Tuesday Tidbit: Illegal Housing and the Oppression of the Poor

by Peter on August 27, 2013

in Tower Hamlets, Tuesday Tidbit

Revolution on Cable Street

Sign in a window of the studios under discussion down the road from us.

We’ve talked about the high cost of living in London before.  Housing is difficult to find, it’s cramped, and it’s expensive, especially in areas like ours closer to the centre of the city.

But for many, the awful housing market is more than an annoyance—it’s a serious risk to vulnerable people who may be new immigrants, without a supportive community, or without ready access to government housing.

This was highlighted last week when a score of people were evicted from a commercial studio space just a five minute walk from our estate.  The properties were being illegally rented out by “rogue landlords” to new Bangladeshi immigrants at serious risk and cost:

The illegal hostel was described by fire safety officers as a “potential death trap.”

Tenants used gas canisters for cooking in the cramped conditions, which prompted one to liken the building to a prison.

There is no central heating or kitchen facilities, and tenants share toilets in the units, which cost up to £1,000 per month.

One of the especially disconcerting parts is that the owner of the property seemed to have no idea who was using the space and what sort of business the letting agents were doing.  I wish it wasn’t so common for real estate agents to take advantage of people desperate for a roof over their heads, but it isn’t.

London leaders hope to help address this problem with the London Rental Standard, a voluntary scheme by which landlords and letting agents can promise to do fair business and provide safe and maintained housing.  It’s a great idea in theory…except as it’s voluntary, unscrupulous landlords won’t sign up, and the poorest and most vulnerable will continue to be left with few options.

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