London’s Olympic victims

Olympic Park in London, ahead of the 2012 Olympics.

“He wanders around Westfield, dreaming about what he can’t have”, Carole Vincent says of her autistic son. “I’m not confident about finding a new place for him.”

The glamour of the Olympic site’s new shopping centre is as close as Ashley Vincent, 23, can get to the £10 billion renewal programme in East London. He has just been evicted at short notice from his apartment close to the site, along with three disabled housemates. His landlord has chosen to chase a fortune from short-term lets. Demand has pushed rental prices up to 400% higher around the site, and residents like Ashley lose their homes.

In Newham, London’s most deprived borough, “hundreds” of local people have been evicted ahead of the Games, Anchor House shelter Director Keith Fernett told Metro. Newham Council drew criticism in April over a plan to relocate 500 people to Northern England, a “pragmatic” policy which Fernett expects to see more of.

The evictions have inflamed a severe housing shortage, which had already forced people into desperate conditions. There are an estimated 10,000 living in illegal extensions in Newham, “sheds and garages are being let”, says Fernett. Overcrowding is severe – “We’ve seen 38 living in a house”.

Newham, London.

Sim Sekhon, director of Legal 4 Landlords eviction specialists, confirmed to Metro that business is booming, and that even the previously comfortable are being dragged down. “London is the majority of our business now. Evictions are certainly increasing in the Olympic hotspots. Landlords are cashing in on short-term lets and people who have done nothing wrong are replaced. Even the middle classes are being affected”.

The Olympic legacy was supposed to solve the housing crisis and regenerate run-down areas. London Mayor Boris Johnson recently claimed 10,000 “affordable” homes would come out of the Games. But the only new housing being built in Newham is high-end, far beyond the means of its cash-strapped community. “LOCOG (London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games) are saying ‘we want to build new communities here’”, Fernett says.

Complaints from residents to local government have failed, as councils say they have no power to regulate private landlords. “There is nothing to prevent soaring rents because there is no protection for tenants,” Shadow Housing Minister Jack Dromey told Metro. “The Olympics are a triumph for Britain but it’s wrong that thousands of local people are paying the price for it.”

Ashley and Carol Vincent.

Olympic bulldozers

Over two million people have been displaced by the last six Olympic Games, the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions claim. Beijing is the worst offender, according to the Switzerland-based group, having forcibly moved 1.25 million residents for the 2008 Games. It is estimated that 720,000 people were displaced in 1988, in Seoul, South Korea, including through mass demolitions and imprisonment. For the 1996 Games in Atlanta, USA, up to 30,000 lost their homes when public housing was demolished. Over 600 families were evicted in Barcelona 1992, and hundreds of Greek gypsies were forced out in 2004. There were no reported displacements in Sydney 2000.

Another summer of rage?

Riots are the number one threat to the Olympics, according to the Home Office Director-General of Security. Last year, 15,000 people participated in the worst public disorder Britain has seen in 20 years, in which five people died and several major cities were reduced to chaos. The potential for new unrest remains, with the UK back in recession, and unemployment and poverty growing. The Olympic site is located in the East end of London, which saw some of the most violent riots last year. Several activist groups are planning to target the Olympics for protests, such as the extremist Coalition of Resistance. Britain’s largest ever peacetime security force will attempt to keep everything quiet.

Q+A with David Cox, Policy Officer of the National Landlords Association

Are landlords evicting and exploiting more tenants in the Olympic boroughs?

Most of our landlords want long-term tenancies. We advise landlords that if they have good tenants to keep them instead of making a lot of money for a few weeks and then having no guarantee of finding replacements.

We are aware of some unscrupulous landlords, but we could call them criminals not landlords, taking advantage of vulnerable people. That is a rogue minority that taints the majority, in the bottom 5% of the sector.

How much more can landlords make from short-term lets?

We’ve heard four times as much in the Olympic boroughs. At this time hotel capacity is still only 80% so when that’s exhausted there could be higher prices.

Does the sector need more regulation?

Private renting collapsed last time there were rent controls in the 1960s. We want to see local authorities prosecute rogue landlords. Intelligence-led enforcement is the best way to root them out.


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