A mural in Shoreditch, and area hit by Gentrification.

Last month my dad told me about growing up in his childhood home in Hackney in the mid-70s. He described how much fun he had, playing with his brothers and sisters in the back garden of the shabby four bedroom house.

“It wasn’t the best looking house, but it was home. I always remember the summer mornings during the school holidays. We’d all wake up in the morning and run downstairs to the garden to play before mum cooked up breakfast.”

As it was the first time we’d discussed his childhood home, I asked him why none of the family live in the house anymore.

He explained that when the council temporarily moved them out to remove damp in some of the rooms, they were asked to provide documentation to prove that the council was indeed supposed to move them back in.  As the original documents detailing the temporary relocation were misplaced during the move, they weren’t allowed back in their home.

The house is now converted into two separate flats.

It’s a common story told by many people who’ve lived in Hackney over the last 20 years. Now, you’d be hard pushed to find a four-bedroom house of it’s kind available without a massive price tag.  In fact, the average house price in Hackney has risen from £307,346 in September 2010 to a whopping £530,839 in August 2018 – that’s over 9% more than the London average house price.

Inflation aside, the Labour governments campaign for urban regeneration, back in 1998, has morphed into siloed pockets of hyper-gentrified areas across inner London boroughs. Where I live, in Hackney, it’s hiked up house prices resulting in local residents being priced out of renting and buying in the area at a pace never seen before.

So much so that even millennials who’ve grown up in the Hackney and managed to save for a deposit are faced with no alternative but to move out of the borough, or even the capital, to buy a home.

In fact, millennials are leaving London in their highest numbers for more than a decade due to skyrocketing house prices according to thinktank, Centre for London.

Although the borough has had a turbulent time in the past with crime, racism and poverty (and it still does to a certain degree), it’s still home to many working-class people and has historically been a hub for Black, Asian and other ethnic communities for nearly 70 years. Furthermore, these communities have had to live with decades of neglect by the local authority and the government.

We also have to dig a little deeper and recognise the racial dynamics of how regeneration effects black, brown and other people of colour who have established close-knit communities in the area since the 1950s. These collectives still thrive to this day and its members rely on each other to cultivate, celebrate and pass down their own culture to younger generations.

The most common response to these cultural experiences is ‘well, if the area’s too expensive, move somewhere else’.

Tell that to a Jamaican family that relies on getting yam, green banana and salt fish (at an affordable price) from Ridley Road Market to make their traditional cultural dishes or a Nigerian family that’s been going to the same Nigerian church for 20 years with rest of their extended family.

For many Black and Brown families, putting a large distance between the kinship of their cultural hubs by moving to another borough or city can have a dramatic impact on their daily lives leaving some families, especially ones with older or immigrant generations, feeling culturally ostracised.

Changing Hackney

The collapse of Britain’s industrial and manufacturing economies has left inner-city boroughs like Hackney plagued with a mix of poor-quality social housing, inadequate mental health services, rising homelessness, the development of slums and poor education from the 60’s up until the early 2000s.

Fast forward to 2018 and things have changed for the better, that’s for sure. New schools have been built and the standard of education has vastly improved. Parks and other green spaces are cleaner and better maintained and recreational facilities have been redeveloped to a standard one would actually travel from a neighbouring borough to use.

But we all know the story of regeneration far too well; government spending is used to garner prime private investment in some of the most derelict parts of London to generate long-term revenue and local jobs. It usually starts with building modern, upmarket homes on derelict, or unused, property and investing in local infrastructures, such as transport.

Dalston Square
Dalston Square, Hackney. The site was once home to the popular Four Aces Night Club which closed in 1997. The site was left derelict for 10 years before it was demolished for redevelopment ahead of the London 2012 Olympics.

Property owners are incentivised to refurbish their properties and increase the rent as new local businesses pop up to cater to the influx of newcomers that will eventually help drive the capital’s economy as a whole.

The 20-year-old urban regeneration campaign has indeed produced a new wave of housing developments attracting young and affluent newcomers to the borough. 

But let’s keep it real. The domino effect of inflated house prices and the onslaught of new bars, restaurants, cafes and yoga studios mean only the privileged few, with the economic clout, are able to access the full suite of benefits that come with living in the borough – if they can afford to live there.

When you look at other areas such as Brixton, Peckham and Deptford, it’s clear that regeneration is merely a codeword for gentrification – and our local authorities are addicted to this oppressive redevelopment practice.

Another thing that strikes me as rather bizarre is the local authority’s appetite to gentrify more, while the government and The Metropolitan Police Service are still failing, miserably, to tackle the issues surrounding gun and knife crime in London.

Surely it would be better for the local authority to publicly serve the most vulnerable and traumatised in the borough, in tandem with its wider regeneration strategy? Where’s the logic in continuing an endless property development campaign that clearly leaves many locals feeling marginalised and unseen in a borough where young people say they’re “too scared to go out”?

What does Hackney need more in the long-run; a new hotel on Kingsland Road or better access to facilities and engaging programmes for young black boys involved in gang violence to cultivate their self-worth, enable them to truly see their full potential and make them feel less marginalised? 

While I understand the need to get Hackney’s infrastructure and economy back on its feet, and part of that does involve building more attractive homes to appeal to newcomers, regeneration, at this point in time, simply benefits the have’s and marginalises have-nots – especially when it comes to housing. Where’s the balance?

Take Hackney Wick for example. Some Private houses nestled in a hodgepodge of council housing, derelict factories and disused warehouses that were once the economic powerhouses of the borough in the early 20th century.

Regarded as the forgotten part of Hackney, where some parts of the area hardly had any street lights up until the London 2012 Olympics Games, local artists took up residence in warehouse studios in the industrial area as early as the late mid-90s.

These artist safe havens have been an incubator for local artistic talent as well as a beacon for artists in surrounding areas who wanted to migrate to a growing creative collective.

Artists in the area are now faced with either increased rent prices or eviction for, that’s right, the development of pricey new homes and another bridge to connect Hackney Wick to the Olympic Park.

While a spokesperson from the Mayor of London insisted that it’s part of an ongoing development project that will create 4,500 new homes, it will be interesting to see exactly who these new homes are going to be built for.

When you consider that the recent redevelopment of the Bagel Factory is asking for £450,000 for a 1 bedroom flat in the area, it’s clearly not going to be for people who are currently living in the area.