Walthamstow’s property boom is a housing bust.

by SJ Griffin

Estate agents love Walthamstow. You can’t even get out of the Blackhorse Road tube station into Walthamstow, or Blackhorse Village as the estate agents call that bit of it, without being confronted with a barrage of baffling posters from one estate agent (I’ve forgotten which one – they all look the same to me) celebrating their startling observation that pies plus mash is a Walthamstow thing, as is jellies plus eels.

Oddly, they didn’t have a poster that said houses plus corruption is a Walthamstow thing even though that would be more accurate, given we only have the one jellied eel and pie and mash shop.

And why wouldn’t estate agents love Walthamstow? Most of the time they can get away with selling poorly converted sheds here with no documentation for £70,000. No planning permission? No problem. Just think of the profit margin.

House price rises in E17 have been astronomical – last year the number of properties worth over a million rose by 56% despite the economic climate. So, here come Foxtons. They believe that the housing market in Walthamstow is more profitable to them than the market in affluent Pimlico. Here they think they’ll be able to make £17m in fees because the property is cheap and shifts quickly. And as we all know estate agents do a great deal to earn those fees.

And here come the property developers too.

In a story you might have seen in news, Glasspool Charitable Trust have sold the Butterfields Estate and now all the tenants are being evicted by the new landlords. Because they are property developers and really, really need the money and nothing shifts quicker than an empty property with no chain. The Trust said that they really, really needed the money so that they could provide more grants for fridges. I know people will always need fridges but I wondered for a moment if perhaps the idea was that the 63 households that are currently being evicted could buy a fridge each and live in that.

The company that bought the properties is called Butterfields E17. Oh, the imagination! They are now auctioning or selling them for over £300,000 and making a huge profit. Once these properties have all been snapped up, with the help of estate agents of course, the company will be dissolved and the two brothers who own it will set up again and do the same elsewhere. This is what they have done twice before and if they ain’t broke… They keep a very low profile, these brothers grim, the number listed for them doesn’t connect and they have yet to comment in the press on their mouldy swizz, but here they are pictured larking about on some kind of luxurious holiday:

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Not sure which is which unfortunately. These property developers all look the same to me.

You would think all this buying up cheap, evicting people and selling for a profit would be illegal. It isn’t. Not anymore. So quite what “assurances in law” Glasspool claim they sought I’m not sure.

It’s not only the Butterfield Estate residents suffering from our highly porfitable property market. The same thing is happening on the Marlowe Road Estate where someone is going to make a lot of money from building a lot more houses on the same amount of land while forcing people to move so they can knock down the stock that’s there. And with compulsory purchase orders people have to move, even if those people had previously bought their council houses, worked to pay off the mortgage and didn’t really want to sell it back to the property developers at less than it was worth.

This isn’t illegal either. And apparently not only is it legal, it’s desirable. Waltham Forest Council have been praised for this approach to the housing crisis. Even though they’ve decreased the number of council houses available on the estate, far below the 50% mark that their own guidelines recommend.

You can find out more about the Marlowe Road Estate story via Melanie Briggs on Twitter, where you can also find the links to the Huffington Post pieces she’s written about their plight. And you can find this peculiar exchange that I feel I must mention:

stella weird facebook post

I suppose it’s one way of engaging with your constituents. Although it is a bit like the bedside manner of a doctor who screams at her ailing patient: ‘Why don’t you just hurry and die, you evil bed-hogging sack of germs!’ Weirdly inappropriate given the context. Just sayin’.

Anyway, it’s at times like these I like to remind myself of Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That’s where it recognises the right to housing as part of the right to an adequate standard of living. It says this:

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

So what is Walthamstow’s very own Veruca Salt, Stella Creasy MP of the twitter charm offensive, doing about this? After what she said to the Guardian about the Butterfields Estate you’d figure a lot, right? She said:

“It also shows the effects of people speculating on property prices. We now have people who will either end up on the social housing list, forced out of the borough, or into more expensive poor-quality housing. The council will have to pick up the pieces, one way or another.”

Well, for one thing she’s rolling out the red carpet with her very own awards ceremony for local estate and letting agents. Now in its second glorious year, the awards recognise the ‘best letting agent’, ‘best estate agent’ and ‘kindest gesture from an estate agent’ to name but three accolades.

I fear my incredulous eyebrows may never return to their normal position and I will be forced to look like I’ve had a facelift go horribly wrong for the rest of my life.

There are about 96,000 people in Walthamstow, give or take those who have been forced to move to Luton (more of this shortly), and 400 people filled in Stella’s estate agents survey. This is a 0.42% response rate which, coincidentally, will be the size of her majority in the next election if she carries on the way she is. Again, just saying.

I think we got a leaflet through the letterbox about the estate agent survey. Usually I do make an effort to rescue the post from the dog but not on this occasion. Sadly, little remained:

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Did it all come out of the other end OK? To be honest I couldn’t tell.

What else is Stella doing? Is she perhaps encouraging the council to “pick up the pieces” as she said they would have to? After all, she reportedly attends many more council meetings than is usual for an MP so would have ample time to keep an eye on them. I think the answer to that question is going to have to be another no. If I could regain control of my eyebrows I would do my sad face. This is from last week’s Private Eye:

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Oh dear. I’m not sure if this is the £70,000 shed. We have so many compact and bijou sheds in Walthamstow, it’s hard to tell that too.

Councillor Notorius Slum Landlord was at Stella’s now legendary Housing Vampire Oscars but didn’t get an award. I’m not sure if he was nominated but it is possible that a lifetime’s achievement award is on the cards for next year’s extravaganza. Here he is with Stella at the luxurious 2016 after-party:

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Obviously, she’s the one at the back.

Meanwhile, ordinary people are being shipped out to Luton by Waltham Forest Council because they don’t have the money or the property to house people here. Odd that, isn’t it? They sell off the houses to make money, make people homeless and then can’t rehouse them because they’ve sold off the houses. I for one am relieved that these geniuses didn’t decide on careers in open-heart surgery. Or teaching. Luton Council are not happy about all this either, what with all the families of six crammed in one bedroom flats and people sleeping on kitchen floors. Perhaps these people should count themselves lucky that they aren’t forced to live in a fridge. Or a £70,000 shed.

Perhaps we should all just consider ourselves damn lucky that we’ve received a kind gesture from a benevolent estate agent this year. And thank goodness someone thought to honour them for it or we really would all be going to hell in a handbasket.

Since the work on the Victoria Line to ready it for the night tube last year, some residents can hear the trains roaring under their houses at unlawful decible levels. Well, it’s either the tube or the sound of William Morris, Walthamstow’s revolutionary son and socialist, turning in his grave. Well, do not fear Mr Morris, your work with the Warners to create lovely social housing for your workers will not be undone. Walthamstow will still remember and honour your spirit.

After all, if there’s one thing we learnt from the Angry Mob That Never Was Episode it’s that Stella Creasy MP leaps into action to defend her constituents’ rights with all the speed and enthusiasm of an arthritic sloth on Tramadol and it looks like she’s bang on form this time too.

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