New Era residents are facing up to what could be their last Christmas on the Hoxton estate after the area’s owners confirmed that no change would be made to tenancy agreements before 2015.
Westbrook Estate, the sole owners of New Era after the Benyon Estate sold its stake earlier in November, confirmed in a statement to Eastlondonlines that they would keep residency agreements as they were until they have spoken to tenants and that no changes would be made in 2014. However the company were unable to confirm when these meetings would take place.
The six-point press release said that Westbrook were “committed to working closely with our tenants”. However it was not made available to residents at the time of writing.
Barry Watt, a Clapton housing campaigner, said that this was part of an attempt by Westbrook to “stage-manage” the situation and allow the company to remain relatively anonymous.
He said: “We feel not all that much has changed. Yes there aren’t going to be any cold-eyed evictions before Christmas but they’ll probably be waiting for a quieter time in the New Year… I suspect they’re waiting for some steam to come out of the story.”
Lindsey Garrett, a life-long New Era resident and one of the leaders of NewEra4All, echoed these concerns and spoke of the emotional turmoil that this process has put her and her eight-year-old daughter through in the run up to the festive season.
“We put our trees up early because we thought this could be our last Christmas here… It absolutely devastates me. I’ve lived here all my life. I’ve loved living here. The thought this might be our last Christmas around family and friends scares me…”
“My Mum and Dad come over on Christmas morning, my sister comes over. The thought that I don’t know where I’m going to be next Christmas and I might be outside London somewhere on my own with my daughter scares me.”
Ninety families on the estate, which has provided affordable housing in the area for 70 years, have been told to expect to soon pay “market rates”. This could amount to an increase in rent from £600 to £1800 per month.
Residents have been receiving support from local MP Meg Hillier, Hackney Council and the Mayor of London and Westbrook noted that these parties continue to maintain a close working relationship with the owners. However in the matter of a private firm’s dealing with tenants there is little political organisations can do in the short term beyond applying public pressure.
New Era have also found support from others living in Westbrook-owned properties, including Three Pools in Brooklyn, New York. Garrett told Eastlondonlines that New Era are looking at means of co-operation across the Atlantic, potentially including Hoxton residents travelling to Brooklyn and both sets of residents arranging to protest on the same day.
Garrett has also been in touch with those in Pimlico who have lived under Westbrook ownership. Garrett said: “I spoke to previous residents at Dolphin Estate… and what they [Westbrook] did there was offer people money to leave.”
The Dolphin Estate, the leasehold for which was purchased by Westbrook in 2005, subsequently became the centre of a dispute over enfranchisement only settled in the Court of Appeal this year.
In 2010 Elka Raine, a Dolphin resident, took Westbrook to Westminster magistrate’s court for criminal harassment after the company had posted an eviction notice on Raine’s front door. Though District Judge Elizabeth Roscoe acquitted Westbrook she did say that the fixing of the eviction notice by a third party “clearly caused distress and a reasonable person would without doubt know that”.
With residents knowing they will not find out their fates until the new year Watt said that they will face a struggle to keep their story in the public eye until then.
Therefore NewEra4All have committed to further action, planning a march on December 1 at 12:30pm from Westbrook’s Mayfair office in Berkley Square to Westminster, where they will hand over their change.org petition. Organisers have invited Russell Brand, whose attendance at a protest earlier in the month helped to spark national