Southwark, London: Residential occupation in protest of council housing sell-off and Section 144

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Housing activists have occupied a property owned by Southwark council which was due to be auctioned today at a starting price of £2.3 million.

They have occupied the building to stop the sell-off of yet more public housing stock when the borough faces a severe housing crisis with almost 25,000 people on the housing waiting list and increasing numbers of people forced to sleep rough on London’s streets.

The occupation is also a challenge to section 114 of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) introduced last September which criminalised squatting in residential properties. This law has meant that homeless people seeking shelter in empty buildings can find themselves with a prison sentence.

Sarah Morris, a local housing campaigner involved in the occupation said:

“We have occupied this building to stop yet more council housing being sold off to private developers. Southwark council has a waiting list with 25,000 people in need of quality, secure, and truly affordable housing that this building once was. In the face of such housing need in the borough, London, and the whole of the UK this sale of council housing is madness. The attempted sale of this building is a part of the social cleansing that is happening across London where local working class residents are being forced out so that wealthier people can buy it up. We hope that by taking direct action, we can stop the sale of these homes so that they remain a public good rather than another empty building owned by a property speculator.

“The squatting of this residential building is significant because it is a challenge to the law introduced last year which criminalises homeless people through the banning of squatting residential buildings. Community led occupations such as our own to defend our council housing could be made illegal if this punitive law is extended.”

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Occupation against Southwark sell-off still going at Park Street

Today, Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth people were involved in the occupation of 21 & 23 Park street buildings in protest at Southwark council’s sell off of these council houses. See our press release from earlier [above]. Sadly, the buildings were sold off this afternoon for almost £3 million, diminishing Southwark’s public housing stock. Through this sell off Southwark council have shown their complete lack of interest in ensuring quality, secure and truly affordable housing for residents and have made it clear that they do not think people on low incomes should be able to live in the Borough area.

On the plus side, the protest occupation is still going strong. Although the police did visit this afternoon with the intention of removing the protestors, the police acknowledged that the law brought in last year to criminalise squatting in residential properties did not apply in this instance as this is a political occupation – section 114 of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act makes it a criminal offence to live in a residential building, occupying it in protest is not the same as living in it. This is an important challenge to section 114 and shows a potential loophole for people to occupy residential buildings.

If you can, get down to 21 & 23 Park street, just off Borough market, to show your support. Donations of food would be welcome.

Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth are meeting this Wednesday, 6.30pm at Renton Close Community Centre, Brixton Hill where we discuss our housing problems, provide support for each other and discuss collective action.

Media:

Squatters move in as Park Street council houses sold for £2.9m - London SE1
London council house raises £3m at auction – enough for 20 more homes – The Guardian
£3m council house sale highlights London’s social tensions – Financial Times