Russell Brand and fellow campaigners have been victorious in their battle to stop a housing estate being taken over by a multi-billion dollar American asset management firm that residents feared would either evict them or more than double their rents.
Apparently bowing to public pressure after a series of high-profile protests, Westbrook Partners sold the New Era housing estate in Hackney, east London, to the Dolphin Square Foundation, an affordable housing group.
The American company’s U-turn represented a notable victory for Brand, who had been typically vocal in his support of protests that were started by a group of residents led by Lindsay Garrett, a 35-year-old single mother.
The comedian and activist joined a protest at Westbrook’s Mayfair offices earlier this month and helped deliver a 300,000-signature petition to Downing Street against Westbrook’s plans.
Brand, who has caused controversy with his book Revolution, celebrated the victory by tweeting a picture of a group of the estate’s residents, with the caption: “New Era women plot next move having defeated lazy government and greedy corporations.” He also praised “the families that stood up to corporation and government and won”.
Westbrook’s withdrawal bought relief for the 93 families on the New Era estate. Although the company, which bought the estate in March, had promised “constructive dialogue with residents” and insisted that rents would continue unchanged into the New Year, many tenants had feared they would become the victims of “social cleansing”.
It was reported that Westbrook had made clear to Hackney council that it wanted to refurbish the estate and raise rents to market values, which could have seen tenants of two-bedroom flats currently paying £800 per month being asked to pay a monthly rent of more than £2,000.
Yesterday, however, the Dolphin Square Foundation pledged it would decide rents on people’s earnings, not market values, and did not expect any existing tenants to be forced to leave because their rent was too high. Its spokesman John Gooding promised to “develop a rent policy that is demonstrably fair” and said rents would be kept at their current level throughout 2015, so tenants “do not need to worry about this Christmas or next Christmas”.
Ms Garrett, who had been the driving force behind the Downing Street petition, said: “This is a massive victory for us and we’re all delighted. Westbrook finally got the message that we weren’t going to stop fighting until they did the right thing and let us stay in our homes.”
Expressing the relief of many New Era residents, Jackie, a 45-year-old Smithfield market worker, said: “When Westbrook bought New Era, we realised rents would go up to market prices and we couldn’t afford it. Every day since then has been so tough. It has made my boyfriend ill, and a lot of other people too.”
London Mayor Boris Johnson and Hackney Mayor Jules Pipe had also urged Westbrook to rethink, and it is understood that Mr Pipe with Mr Johnson’s deputy Richard Blakeway helped negotiate the sale to the Dolphin Square Foundation.
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