Rapper and artist Potent Whisper discusses how London is being deliberately turned into a ‘playground for the rich’ by dispossessing londoners from their communities and their roots via a process known as ‘regeneration’
Potent Whisper: I think it’s immoral enough that you’d want to demolish somebody’s home, not give them an opportunity to actually be consulted when something as immediate as the demolition of their home. On top of that, given that these social housing, primarily council houses were actually paid for and maintained by the taxpayer, makes it the extra little bit disgusting and immoral. Essentially it’s just a transferal of public assets into private hands at the expense of families and communities. Not even, it’s just a thing of displacement. It’s not even a case of people are becoming homeless and displaced, it’s a case of people were dying. Especially a lot of the elderly people in our estates who haven’t made it through eviction or demolition because their key support structures, those people in their estates were not just their neighbors but their lifelines, their support, yeah, their lifelines. It goes a lot deeper actually than just displacement and homelessness. We know where they’re going. It’s not a case of even guessing or even having an informed guess, an educated guess. It’s about seeing what’s already been done, so people being moved out as far as Luton, Birmingham, Manchester, so on and so forth, which of course there’s nothing wrong with these areas, it’s just that these aren’t communities in which these people were born into and of course, when they’re being moved out it’s not just a case of moving home, it’s a case of moving their children’s schools, their jobs, and every other aspect of their life. At this rate, I can imagine there won’t be any more working class people in London because as it is, the truth is that a lot of social housing, council houses, are inhabited, occupied by working class people, so I would imagine that they’re going to expect the working class people to commute into London every day to serve the rich, which I personally won’t be doing. London is going to be a playground for the rich. That is what it’s going to be. You’re physically not going to be able to live in the area in which you were born and raised and have a right to be in if you don’t have money. I would say it’s a fair statement to make that a lot of the people who are having their estates demolished and regenerated were consulted, if you want to call it a consultation, after the decision had been made, of course. They were finding out that their homes were going to be demolished after the decision had already been made. Then, of course, there was the official consultation, which of course was an empty box-ticking exercise as it is. Typically a lot of these consultations aren’t even actually carried out in a place that’s accessible to the community. For example, the Brixon arches network rails community consultation took place in a tiny room at the back of the Brixon recreation center, which you had to go through a little maze and go upstairs and try and find it. Of course, you’re met with security guards who aren’t letting certain people in, so you can’t even access your own consultation. The point is that these consultations are completely, they’re lip service. They’re nothing, because the voices of the people in the estates are completely ignored. It’s not an exaggeration. It’s not me trying to make it seem like “Oh, they don’t care about us, nobody even listening to us.” Look at Elsbree, I think on Elsbree, 76% I think, of the residents in Elsbree turned out to vote, and I think 73% of them opposed the demolition of they’re estate and actually wanted a refurbishment. That was actually a consultation or votes that was facilitated by the council. A lot of the times, for example at Bressingham Gardens. When I said to Inside Housing magazine, “Well, Bressingham Gardens had their own votes on whether or not they wanted their homes to be demolished.” What inside housing said was “Well, you know,” and what the council has said, was, “Well actually, that wasn’t an official ballot.” Well, look at Elsbree, that was an officiall ballot. Its quite clear that there is absolutely no benefit for residents on these estates, whether they’re tenants or whether they’re lease holders there is no benefit for them whatsoever. Lease holder will be served with a compulsory purchase order, they’ll receive a fraction of what the house is worth, and then that money isn’t enough for them to actually buy in the area. They’re forced out of London and certainly out of the area. Then of course, the tenants are told that they’re going to be coming back to a nice new empty shiny estate, new shiny flat, and everything’s going to be fine. Of course, the reality is that what they come back to is less than adequate standards of living with regards to smaller places, smaller properties, smaller gardens. Of course, hugely increased rent levels which they’re not able to afford. Even if they are able to afford it, even if they are able to return, the money that’s costing them in rent is leaving them living a hand to mouth existence with regards to the rest of their lives because their moneys going into rent. These are working people, these are working couples. These aren’t people on benefits. These are working professional people, a lot of them, and they’re still not able to afford the new rents. That’s the reality of it, unfortunately. It’s actually the tenants a lot of the time that are tricked into thinking, “Well, maybe we should let them demolish our estate because there’s a bit of graffiti on the wall, or stuff in my estate isn’t working anyway, I’ve been writing to the council for years to try and get them to do repairs. Maybe the council do care, maybe they’re going to just smash down my home and we’ll all come back to a shiny new place.” Of course, that’s not the reality. This country views housing as a commodity and not a human right. I think actually it’s that viewpoint, that kind of general consensus which I think is there, that housing is an asset. It’s something that people don’t deserve, it isn’t a human right. That seems to be the public narrative in this country. Of course, that’s the official narrative and not the narrative of everybody on the street, everybody living on the estates, everybody who truly has a heart does believe that housing is a human right. It’s not being treated that way because of course people want to make money. There’s a lot of money to be made in housing and land. What do we have to do to achieve that is to carry on organizing on our estates to try and identify the issues a lot earlier than we currently are to start teaching residents of our estates what we’ve learned from our battles and to build the intensity of our existence. It feels almost like we’ve just been finding our feet in a way, and actually I think there’s a lot to come around the corner. I know a lot of individuals who are planning a lot of other moves and maneuvers to try and combat that. Essentially just teaching what we know to other people who haven’t yet been through that experience who are potentially going to have to fight to survive.