CROYDON IN CRISIS: Tenants of flooded and mouldy council flats fell through the gaps of a broken system, according to the Green Party’s candidate for London Mayor, Sian Berry. EXCLUSIVE by CLARA MURRAY
Sian Berry has slammed the conditions in council flats at Regina Road, saying that the scandal shows why London’s housing system needs sweeping changes.
The Green Party’s candidate for London Mayor visited the South Norwood council blocks last week, after an ITV News report revealed appalling living conditions with mould, damp and flooding, after tenants’ complaints had been ignored for years. Croydon Council is now being investigated by the Housing Ombudsman over its mismanagement of the homes.
Berry remains the only London Mayor candidate to have personally visited Regina Road, a month since the television news coverage shocked the nation. After speaking with some of the residents, Berry said, “It was really awful to hear.
“The state those flats got into was really severe and that should never have happened… These tenants were left to fend for themselves for far too long,” Berry told Inside Croydon.
She said the scandal was a perfect illustration of what the Green Party’s housing policies set out to solve: the current housing situation in the capital leaves tenants without a voice, unable to stand up to private landlords, housing associations or councils.
“There are so many places where it should have been picked up and dealt with. But it just wasn’t. And that is a symptom of system faults, not just an individual council failure.”
She compared the Regina Road tenants’ efforts to draw attention to their plight to those of Edward Daffarn, a Grenfell Tower tenant who repeatedly tried to highlight the block’s fire safety issues but was ignored, with tragic consequences.
Berry thinks the solution lies in creating more links between tenants, like renters’ unions or groupings of residents’ associations, who can work together to fight back against negligent landlords, whether private or social.
“It’s having those structures in place so the voices can come from the bottom up… That kind of genuine powershift is really important,” Berry said.
This year is the third time that Berry, a councillor in Camden and a London Assembly Member, has been a candidate for London Mayor. She is a long-term private renter, Berry is better placed than most politicians to understand London’s housing problems.
Her 2016 London Assembly campaign made renters’ rights a focus, and as a London-wide Member, she has worked extensively on the often controversial issue of council estate redevelopment.
Berry’s 2021 Mayoral manifesto, published last week, outlines a number of policies designed to wrest power from landlords: creating a Social Housing Commissioner for London, abolishing Section 21 “no-fault” evictions, helping tenants set up co-ops and giving social renters the power to stop their homes being demolished.
New housing developments would be created from “community-led principles”, which would give residents the right to manage their own homes.
Highest profile, and perhaps the hardest to pull off, is her campaign for rent controls in the private rental sector. She says the policy is vital to stop housing being at “the mercy of market forces”.
A freeze on rents also features in the manifesto of Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan. That, though, is too little, too late, Berry said. “At election time, he makes a lot of the right noises about renting.
“But it actually took me three years of continually going to him during Mayor’s Question Time in response to his housing strategy, pushing and pushing before he even started to talk about rent controls.”
City Hall has no statutory powers over the private rental sector in London. Any rent caps would need to be granted by the government.
In fact, a similar policy introduced in Berlin in 2020 was struck off by German courts last month, following a legal challenge led by landlords. Tenants in the German capital now face paying back months of arrears.
Every city is different, said Berry, and she would lobby the government to win the power for London.
She will also set up a rent commission for London to help work out a fair “living rent” for the city in consultation with landlords and renters. It might even vary between boroughs: “There’s no simple shouting out of numbers here.”
But she does offer up one set of figures: according to Green Party calculations, rents in London have soared by 25 per cent over the last 10 years; if increases over that time had matched the slower growth in wages, Londoners collectively would have saved £23billion.
Independent research published this week shows that in central London, most tenants are paying, on average, at least 70 per cent of their wage on rent – a “push factor” which is forcing most working-class Londoners out of the city.
“We have to make rents affordable in a very real sense,” Berry told Inside Croydon.
“Otherwise, we’ll just see more and more people struggling to get by whilst paying their rent – or going into arrears, and facing evictions and debts.”
Ultimately, housing is a public health matter, Berry said: “A lot of Green policy is about health and a healthy environment. Nice green spaces, clean air… But I apply it across the board to every other part of society as well.”
There are plenty of headline environmental policies in Berry’s manifesto, like cancelling the £2billion and hugely polluting Silvertown Tunnel (a policy backed by both Khan and his Tory rival, Shain Bailey), opening “libraries of things” in every borough and closing City Airport.
The biggest misconception many voters have is that the Greens are a single-issue party. But that, Berry says, is slowly changing, pointing to the fact the party’s vote share has increased each year. At the last London elections, in 2016, Berry came third in the Mayoral race, winning nearly 6 per cent of the vote. The Greens expect to increase that again on May 6.
“I think London is getting more and more used to the fact that Greens work across the different policies… We do see the links between social and environmental justice and racial justice.
“My principles are all about fixing the system, fixing the levers, not just fixing each individual problem at a time. If you don’t fix the system, that’s what you’re left to do. And that will always result in people falling through the gaps.”
- You can support Inside Croydon’s news-breaking independent local journalism. Sign up today as a subscriber. Click here
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, or want to publicise your residents’ association or business, or if you have a local event to promote, please email us with full details at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
- Inside Croydon works together with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and BBC London News
- ROTTEN BOROUGH AWARDS: Croydon was named the country’s rottenest borough in 2020 in the annual round-up of civic cock-ups in Private Eye magazine – the fourth successive year that Inside Croydon has been the source for such award-winning nominations
- Inside Croydon: 3million page views in 2020. Seen by 1.4million unique visitors