Campaigners protested about a borough’s lack of investment in genuinely affordable social housing outside a block which has lain empty for more than five years.
They demanded action in front of blighted Rotherhithe tower block Maydew House last week to press Southwark council to take radical action to deal with the housing and health emergency.
They were joined by Southwark Liberal Democrat councillors Graham Neale and William Houngbo to demand that the council open up empty council homes.
Maydew House being empty has deprived 144 Southwark households of a council home ever since, they say.
The spread of Covid-19 has shown up the massive overcrowding in the borough.
Campaigners argue that empty council homes like those waiting to be demolished on the Aylesbury Estate and Maydew House should be refurbished and filled immediately.
Overcrowding makes it impossible to self-isolate and puts whole families and other types of households at risk of the disease, they say.
Groups including Southwark Defend Council Housing, Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations, Southwark Law Centre and Latin Elephant sent an open letter to council leader Peter John on June 2.
The groups believe that thousands of empty private homes could also be requisitioned by the council and turned into council housing.
This would go a long way towards solving the housing and health emergency.
A petition urging the council to requisition private empty homes, stop demolishing the Aylesbury Estate, open up and let all empty council homes and support the #shutthesites campaign is gaining support, with more than 600 signatures.
Tanya Murat from Southwark Defend Council Housing said: “There can be no good reason to keep empty council homes empty for any longer.
“The council first wanted to reduce the number of council homes in Maydew House by 42.
“Now they claim that there will be an overall increase in council housing on the Abbeyfield Estate, although we think the rents are likely to be higher.
“But five years after people were removed from Maydew House, no building has happened.
“They should have just refurbished the flats five years ago and keep them as council housing.”
Sally Causer, from Southwark Law Centre, said: “We are living through a time where a safe, secure and affordable home could not be more important, yet nearly 11,000 households in Southwark are living in cramped conditions, overcrowded temporary accommodation or in hotels and bed and breakfasts.
“When considering the plight of those in our community living in these situations during a pandemic, it is unacceptable that Maydew House has been left empty for so long, and we call on Southwark council to refurbish the building and make sure it stays as 100 per cent council housing.”
Jerry Flynn, from the 35 per cent campaign, said: “The coronavirus crisis has shown that homes can be found for the homeless by determined action.
“It would be tragic if the opportunity to build on this and solve the homeless problem permanently was lost.
“Refurbishments like Maydew House are very welcome, but Southwark must get on with it now and bring the new homes into use.”
Liberal Democract councillor Maria Linforth Hall said: “I fully support the campaign. Why should we allow more development when so many
homes are empty?”
Pictured top: Protesters outside the empty Maydew House block
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