St Michael’s Gate, Peterborough: Housing Nadir?

[Support the St Michal’s Gate tenants, demo and lobby Peterborough town hall, 6pm 14th Dec.]

It’s become difficult to be shocked by our housing crisis.  (I see the government now refers to the ‘housing challenge’ and some others don’t like calling it a ‘crisis’, but it’s a bloody crisis if you’re at the sharp end of it, which millions are.)  Whether it’s the insanity of the London market, the greed of developers, the demolition of council estates by Labour councils or the omnishambles that is the Housing and Planning Act, we’ve become too accustomed to the inability of our political system to deliver a basic social and physical necessity.  But there’s a situation in Peterborough that’s a parable of this failure and maybe marks a new low point.

At St Michael’s Gate there are 74 households threatened with eviction by a private landlord whose signed a contract with Tory-controlled Peterborough City Council to house some of its growing number of homeless families.  Ergo, people are being made homeless to house the homeless!

Meeting of Peterborough Trades Council 24th November with St Michael's Gate residents and campaigners.

Meeting of Peterborough Trades Council 24th November with St Michael’s Gate residents and campaigners.

The background is slightly more complicated than this fundamental absurdity suggests, but the situation is symptomatic of the grotesque mess we’re in.  The latest in a succession of private landlords at St Michael’s Gate is a company called ‘Stef and Phillips’, essentially a property investment company linked to an estate agents, but marketing itself as ‘a leading provider of social housing solutions’.  You can read its self-justifying statement about St Michael’s Gate here.  Basically, Stef and Phillips will make more money by replacing current tenants with new ones.

It was put to me by a BBC journalist this week that, ‘they own it, they can do what they like with it’, but this myopic view depends on seeing housing as nothing other than a private speculative investment vehicle – precisely the ideological motivation for the Housing and Planning Act.  The fact that there are 16 children at risk of being made homeless for Christmas presumably doesn’t fit with this credo.  Faced with this, it’s perhaps not surprising to hear that some current St Michael’s Gate residents are struggling not to blame the currently homeless families who could replace them for their plight, a graphic illustration of the pernicious divisiveness of the housing crisis.  According to a local Labour councillor, predictably, the local Tory MP, instead of reflecting on his government’s policies, has said the root of the problem is migration.

As I think I managed to explain to the BBC, the real issue here is the decades-long failure to invest in new social housing, particularly council housing.  This has created the scarcity upon which parasitic, profit-seeking landlords feed.  Before striking the St Michael’s Gate deal, Peterborough Council were spending £1 million to Travelodge to house homeless families, part of the £3 billion a year we’re currently spending on temporary accommodation.

The St Michael’s Gate families are fighting back though.  They’ll be lobbying the Council on Wednesday 14th December, meeting from 6pm at the rear entrance of Peterborough town hall (PE1 1FA).  All welcome.


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