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Tent City Hall

May 18 2009
‚Äö?Ñ??Unsurprisingly, the protesters were moved on by the police in the afternoon‚Äö?Ñ?? ‚Äö?Ñ??Unsurprisingly, the protesters were moved on by the police in the afternoon‚Äö?Ñ??
A protest on housing came to the London Mayor‘s back yard Passers-by and tourists on the South Bank of the Thames, near Tower Bridge, would, on the sunny morning of 30th July, have seen a group of tents and people scattered on a small stretch of grass, just under City Hall. The protesters had gathered at dawn that morning, coming from all over the city, to put up tents, which had been purchased by each organisation wishing to have a voice in the demonstration. Onlookers - one of whom was hoped to be Mayor Ken Livingstone, who could appreciate the view from his office window - were reminded of last winter's protest in Paris, when hundreds of people from all over France camped in tents to protest against the country's worrying lack of housing (Issue 17), which has contributed to the country's 86,000 homeless population. In much the same way, the London protest sought to attract the attention of London's public to the matter of housing, and the alleged failure of the mayor's policy, as soaring prices and scarce supply have made it now too difficult to get on the property ladder and own a house. The surge in housing costs is not a new topic of conversation for anyone. One report claims that salaries in London have increased by 26 per cent since 1997, while house prices and rents have risen by 127 per cent. The peaceful protest saw associations, families, churches, faith groups, and current and former rough sleepers gather some 100 tents. It was supposed to last a day and a half. The tents had been put up for people to stay in overnight, making the most of the rare good weather. The protest would have carried on until the next day. However, unsurprisingly, the protesters were moved on by the police in the afternoon. The event marked the launch of the 'Our homes, our London' campaign, led by organisers, the London Citizens' Association. The association had called upon faith groups, student organisations, and residents committees to join and demand more action to address the lack of affordable housing in the city. The London Citizens' Association, a network of citizens' organisations in the city, aims to promote a land development model that could release more houses at significantly cheaper prices by excluding the cost of land from the cost of buying or renting the building. The association claims: "Put simply, the solution cuts house prices through community land ownership. "It combines a community land trust (CLT) with a mutual home ownership trust to permanently exclude the cost of land from the cost of homes, enabling low paid workers to buy their own home and permanently preserving the affordability of owner-occupied housing for generations to come." Land would be given to community land trusts by a landowner, such as a local authority, at no cost, and the trust would safeguard it in democratic public ownership, the association claimed. In London, the land represents about 60 per cent of the cost of any house, the association's report said. Despite being endorsed by the Mayor in response to London Citizen's requests, and despite pledging to support 14 community land trusts across the country, the association had not (at the time of the protest) secured the go-ahead to start. According to participating associations in the demonstration, the Mayor had also made an election pledge in 2004 to release land for a community land trust to build 2,000 units of affordable housing. However, while London Citizen was organising the protest, the Mayor reiterated his pledge and said that he will release the land. A site for 2,000 units has been found in Tower Hamlets and a timetable has been set for the development of the houses in the next few years. This news was confirmed by a press release by the Mayor on Monday 30th July. Simon Okotie, a member of London Citizens from the London Buddhist Centre and the campaign's spokesperson, said: "Everyone who has looked at the CLTs knows they are the obvious solution to London's property apartheid and the scandal of overcrowding. More and more ordinary Londoners have seen the chance of owning a home slip from their grasp. "Mayor Livingstone's commitment to a pilot scheme in East London has brought them real hope. What we are asking for now is local authorities and other landowners to get on board by releasing land to London's communities. Together, we can bring dignity to thousands of low-paid workers."