Residents of Hoxton’s New Era estate under threat of eviction led a protest march on Saturday against rent hikes brought in by the estate’s new owners.
Flanked by hundreds of supporters, including comedian and activist Russell Brand and Hare Krishna, the residents led the march to the doors of the Benyon Estate offices in De Beauvoir.
The protesters, some of whom wore Dickensian costumes, then served a mock eviction on the part-owners and property managers that look after 300 properties in De Beauvoir Town and now the 90 homes on the 1930s estate.
The Benyon Estate bought a ten per cent stake in former New Era owners LBS Holdings Ltd in April with US property speculators picking up the other 90 per cent, before the company’s name was changed to Hoxton Regeneration Ltd.
The protesters then visited one of estate manager’s Edward Benyon’s properties currently under refurbishment, where Brand clambered up the scaffold and unfurled a banner calling for ‘social housing not social cleansing’.
Both properties were issued with mock eviction notices – a prospect the tenants face themselves if they are unable to afford the proposed trebling of rents from the social-equivalent rates they currently enjoy.
No one from The Benyon Estate, which is part-owned by Britain’s richest MP Richard Benyon, was at home to talk the crowd, something that campaign chairwoman and New Era resident of 22-years Lindsey Garrett expected.
She said: “We’ve heard nothing from Benyon for a month. We feel completely left in the dark. He’s made no attempt to talk to us and is carrying on as though it’s business as usual. I think he’s hoping we’re going to go away.”
“We want to get our message across to The Benyon Estate that we’re not going anywhere,” she added.
Ms Garrett said she wants the new owners to sell the estate to a more ethical landlord who would maintain the social rents which would have been closer to market rates before the area became trendy.
Like the Focus E15 Mums, Ms Garrett has made it clear their crisis is not one that only affects them.
On the march there were tenants from across London facing a similar fate as landlords increase their rents beyond their means. The plan is to organise bigger events together maybe a little closer to parliament, she said.
But with the law on the side of the landlords, Phil McLeish, an activist from Hackney private renters group Digs, said that what really needs to change is the law itself.
He said: “The interest of landowners are being put way above the existing tenants who have been living there for a long time. The rent increases that have been proposed will inevitably mean the displacement and removal of a lot of people for who this part of London is their home.”
As things stand the tenants will have to leave – or be evicted – when they can no longer afford their rents. A possibility Hackney Council’s mayor Jules Pipe has said will “tear the heart out” of the local community.
Ms Garrett said that while the Council said it would make them a priority, their own limited stock could mean they are forced from the borough.
She said: “The council are saying that we would be a priority to be re-housed, but it would be outside of the borough or temporary accommodation in hostels and over 65s in sheltered accommodation. They’ve stressed to us on numerous occasions they don’t have [enough social housing] in Hackney’.
Meanwhile Edward Benyon has stated that his company is doing what it can to mitigate Westbrook Partners’ plans.
On his website he wrote: “A condition of working with Westbrook on the property management was to ensure that the residents of the New Era Estate were properly supported, and given ample warning of any changes to their situation.
“Despite having no legal rights to extensions, the 89 assured shorthold tenants (and their families) have been offered a further 12-month contract at discounted rents. Without our involvement, the new owners will terminate the existing leases, which they are entitled to do, refurbish the flats and then let them all out at 100% of full market rents.”
Hoxton Regeneration Ltd. were unavailable for comment.