The North London Star’s Phil Tsappas meets Alex Finnie, resident of 9 years on the West Hendon Regeneration estate in Barnet
Events have been escalating this year on the West Hendon estate (Borough of Barnet). Temporary tenants and lease holders alongside council tenants are making their voices heard through peaceful protest against a rising tide of evictions. There were 115 temporary tenants on West Hendon Estate. Now there are around 248. I spoke with Alex Finnie, 55, a temporary tenant on West Hendon estate about how he’s coping with the regeneration process.
“How long have you been here living on West Hendon Estate and where were you living before?”
I’ve lived on West Hendon estate for about nine years, before that I was homeless, put in bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation. I’ve been moved 4 or more times over the past 15 or so years in Barnet. This is the fifth time, as I’m still now living in temporary accommodation. I’ve always lived in this borough, I would say it took them about 2 years for them to accept me as homeless. So, firstly they put me in B&B’s in Edmonton (Enfield council). When I use to move into these places I would look up at the ceiling and see it moving, I would then realise we had a cockroach infestation.
“You said that it took Barnet council about two years to accept you as homeless, what year was that?”
I don’t remember, when I was originally housed under section 188. When I get a letter back I can tell you. I’d have to say about 15 years ago at least.
Before that I had nothing, I was living in people’s sheds and that. I was going to the council every day, and they would ask me if I had “filled out the pink form”, everyday they wanted this pink form, and every day they wanted a different form for me to fill in. They even asked me for two passport pictures whilst I lived in a shed. And then, I got put in to a B&B, but, I was living rough for a time when you had to prove that you’re living homeless.
Statistically you’re not in the borough once they put you in a B&B in Enfield, for example, but it’s still their responsibility to house you. It’s a way of fiddling the figures I guess. I was moved in b&bs outside Barnet a few times.
“About nine years ago you were housed on the West Hendon estate, with, I guess, a secure tenancy at that time?”
No, I have a temporary tenancy, it’s worse than an in-secure tenancy. They say [Barnet council] that to be a secure tenant you must have been moved in here by 2003, however, they don’t take all the times you are put, by them, in B&B’s, it’s like they forget that. As it happens, some people I know, with children, have been here for 15 years and are still temporary tenants – it’s just a one A4 piece of paper. As far as I know, I’m on a weekly rolling tenancy.
“Why do they give people who don’t intend to leave here a temporary tenancy, what’s the point?”
It’s deliberate – take this instance. I was put on a regeneration estate, okay. I have friends, when we lived in Finchley at the same time, all homeless. One friend, Kelly, she got put on Grahame Park regeneration estate, it’s just up the road here, and she’s still a temporary tenant like me. But another friend, Steve, he got housed in East Finchley. After two years he got a secure tenancy. So you can’t say it hasn’t been deliberate.
They are putting people on these estates knowing this and still put people on this estate.
It feels like its just the luck of the draw.
“They’re still doing this are they?”
I’ve seen people here, moving in with arms full of stuff, like decorating gear, and they may only have to March 2015 before the place comes down. They are not telling people!
“Let’s say the council [Barnet] are very well aware of who is living here, or they think they know. So when they announce that this will be a regeneration site it wasn’t when you moved in…?”
The truth of the matter is it’s been on the books for regeneration for years, maybe since the 1990’s. I took it as moving on here I would be re-housed and looked after. After talking to the housing officer at Grahame Park he said “no, you won’t be getting a place, you are just a temporary tenant” and unless you do 12 hours voluntary work a month that’s what you need to keep a temporary tenancy, you won’t be considered to move.
“That’s what Barnet council are saying you need to do to continue be a temporary tenant?”
You need to do this to keep a roof over your head. You come under these 5 bands, and you have to fit into one of those bands, and to be a volunteer is a condition. If you’re not volunteering you are nudged down the housing list.
“What does this mean for you Alex, are you now being forced to volunteer somewhere?”
I’m involved in the Westminster Drug Project (WDP): I will say this whole process can make you say just f**k this I need escapism. Relapse is not an event but a process, and this is all very stressful. WDP want me to become a mentor, I volunteer my time there and am involved at the Finchley branch.
“What have Barnet council’s promises to tenants been? What have they been saying to secure tenants, who have more housing rights?”
The guy upstairs has a repossession order, and another secure tenant, as far as I know they have not been balloted. What they’re doing is putting them on the traffic island estate.
