Peabody residents joined by Hackney councillors to protest ‘huge’ rent hikes

Hackney councillors Penny Wrout (left), Claudia Turbet-Delof (right) and Clare Joseph (second from right) at yesterday’s protest. Photograph: courtesy Claudia Turbet-Delof

Residents of Peabody Estates were joined by Hackney councillors outside the housing association’s head office yesterday to protest a nine per cent rent hike that they say is unaffordable.

Peabody CEO, Ian McDermott, was handed a petition against the rent increase with 545 signatures.

McDermott agreed to meet the leaders of the campaign for discussions.

Victoria ward councillors Claudia Turbet-Delof, Clare Joseph and Penny Wrout held up placards that read ‘Rent freeze now’ and ‘George Peabody would be turning in his grave’.

The housing association is named after George Peabody, an American financier who is considered by some to be the father of modern philanthropy.

His namesake company is one of London’s oldest and largest housing associations, renting out homes to key workers at a discounted rate.

According to Peabody’s website, rent is 20-35 per cent cheaper than the average market rent in the capital.

Peabody says the key worker scheme, a type of intermediate market rent, is for those who don’t qualify for social housing and aren’t able to buy a home.

Campaigner Mary Pimm hands the petition to Peabody CEO Ian McDermott. Photograph: courtesy Claudia Turbet-Delof

Nevertheless, Mary Pimm, chair of the Victoria Park Community Association, which represents residents living in Hackney and Tower Hamlets, told the Citizen: “Entry-level key workers can already not afford to come onto our estate – only management grades can afford to do so – and the existing key workers are also finding their rents difficult to afford, without this huge rent hike.”

Cllr Joseph said: “There is clearly something wrong when a key worker estate has become unaffordable for key workers! Peabody say the rents won’t go above London Living Rent, but some tenants say their rents are already above that level and they have been rising fast, despite the cost of living crisis.

“These people do useful local jobs in our hospital and schools and most of them are not particularly well paid – they could be nursery teachers, secretaries, cleaners, care workers – we need them to be able to stay in the community.

“Others have retired, but some have lived on the estate for six or seven decades and these older people are terrified about how they will afford to pay the rent if it goes up by as much as nine per cent.

“Since Peabody took over management of this estate we have seen a lot of disrepair, auctioning off of homes and inconsistent communication – there have been cases of damp and mould, ceiling collapse, rotten window frames – usually dealt with very slowly.

“Some of the older residents would like to downsize and exchange with younger overcrowded families, but that’s been difficult to achieve because of the vastly different rent levels on the estate.

“As a housing association, Peabody benefits from charitable status, but like other large providers we often see a focus on expansion over investment in the homes they already have, leading to arms-length management and a poor service for tenants.

“We are calling on Peabody to do the right thing, listen to their residents, freeze the rents and manage this estate properly.”

Peabody said that only some residents would see their rent rise by nine per cent, while others will see an average increase of 5.4 per cent.

Some will see no increase, it added, depending on whether their rent has already hit the maximum cap in line with London Living Rent.

The proposed increases will come into force from 1 April.

The move has left many key workers, including teachers, paramedics, nurses, and firefighters, worried that they won’t be able to make ends meet.

Pimm said: “If the raise is put into effect, there will be a churn on the estate, with basic-grade key workers and pensioners forced out and incoming residents much wealthier and only intending to stay for a couple of years until they have saved enough for a deposit to buy a property.”

At an emergency meeting last month, Pimm described this transition as an act of “social cleansing”, saying “our once-stable community under the Crown will become a transit camp”.

Pimm, who has lived in the Peabody Millbank estate since 1976, told the Citizen that the rent increases will create “a shortage of the key worker skills our city so badly needs, because key workers can no longer afford to live near where they work”.

Peabody residents will continue to protest, with Pimm adding: “The next step in our campaign this Saturday morning is to mount a lobby at the site of the statue of George Peabody.”

Cllr Turbet-Delof said: “I am concerned about the levels of stress and anxiety this brings to residents, many of them in retirement age.

“Since September 2023, Hackney Council has [officially] viewed good mental health as a human right for all, and this extends to every resident in our borough.

“When I wrote that motion [on mental health], I did so hoping to bring acknowledgement to the distress that residents’ experience as a result of continued disrepair and imposition of rent increases – such as what’s happening with ex-Crown Estates residents in Victoria Ward.

“Hackney was the first council in the UK to pass this motion and make such a commitment, and our next steps are to ensure this is embedded across all sectors of service in the borough.

“In a recent Skills, Economy and Growth Scrutiny Commission, we heard evidence that Hackney is among the top three London boroughs with the highest income deprivation in London.

“A steep rent increase for residents is not okay during a cost-of-living crisis.”

Cllrs Joseph, Turbet-Delof and Wrout are all currently suspended by Hackney Labour after voting to hear a motion on a ceasefire in Gaza.