Tower Hamlets mayor backs protest to stop social housing auction sell-off in Poplar

PUBLISHED: 14:13 11 February 2017 | UPDATED: 17:20 13 February 2017

Protesters from anti-racist campaign jion demo to stop empty social housing sell-off

Protesters from anti-racist campaign jion demo to stop empty social housing sell-off

Shiraj Hoque

A local authority has stepped in to a row to try and stop the auction of public housing in London’s East End where the waiting list has 20,000 families queueing for homes.

Mayor John Biggs move to stop housing sell-offMayor John Biggs move to stop housing sell-off

The Mayor of Tower Hamlets has written to the chief executive at Poplar Harca housing organisation, which took over 9,000 properties on former council housing estates in the East End 15 years ago.

He asks that the auction of 50 vacant social properties be halted and used, instead, to house the homeless.

The move follows protests yesterday outside the housing organisation’s headquarters in St Paul’s Way, Bow Common.

Campaigners picketed the offices with banners demanding an end to the sell-off, after it emerged that the one-bed and two-bed properties originally built by Tower Hamlets for social housing—which are currently being kept empty—had been put up for auction.

Protest over social housing sell-offProtest over social housing sell-off

The letter from Mayor John Biggs sets out two proposals to allow the properties to stay in public sector hands and be bought back into use for social housing.

“I am writing to strongly urge you to withdraw all the homes currently up for auction,” the Mayor wrote.

“I am also particularly annoyed that the first news we had of these homes being put up for auction was reading the auction notices, with no courtesy of correspondence with the council.”

He wants the properties used for “much needed temporary accommodation for homeless families” or to be bought outright by the council to remain in public ownership.

Protesters outside Poplar Harca Housing's officesProtesters outside Poplar Harca Housing's offices

He later said in a statement to East London Advertiser: “I’m deeply disappointed by the decision to sell these homes and the fact that we weren’t even told about it.

“I am urging them to let us buy back the properties which were built to be council homes—it’s only right they stay that way.”

But Poplar Harca insists the properties up for auction are “harder-to-let and more expensive to refurbish” and will use the cash to buy new “affordable” homes.

A spokesman said: “This is a normal asset management strategy undertaken by housing organisations across the country. For every property sold, we anticipate buying 1.7 new homes due to the discount from affordable housing.”

The auction was approved by Harcar’s board and the Homes and Communities Agency, the Advertiser was told, in order to “keep securing new affordable homes to meet local housing demand.

The East End has a chronic social housing shortage with around 20,000 families on the waiting list, some having queued for many years.

There are fears at the Town Hall that an auction on London’s open market would attract private investors looking to rent out the flats at “unaffordable” levels.

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