for positive action
  5. Decolonise your top-down Eurocentric knowledge
  6. Start creating damage limiting strategies and enhance opportunities for Black urbanites.

What do you think?