Russell Brand accompanies New Era residents on second rent hike protest
- Credit: Archant
New Era residents accompanied by comedian Russell Brand travelled across London in a fleet of buses to take a petition to Westbrook’s offices and Number 10 Downing Street, on a second protest against the threat of unaffordable rent hikes.
The 93 families from the Hoxton estate fear they will be evicted next year if the US investment firm Westbrook Partners which bought their homes in March goes ahead with its intention to increase rents three-fold to market value.
Residents say they would be unable to afford to pay the going monthly rate of £2,400 for a two-bedroom flat in Pitfield Street, and the move would effectively leave them homeless.
Grandparents, parents and children from the estate in Pitfield Street were joined by hundreds of campaigners yesterday as they demonstrated outside Westbrook’s Mayfair offices. They then marched on to Westminster to hand in a petition with 294,000 signatures calling on PM David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson to intervene.
Outside Downing Street New Era resident Lindsey Garrett warned the debacle was eroding people’s faith in the coalition government.
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She said: “David Cameron talks a lot about family and community and people getting back into work, but this is destroying all that.”
Brand, who accompanied the residents on a protest around De Beauvoir last month, denounced Westbrook as “unreasonable” and “profit-driven”.
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“What business has an American development firm got coming to this country, purchasing social housing and raising the rents,” he asked.
MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch Meg Hillier and Hackney Council have been holding discussions with Westbrook, trying to persuade the firm to sell off the estate to a housing association which would keep rents at affordable levels.
A letter sent by Hackney Council to Westbrook highlighted the devastating impact eviction would have on residents’ lives.
It warned taxpayers could be faced with a bill likely to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds to re-house residents who will otherwise be left homeless if the developer goes ahead with its plans.
A spokesman for Westbrook said they had been proactive in addressing tenants’ concerns however, and had sent two letters in the past 10 days reassuring them they had no plans to cancel residential leases.
He said: “Westbrook also confirmed to tenants that that there will be no changes to their residential leases and no increases in rents during the first half of 2015 and that a dedicated tenant liaison officer is in the final stages of being appointed. “Following that appointment, Westbrook intends to further the dialogue with tenants and local officials about the future of the Estate in the New Year.
“New Era is not and has never been social or municipal housing.
“Westbrook Partners and its employees are committed to the highest ethics and values in the conduct of its business and are fully compliant with all applicable laws in each jurisdiction that it operates in.”