I was trying to fight the council two or three years before this came up, because I knew it was coming. Some residents are still not involving themselves in the arguments.
“What sort of consultation was there, if any?”
I went down to Grahame Park housing office, I’ve been trying to find out what was going on for ages, and the housing officer told me what was going on. So, I found out by myself, as it stood no one told me anything, and continue to tell us nothing.
It’s because, I think, there is a time limit on all this. It was only when we started becoming more knowledgeable that they stared noticing us and given us facts and figures. We asked them to a meeting and they still haven’t come, and this was months and months ago that we invited them. They wanted to see everyone individually but we refused and said you can only see us as a group.
If we had a consultation, they would know that I’ll be starting treatment in January for Hepatitis C, and you can get really ill. I have to go to Edgware hospital too, to see a psychiatrist due to the stress I face here. It’s putting an immense amount of stress on me, you know, you try to put on a brave face.
My brother lives in Wales, my sister lives in Scotland as my parents do, and to kick me out, where do I go? I have no family here.
“So you will begin medication for Hepatitis C soon. You’ve mentioned your mental health status, how would you say it is since the pressure from Barnet council to demolish the estate started?”
It’s poor at the moment, I’m on anti-depressants. Accommodation is really, really, really what you need because you need to rest up. Sometimes you’re having a conversation and half way through you burst into tears. And until you go through this you don’t know what it’s like. You dread getting another letter from the council.
“Since construction began, it’s not hard to notice that you are surrounded by now developments – What have been Barnet council’s broken promises, so far?”
They haven’t said a great deal to me, personally, but I’m worried about being moved out of Barnet and out of London. Barnet Homes have said they would not do this. But I heard talk on the estate about people being moved to Milton Keynes.
“You’ve been involved in a specific campaign from day one, Our West Hendon, what have you set out to achieve?”
Basically, we’ve tried to get secure tenancies for the insecure tenants, and the lease holders have joined us. We don’t want to spend the rest of our lives fighting homelessness. We were promised this. We were promised by Margaret Peak, head of housing, a brand new place.
“When did the campaign get itself together? Was there something that specifically happened that brought Janette and the lease holders together?”
Paulette came here as a community organiser, and she started this thing called listening, it came up that the main issue which was housing. It’s called the “Listening”. They ask us what we like about being here and our community, “what could we do to improve things? And, housing just kept coming up. Janette got involved because the lease holder kicked off a group called “People Power” who got in touch with BAPS and Barnet Housing Action Group. On this estate there is nothing for insecure tenants. So we began setting up meetings as a whole, no more divide and rule.
What Paulette did was to bring all the campaigns together, this was in April 2014.
There was nothing before that.
“So, you came to together as a cross tenure campaign, with housing as the main issue on the same estate. And this is a big place!”
It’s non secure tenants and lease holders that have got the problems because the secure tenants will be housed elsewhere. Lease holders have been offered a ridiculous sum. Lease holders are currently being offered £160,000 for their 2 bedroom flats. Which is nothing if they want to stay in the area – it’s just to make a profit. The ones being built, you can see them being advertised, in their place (the traffic island) are up for half a million.
One from a recent meeting said: I’m not interested if my neighbour is a lease holder or a tenant or non-secure tenant, she is my name, a person, a member of the community. And the sense of community has come together more since the campaign started.
“What have been some of the successful actions the campaign have done so far?”
We got the action covered by ITV news, there were about forty of us from the estate, we went there to highlight the fact that Barnet council had invited the Mayor, Boris, to see these homes when there were currently 18,000 people on the Housing waiting list, nobody knows how many there are now as they abolished the list. But you don’t celebrate building 3 council houses.
Mrs Angry (blogger) was there that day she has documented it. The council are worried now, because they thought they could just do this without anyone saying anything. The project manager here is Stephen Macdonald, he’s a property developer and the guy that project managed the Heygate Estate, which was emptied and demolished, when we went to the GLA meeting he was saying that he had emptied that estate in under a year.
These are the poor parts of the borough and the thing about round here is you have the Bishops Avenue, you’ve got Totteridge. Some of the wealthiest roads in London are in the borough of Barnet. They wouldn’t develop and regenerate them roads. Instead they do it here on these so called “brownfield sites”.
“Any concluding points, Alex, including what you have coming up in the future? I’d also like to know has the campaign made you feel?”
I was hopeless before we got together, you then begin to get positive feedback from organisers. Before I felt in a corner, now, I feel like I’m fighting for a fairer deal.