A group called ANAL are turning the spotlight on London property owners. They move into the most prestigious empty buildings for free and invite homeless people to join them. Their name – Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians – pokes fun at the wealthy who leave buildings unused while thousands are destitute.
Squatting posh pads is a reaction to the accommodation crisis, a symbol of resistance, and a direct action providing somewhere to live until they’re evicted again. They’ve occupied such edifices as the former Institute of Directors HQ, renaming it the Institute of Dissidents. This became an anti-capitalist space, with free kitchen, film screenings and workshops. Last month they took over the £17m townhouse of a Qatari general.
The average house currently costs almost eight times average earnings, an all-time record. Private renting has soared, along with evictions leading to homelessness. Tories can be expected to support private business interests, but policies like rent control abolition and the dismantling of the welfare state can be seen as war against the people, waged by the rich.
The Government acknowledges there’s a housing crisis. Their new Housing white paper promises “radical, lasting reform”. It will accelerate ‘regeneration’ with minimal social housing and increased Right to Buy discounts, further diminishing public housing. This could mean short-term, insecure tenancies for council tenants, breaking up families and communities, forcing more people into insecure private renting. The Axe the Housing Act campaign strongly criticises the plans as a shortcut to ‘social cleansing’. They want Sheffield to stand firm with other councils, publicly stating their opposition and making the Housing Act unworkable. They are confident because the government has backed off key proposals like a compulsory Pay to Stay tenant tax. They want rent controls, security and a new generation of council and other homes for rent.
At the time of writing, L.I.F.E (a new beginning) was building another homeless ‘Tent City’ on Park Square roundabout. Pointing to the numerous empty properties, they call for an emergency night shelter, an idea which the Council rejected last year in favour of prevention and early support. Campaigner Anthony Cunningham fiercely criticises the Council and what he calls the ‘homelessness industry’ for failing in its legal duties. He may be right, but one problem is that the law is bad. An independent review of homelessness legislation led by Crisis says there’s a strong case for reform. Concepts like ‘priority need’ become a filter, keeping help away from, in particular, single homeless people.
Meanwhile, Strip The Willow founder Jon Johnson is working with Heeley City Farm on affordable, environmentally-friendly homes built from storage containers. His social enterprise, REACH Homes, aims to tackle social inequality and bad housing policies. With solar power, insulation to Passivhaus standards, and recycled wood and fittings, their eco-homes are up to 90% cheaper to heat. The first show home is now open at Heeley City Farm and they’re planning pilot projects.
We need activists like Jon, Anthony and ANAL, banging the drum and making change through direct action. Homelessness, lifelong poverty and social breakdown are here. As Ken Loach, director of I, Daniel Blake said last month, “The government is now consciously using hunger as a weapon. Because if you’re hungry you can’t fight back; you can’t do anything – you’re just desperate…”
SOUL WITH SALSA
Fri 24 Mar | 7:30pm till late | Crookes Social Club
The popular Free Radicals play a benefit gig of soul, salsa and classic dance for Bartolina Sisa. This indigenous women’s empowerment group operates across Bolivia, which is leading a ‘process of change’ to reverse centuries of colonialism, racism, dictatorship and poverty. Invite your friends to come and have a party. £8/£4 concessions on the door.
SHEFFIELD ENVIRONMENT WEEKS
Multiple Venues and Dates
Our city is famous for being green, and part of that is 33 years of volunteers rolling up their sleeves for the environment. From now through till late summer, there’s a whole calendar of activities, welcoming you to help improve and enjoy plants, animals and landscape all over the city. sheffieldenvironment.org