Guinness Housing Association seek to evict mother of two to continue with Regeneration Project
“We took care of Guinness Trust when nobody else would.” Marian recalls how over the past 8 years living in the Loughborough Park estate, residents regularly maintained the neighbourhood. This included cleaning up needles and waste around the estate in the mornings before the children went out. She is bewildered as to how assured shorthold tenants (ASTs) who have made the area desirable enough for people to want to move to the area in the first place are all gradually being evicted. “It feels as if they’re saying we’re not good enough.”
The Guinness Trust is one of the UK’s largest charitable affordable housing providers, with over 60,000 homes. The Loughborough Park estate was built in 1939 but the last of the original 390 social rented flats are soon to be demolished. This is the last phase of a regeneration project to create 487 new homes on the site. When it is finished only 211 will be for social rent. These have been allocated to the ‘Lifetime’ tenants who have secure tenancies and are legally entitled to rehousing. However dozens of ASTs who were brought in on a temporary basis at the beginning of the regeneration project have been evicted in the past few years. An assured shorthold tenancy is commonly employed by developers to temporarily occupy a property before construction begins. It usually lasts 6 months to a year. The estate in Brixton is an exceptional case where many ASTs have lived there for over a decade.
Earlier this year, former resident Betiel Mehari, a single mother of two boys who had lived in the estate since the first ASTs were let, was one of many residents threatened with eviction who refused to go without a fight. A series of protests and a protest occupation of an empty flat organised by the tenants resulted in Guinness deferring evictions and agreeing to allow ASTs to apply for its housing schemes elsewhere in London. Betiel and many other ASTs were offered alternative accommodation, although Betiel is struggling to meet the cost of her new Guinness flat – which at 80% of the local market rate is hardly affordable. She continues to offer moral support to those such as Marian who are still fighting to be rehoused by Guinness.
Betiel says that with less protests, and now that most people have been rehoused, Guinness wants to resume silently evicting people. Both Betiel and Marian have shared the common experience of witnessing close neighbours’ and friends’ distress when bailliffs show up at their doors with a court order for eviction.
Marian has been living in Guinness Trust since 2007. This summer she received a possession order from the landlord. Small local court cases such as hers often have no members of the public present, but Marian had nearly two dozen supporters at her first court date on August 28th. She has consistently paid her rent for 8 years, and in the process found belonging for her and her family in a close-knit community.
Having migrated from Nigeria, Marian has ‘no recourse to public funds’ which means she is not entitled to housing benefit or to temporary accommodation from the council if she is made homeless. Marian was perfectly happy with her situation as an AST paying a low rent because she could pay her own rent out of her wages. “I don’t want any housing benefits. I just want an affordable home.” For Marian the only hope is that Guinness will offer her a fixed-term tenancy based on her right to live and work in the country, and she urges new Chief Executive Catriona Simons to address similar situations for tenants as a matter of urgency. She thinks she could probably afford to pay almost twice as much as she currently pays, but even that would not pay for a private flat in the area, where rents are drastically increasing. She has produced all of her papers and income statements evidencing this, and has been rejected by private landlords for not earning enough. Moving to a less expensive area out of London would mean losing her job, which would leave her destitute.
It’s heartbreaking for her when her youngest daughter points at the new houses around the Guinness Trust flats and asks, “Will we move there?” Without private options, Marian dreads that she will become homeless and lose her daughters. If she cannot house her children then under the Council’s ‘duty of care’ they could be taken away from her. Evictions also cause confusion and stress upon children – as one of Marian’s daughters asked, “Mummy, why are we in court?” and later worried, “but I don’t want to leave my school.”
As a healthcare assistant for the NHS, Marian explains how difficult it’s been to look in her patients’ eyes and tell them everything’s going to be alright when presently she has a hard time believing it herself. “My personal life is supposed to be personal.” But Marian is sharing her experiences and garnering support from fellow Lambeth residents who want to prevent further fragmenting of the Brixton community. As she waits for her impending court date, which falls on her daughter’s 9th birthday, Marian’s flat remains half-packed in preparation for the worst.
Join Marian’s fight THIS Friday September 25th (her eldest daughter’s 9th birthday)
at Lambeth County Court, Court House, Cleaver St, London SE11 4DZ
photos by Alexandra Waespi