My abiding memory of being evicted is of a few burly men carrying my wardrobe and some half-packed belongings out of the house that I had called home. They dumped my stuff on the pavement, locked the door, and walked off – leaving me and my seven-year-old son to work out what to do next.
A few weeks beforehand, I had a personal disagreement with my landlord. He decided he wanted me out, and told me to start packing. On the day that the next rent payment was due, those burly men showed up to turf us out. The landlord hadn’t served any legal notice of eviction or gone to court for a possession order, so that it was technically an illegal eviction – not that it would have been any more justified had he jumped through the legal hoops. Suddenly, I had to find somewhere else to live.
My landlord didn’t think I would have a problem. When he was telling me to leave he said that “the council will look after you, you’ve got a kid.” But because I owned a knackered old minibus that was half-converted into a campervan, the council told me I was already housed. That minibus was where I’d live for the next few months as I looked for another option.
Being evicted is horrible. It makes you feel like you have no control over your living circumstances, like you can’t provide security for yourself or the people you care about most in the world. I tried to tell my son it was all an adventure, but the reality was that he couldn’t bring his toys with him into the van, there just wasn’t space. We were powerless.
Everyone deserves safety and security. We all need somewhere to call home. But in Britain today, that essential need is subject to the whims of landlords and a housing market set up to benefit the wealthy, not the working class.
My experience was hardly unique. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people are faced with the same situation. We live in a society which routinely throws people like me out of our homes in order to guarantee the profits of landlords.
But in this coming crisis, all these terrible routines of British capitalism look set to get worse. As unemployment rises, many more workers will find themselves facing eviction. An estimated 227,000 adult private renters have fallen into rent arrears during the pandemic. When the extended eviction ban in England and Wales comes to an end on September 20th, those evictions will start. As David Renton has argued, the housing courts will face a huge backlog, and the delays are likely to make illegal evictions like mine all the more common.
While workers and renters suffer, the rich and powerful are being protected. The pandemic has seen UK billionaires increase their total wealth by 20%. Now, with the scrapping of the evictions ban, the government is doing everything they can to restart the flow of rents from tenants to landlords, even if that leaves hundreds of thousands of people homeless. The cost of the crisis is being paid by the working class, while our bought-and-paid for political elites do everything they can to protect their mates.
If we do nothing, these evictions will decimate our communities. Council-provided temporary accommodation will be rapidly overwhelmed, and an increase in overcrowding and street homelessness will be the tragic result. We already know that chronic overcrowding in the London borough of Brent led to a higher death rate from Covid-19. Now an ever-increasing number of people across the country will face that increased risk.
The Tories want to defend a rigged housing system – even if it makes people homeless in the middle of a pandemic. But we’re not going to accept that lying down. Momentum is preparing to launch a housing campaign that will take the fight to them.
In the recent Momentum leadership elections, there was widespread agreement that we’ve urgently got to start the process of organising in our communities around big, structural class antagonisms. We can win people over through solidarity and collective action, and start to rebuild a mass working class base for the British socialist left. That process starts now, with this new housing campaign.
The campaign will have two parts. First, working alongside renters unions ACORN and LRU to actually stop evictions. Second, building a social movement to fight for three political demands against both the Welsh and Westminster governments:
- Extend the eviction ban in England and Wales for at least a year, until September 2021;
- Legislate to force landlords to forgive all rent arrears accumulated during the pandemic, with means tested financial support to compensate small landlords where necessary;
- Follow through on commitments made by both the last Conservative government and Welsh Labour conference to end section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions, which can force renters from their homes for no reason with as little as eight weeks notice.
We’ve got a couple of weeks before the ban lifts to build an army of organisers across the country. It’s the tireless work of people on the ground which will make the difference between success and failure. By knocking on doors, by getting rooted in your community, by mobilising your friends and family, by running your local campaign, you can help turn the tide.
So, if you’re a Momentum member, please sign up as an organiser for the campaign. If you’re not a member but you want to get stuck in, join now. To stop evictions we need organisers spread across all parts of England and Wales, ready to mobilise when the ban is lifted.
Our post-election pessimism has to end here. There’s too much at stake. Let’s start the fight back.