A block of Ministry of Justice (MoJ)-owned flats in Islington has been lying empty for years – all while desperate families wait for accommodation. So, campaigners took over the flats in protest – but were met by a ridiculous response from the cops.
The protest highlighted the issue of vacant government residential properties. Moreover, the government doesn’t say how many empty homes it owns – and all the while, people live through a housing crisis.
Islington residents fighting for homes
In Islington, there has been a long-running local campaign to get the MoJ to hand over 28 empty flats to the council. Currently, there are around 15,000 households on the borough’s housing waiting list, with 1,000 in temporary accommodation – that is, homeless.
Islington council has been trying to get the department to hand over the flats for years. It’s even gone to court, and won. However, the MoJ still won’t hand them over. Moreover, since 2016 it’s paid out over £600,000 of public money in council tax – despite the most of the flats being empty for over a quarter of a century. As the BBC reported, under council tax rules the MoJ:
must now pay 300% council tax, the rate charged for homes vacant for a decade or more.
Protest and occupation
So, Housing Rebellion, Homes For All, and other activists protested at the flats on Saturday 29 August:
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Post occupation press release (thread)
Housing & climate campaigners take over empty Ministry of Justice flats
A block of flats owned by the Ministry of Justice in Islington, that has been lying empty for ten years, was taken over by housing & climate protesters on Sat morning pic.twitter.com/JvIx1svqyR
— HousingRebellion (@HousRebellion) August 29, 2023
Climate campaigner Zaz said:
We need to protest and occupy every empty building to highlight this injustice. 40% of UK carbon emissions come from construction and buildings, so it is absolute insanity to allow developers to keep building luxury developments when there are empty buildings like this that could be retrofitted to provide the warm dry affordable homes that we need.
Inside, the Islington flats were a mess:
Then, cops turned up – for what purpose is not clear:
Housing Rebellion campaigner Alex said:
I couldn’t believe it when dozens of police turned up to protect an empty building! Then they threaten people with arrest for criminal damage when the real crime is leaving these much needed homes to rot for over 10 years. We are in a climate and housing crisis and we need these homes to be refurbished and given to families who live in temporary accommodation or been waiting years on council housing lists.
After expelling them from the Islington site, cops then followed the activists to a social centre in East London where they were holding training workshops. Tamsin from Housing Rebellion said:
We won’t be intimidated from organising peaceful protest. Over 80 people joined the training workshops this weekend and we know there is a groundswell of anger over housing and the environment and people want to find ways to take action. We had all sorts of people come along, some from housing estates facing demolition, some private renters wanting to know their rights and how to resist evictions. As long as these injustices continue, we will hold more actions.
How many government homes are there?
As Housing Rebellion stated in a press release, the protest took place in the context of:
- over 34,000 empty homes across London, the highest number since 2010
- over 42,000 households with children living in temporary accommodation in the city
- over 16,000 households on the waiting list in Islington alone
Islington council has not made entirely clear what it would do with the flats if it could get them. As BBC News reported, in 2019 the council wanted to turn them into “short-term lets” – that is, more temporary accommodation. Also, by the council’s own criteria only around 10 of the flats would need to be for social rent in any development. Neither of those proposals should suffice when 1,000 households are already homeless in the borough.
On top of this, the story also highlights the issue of empty government residential buildings – or rather, the lack of government transparency on the issue. It stopped publishing data on its property and land ownership in 2019/2020. So, there is no up-to-date information on just what the government is holding onto – meaning there could be more properties like the ones the MoJ has in Islington.
It’s obscene that during a housing crisis the government is holding on to properties that families could live in. However, it’s par for the course when Tories are in charge.
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