Marble Falls Despite long gone Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s efforts to privatize all social housing or council housing, as public housing is called in the United Kingdom, is still a critical source of housing for tens of thousands. Many of ACORN’s 11,000 members in Great Britian still live in council housing and over the last decade we have been in thousands of fights over tenant issues in England, Scotland, and Wales, because of the intense affordable housing crisis in the country.
Now, we’re facing a new issue which is front page news in Bristol, where our organizing began in England, as well as throughout the country, and it’s not just the soaring rents or security of tenure, it’s the very integrity of the building structures. Talking to Nick Ballard, head organizer of ACORN UK, he said it “had been a crazy 24 hours.” An entire tower block of more than 400 units, near where our old office had been in Bristol, had suddenly been evacuated within hours, some of whom, including many of our members, are now functionally homeless.
As the New York Times reported,
Shaban Ali has lived in a public housing tower in Bristol, in southwest England, for seven years. On Tuesday, the plan was to stay in: dinner, a bath and watching “Paddington” with his two young children. Instead, they and other residents of Barton House were ordered to pack a bag and immediately evacuate the building over concerns with the building’s structural integrity, the authorities said on Wednesday. “It was absolute chaos,” said Mr. Ali, 36, the secretary of ACORN Bristol, a union that has campaigned for local tenants. (emphasis added!)
“Absolute chaos” is a good description of this mess, but “unacceptable risk” and “dereliction of duty” also come to mind. The housing block was built 65 years ago in 1958, and structural inspections have been almost nonexistent. Structural engineers describe the building method of the Bristol complex and many others of the same generation has having probable weaknesses. All of the councils in Britain were warned of the potential problem in 2017, but little action was taken, so it’s no surprise that this is chaos and no excuse is acceptable for this situation.
ACORN is demanding inspections of similar building all of the country, just as we demanded replacement of flammable cladding after the horrible and tragic Grenfell fire in London that killed scores. The structures need to be fixed, but equally important is that councils now need to find adequate housing in the meantime for Ali, all our members, and hundreds of others who have been suddenly rendered homeless.
These are life and death issues, and authorities need to step up to meet the challenge immediately.
Ps. In a minor side note, let me add a couple of personal comments to this narrowly averted tragedy. First, as Nick reminded me, I’ve looked at this block, walked by it, and been in its shadow many times when visiting our old office in Bristol. Second, it’s great to see ACORN’s work in the New York Times again for the amazing organizing we’re doing around the world now, rather than just mentioned in bits of nostalgia and side glances from the past. Finally, after fighting for years with the Times, its editors, and keepers of their style book, it’s wonderful to finally have won a battle and to see in the “paper of record” ACORN in caps like it belongs as an acronym for Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.