Mayor of London Boris Johnson has waded into a bitter row about the plight of a group of East London tenants while the Tory MP caught in the crossfire has bailed out.
Landlord Today reported last week how MP Richard Benyon was part of a consortium which bought the New Era estate in Hoxton in March this year.
The consortium is controlled by Westbrook Partners, a US investment group. The Benyon Estate was awarded the contract to manage the estate and a stake of less than 10% in the property.
The flats in question were built by a charitable trust to provide affordable housing to local people. However the takeover by Westbrook means rents will rise to market rates – four times the rents tenants currently pay in some instances.
Media pressure and a campaign by residents led to Benyon Estates announcing it was to sell its stake in the estate back to the landlord, Hoxton Regeneration Limited.
A letter sent to residents from Benyon Estates said: “New Era residents have made it clear that they do not welcome our involvement in the future of the estate. They made it clear that they wanted us to pull out, and this is what we have reluctantly decided to do.
“With a stake of less than 10% we already had only limited influence over decision making and policy. Our withdrawal means that the future direction of the estate will now be wholly a matter for the landlord.”
Meanwhile Johnson has asked his deputy mayor for housing, Richard Blakeway to negotiate with Westbrook Partners over affordable rents for residents.
However, Johnson has no formal powers over the estate as it is private housing on private land.
Benyon’s exit from the row appears to have made things worse for residents. The weekend saw Hackney councillors hand-deliver letters to the estate explaining Westbrook’s stance on rents.
Initially Westbrook had agreed not to raise rents until 2016 – but the consortium has now announced it will no longer honour that agreement and that its plan is to refurbish the whole estate and then rent all the properties without secure tenancies at market rent levels, with no affordable housing.
Some residents appear to be on contracts with two-week notice periods – despite ASTs legally needing to give two months’ notice – leaving them in fear of being evicted before Christmas.