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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol. 36, No 11 May 30th, 1973

Tenants Struggle In London

Tenants Struggle In London

Every day lately there has been some story in the news media of difficulties encountered by poorer tenants at the mercy of heartless developers whose sole aim is getting enormous profits from land and building. Sometimes the trouble is "winklers" hired by would-be developers, to intimidate and get rid of tenants in a certain house, who because of length of tenure, have a right to stay put, and can't be legally evicted. The "winklers" call on them continuously, frightening them with threats and accusations that they are behind in rent. They bang on walls so that the plaster falls off, turn off the gas and electricity "by mistake" and generally harrass tenants.

There have also been cases of rents being put up after some improvements being made, making it financially impossible for the original tenants to stay on. Most local councils have some plan of rehousing but according to one of the staff of a daily paper here, there are about 20,000 permanently 'sleeping hard" in London. Some of these are junkies, alcoholics, professional tramps or are disabled in some way or another, but most are just ordinary poor people, unable to find accomodation at a rent they can afford.

There are various charities which help. The "Simon" homes try to do more or less the same thing J.K. Baxter attempted in New Zealand. They take everyone in without criticism, not delousing the lousy, or bathing the dirty, but accepting people as they are. These homes don't try to push their standards of living on people and only provide what most people really want, if they don't have to feel self-conscious about getting it.

North Paddington and Notting Hill Gate have been notorious for a long time and the Kensington and Chelsea Council which administers these areas, has 4,750 families on its waiting list. Building contractors prefer to build hotels rather than working class homes because there is much more profit in the deal.

Walking through an area which is being demolished is a dismal experience. Streets of old houses are bulldozed and banged into rubble and then are rebuilt at rents far beyond the income of the ordinary family. This is particularly noticeable in the Colville Estate in Nothing Hill. Here so much damage has been done to families in the lower income groups that a special investigation called "The Colville Study" was forced on the Council by angry people. This group has been allowed to place their table of literature in front of a Church in a pedestrian precinct, and to plaster the Church railings with giant posters explaining how nearby developments have wrecked peoples lives. The vicar is on the side of the agitators and allows the vestry to be used for regular meetings. Friends in New Zealand may be interested to know that Pat Bolster from Auckland is very active in this group.

Encouraged by the sympathy for their cause, demonstrators came to a meeting called by the Council to explain its plans, to protest against the eviction of a couple with six children. Seven councilors and ten officials were locked into the hall all night and forced to listen to demands for reasonable consideration of local requirements. "People around here cannot afford rents of 25 pounds ($NZ50) a week", said the spokesman for the demonstrators. The councillors promised that the couple due to be evicted would be able to stay for two more weeks and would be considered for special rehousing.

A legal aid centre is open in this area where 'on the spot' advice can be given to anyone with a legal problem. This is a pioneering experiment sponsored by the Tenants Association and administered by a local committee.