Hackney Council intervenes in New Era dispute, warning owners to treat tenants “with respect and consideration”

Russell Brand addresses New Era protestors. Pic: Ben Maloney

Russell Brand addresses New Era protestors. Pic: Ben Maloney

The Mayor of Hackney, Jules Pipe, and the council’s cabinet member for housing have called on the owners of Hoxton’s New Era Estate to sell.

This follows a fierce dispute in which tenants have warned they could be faced with “homelessness before Christmas”.

The council’s letter to the owners said: “The New Era Estate is a long-established community that includes elderly and disabled tenants along with those on low incomes. It is not acceptable that you should move to evict them from their homes in this manner, and we hope you will agree that the tenants of the estate should be treated with respect and consideration.”

The move comes after four Hackney councillors warned tenants on Saturday that US investment company, Westbrook Partners, had revoked a verbal agreement not to raise rents until 2016.

In raising rents to market rates Westbrook Partners, who bought the estate in March, will increase prices greater than three-fold, from £600 a month to nearly £2,400. The 1930s square of flats had been providing affordable accommodation since its construction.

Mayor Boris Johnson recently called on his deputy to intervene. Johnson has no official powers over New Era as the property is a private housing estate on private land.

However, a spokesman said he had asked deputy mayor for housing, Richard Blakeway, to talk to Westbrook Partners “in an effort to find a favourable solution that would allow tenants to stay in their own homes”.

“The mayor supports the tenants’ desire to stay if at all possible and he would urge the Labour council and the local Labour MP, Meg Hillier, to do all that they can to broker an agreement between the tenants of the New Era housing estate and Westbrook Partners that will allow that to happen.”

This statement comes after New Era tenants criticised Johnson and Hillier for not supporting the residents’ campaign, which has been championed by activist and comedian Russell Brand.

Hillier has since said: “I have been working with residents of the New Era Estate for over two years since the previous private landlord first tried to sell their homes.”

“Now that The Benyon Estate has pulled out of the management of New Era, I am very worried about the current predicament of those living on the New Era estate.”

“I am seeking urgent meetings with the new management of the estate and will continue to work with New Era’s tenants, their local councillors and Hackney Council.”

Westbrook Partners now have sole ownership of the estate after its management, The Benyon Estate, “reluctantly” withdrew from all involvement in the property after protests from residents.

Only eight of the 93 New Era flats are not rented on contracts with two-week break clauses. As such, householders now fear they may be evicted before Christmas.

Lindsey Garrett, New Era resident and co-founder of the NewEra4All campaign, attacked Westbrook Partners decision on Trews, a YouTube channel created by Brand.

Garrett and eight other tenants said: “Westbrook… are recently refusing to honour the original contracts. We are now in a position where we could effectively be facing homelessness before Christmas.”

“We were told it was always their intention to sell the property within four or five years at a profit… it’s absolutely disgusting, it shouldn’t be allowed.”

“If we stand in solidarity we can show these people that we mean business. We are here to keep our homes. We are trying to prevent Westbrook from ruining anymore people’s lives.”

Speaking to Eastlondonlines, Garrett, who has lived on the estate for 22 years and has an 8-year-old daughter, said that Westbrook Partner’s decision is “a very vindictive, knee-jerk reaction”.

She added: “We’re not going to give in, our message is being heard… We’re going to make it impossible for Westbrook to evict us.”

Barry Watt, a Clapton housing campaigner and co-founder of the NewEra4All campaign, told ELL: “The tenants are still facing eviction before Christmas, the campaign is showing the injustice of that situation and we are continuing to get the message out.”

“We have had no news from Westbrook who are proposing not just to increase rent rates but also completely refurbish the estate… but Hackney Council have been very supportive.”

Westbrook Partners, who have made no attempt to communicate with the residents, appointed Knight Frank as the estate’s new manager last week after The Benyon Estate’s departure.

Westbrook were criticised in April for allowing thousands of low-income tenant’s homes to fall into disrepair within a 44-building portfolio it owns in New York.

Garrett said that New Era residents are currently reaching out to those tenants who protested against Westbrook’s actions in the US.

New Era, constructed as affordable family homes in the mid-1930s, remained under the same ownership until March this year. Details of the sale to the Westbrook-led conglomerate are unclear.

Westbrook’s London portfolio also includes Dolphin Square, a 1930’s apartment block in Pimlico.

The company’s London operation is headed by chartered surveyor Mark Donner. Donner is also a head figure of Hoxton Regeneration Ltd, the company which bought out New Era’s previous owners, First LBS Holdings Limited.

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