Protesters stormed several letting agencies in Hackney Central to demand equal housing opportunities for people on benefits on Saturday, February 27.
The protest came after Digs, a campaign group for Hackney renters, approached 50 agencies to see how many properties were available for tenants receiving benefits; the result was ”one flat out of all the rental properties currently managed by letting agents in Hackney.”
The protesters chanted “homes for everyone, not just the rich” as they walked through Hackney Central. The campaign’s title, YES DSS, refers to the common term ‘no DSS’ used by letting agencies for people who receive housing benefits.
Members of feminist direct action group Sisters Uncut used the protest to highlight the issue of domestic violence and social housing. They pointed out that many women fleeing domestic abuse depend on housing benefits. The letting agencies’ rules mean they have no permanent accommodation to go into.
Sisters Uncut activist Sarah Kwei, 28, said: “The murder rate for women is now going up for the first time in 40 years. That is directly related to the fact they’ve nowhere to go.”
Hadi Nazzari, 27, is the branch manager for Kings Group, which was one of the offices targeted by the protesters. His office offers ‘half DSS’ which means that tenants on housing benefits who work at least 20 hours a week are accepted. He acknowledged how hard it is for people on benefits to find a place to live, but said: “It’s not up to us, it’s up to the landlords who might have had bad experiences with ‘full DSS’ tenants in the past.”
Labour MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, Meg Hillier, paid a visit to Hackney Town Hall where the protesters had gathered outside the building to prepare for the action. She blamed the government for allowing overseas investors to seize properties that should be available for local people.
Hillier said: “I want to see longer term tenancies and some form of rent control where people can establish families and stay and contribute to our borough.”
The police were present but let the demonstration continue as they followed the protesters from agency to agency.