From The Guardian:
US investors who planned to evict dozens of families and more than double rents at the New Era estate in east London have sold the development to Dolphin Square Charitable Foundation, an affordable housing group which says it is committed to delivering low cost rents to Londoners on low to middle incomes.
Rents at New Era will be kept at current levels for the next year, meaning tenants “do not need to worry about this Christmas or next Christmas,” according to John Gooding, the chief executive of Dolphin Living, the foundation’s customer-facing arm.
The new owner has committed to “develop a rent policy that is demonstrably fair”, saying that it decides rents on the basis of Londoners’ earnings rather than market values and says it does not expect any of the existing tenants to be forced out of the estate because increases are too high. Some tenants of the estate in Hoxton, just north of the City of London, had faced rents tripling from around £800 a month for a two-bedroom flat to £2,400 as part of plans by Westbrook Partners, the US firm who bought New Era estate in March, for the flats. A tight-knit, family-oriented community faced devastation as a result.
The deal – reported in the Guardian on Thursday – was sealed at 2pm on Friday and represents a remarkable turnaround for the residents of the estate, many of whom were facing eviction before Christmas.
They fought a powerful campaign against Westbrook Partners’ plans, and won the support of the office of the London mayor, Boris Johnson, and Hackney mayor, Jules Pipe, who were involved in negotiations, as well as the comedian and campaigner Russell Brand, who highlighted their cause.
In response to the news, Brand tweeted a picture of a group of residents, with the caption: “New Era women plot next move having defeated lazy government and greedy corporations.”
Gooding told the Guardian: “The deal we have reached with Westbrook helps us to deliver on our primary objective, which is to provide high quality, rented homes for working Londoners and to guarantee the future of the New Era estate.”
“We want the New Era tenants to feel secure while we have some meaningful consultation with them about not just rents but also repairs and renewals, to secure the long-term future of the estate.
“Today we have written to residents on the estate with the pledge to work to understand their circumstances and then develop a rent policy that is demonstrably fair. The complete moratorium on rent increases until 2016 will allow time for this consultation to take place and for us to win the trust of tenants. Dolphin Living looks forward to engaging with them and will be proud to continue the long tradition of the New Era Estate as a community of working Londoners.”
“I am so pleased,” said Jackie, a 45-year-old Smithfield market worker. “It has been horrendous. When they sold they said it would be to someone with the same ethos. There was trepidation, but not fear. Then when Westbrook bought it, we realised rents would go up to market prices and we couldn’t afford it. Every day since then has been so tough. It has made my boyfriend ill, and a lot of other people too.”
Pipe, the Hackney mayor, said: “This result is what we have been calling for from the outset, so we’re pleased that Westbrook has now done the right thing. I want to pay tribute to the tenants of New Era, who have run a tireless campaign to save the community they care so passionately about.
“Dolphin Square’s commitment to existing rents and tenancies until 2016 is welcome, and we will continue to seek assurances from them about their future plans for the estate. This news is very welcome for New Era, but there are thousands of private tenants in London suffering from escalating rents and insecure tenancies. This case highlights the urgent need to reform and regulate the sector.”