Key workers and pensioners protested against rising rents outside Peabody's headquarters in Southwark. Credit: Local Democracy Reporting Service
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Key workers protest against rent increases outside Peabody HQ 

‘This has kept me awake all night’: Protestors staged a rally outside Peabody’s head office in Southwark, expressing concern about planned annual rent increases. 

A large crowd of pensioners and key workers gathered outside the head office of Peabody on Tuesday 19 March to protest against plans to increase their annual rent by up to 9 per cent. 

Key workers previously told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) they were worried they would be ‘driven out of London’ as they wouldn’t be able to make ends meet for themselves and their families.

Some residents have said they are already dipping into their savings or using credit cards to stay financially afloat. Ola Akinboro is a London Underground worker who lives with her daughter in a Peabody-rented home in Westminster.

Ms Akinboro told the BBC’s London Democracy Reporter she is worried she will have to find a second job so she can keep on top of paying rent and bills. She said: ‘We can’t physically cough up this money, we are pressed as it is and now we are thinking will we have to sell something to keep a roof over our heads?

‘Do we have to go for a second job? I won’t even have enough time because I do shift work and during the time I’m meant to be resting, I’m going to be thinking I need to find a second job.’ She added: ‘A fellow tenant was telling me the other day how she’s so deep into her savings to keep a roof over her head which isn’t nice and now she’s going to have a rent increase on top of her salary.

‘She’s already panicking and having anxiety with all of this. I don’t know what to say to her.’ Ms Akinboro says she has found it hard to sleep at night because of the proposed rent increase. 

She added: ‘What we need is decent accommodation and a decent wage. We don’t want to have to receive a salary and then use a credit card until the next salary comes in, we’re constantly living in deficit.

In 2011, Peabody bought the four estates, Victoria Park in Hackney and Tower Hamlets, Cumberland Market in Camden, Millbank in Westminster and Lee Green in Lewisham from the Crown Estate for £140.8 million.

Peabody is one of London’s oldest and largest housing associations and rents out some of the homes to key workers at intermediate market rent, a discounted rate which is meant to be 20 per cent to 35 per cent cheaper than average market rents in the capital. 

According to Peabody’s website, those on an intermediate market rent face a rent rise of 9.4 per cent from April 1, 2024; the housing association later told the LDRS the proposed rent increases on former Crown Estate homes will be capped at 9 per cent.

Peabody said other tenants living in ex-Crown Estate properties will see an average increase of 5.4 per cent and some will see no increase for 2024/25, depending on whether their rent has already hit the maximum cap in line with London Living Rent. 

However many key workers including paramedics, nurses, teachers and firefighters who live in these homes say they have been threatened with the maximum rent increase.

A Peabody spokesperson told the LDRS: ‘We appreciate that no rent increase is ever welcome. For more than half of residents living in the former Crown Estates, rents will stay the same or increase by an average of 5.4 per cent.

‘Like all housing associations, we’re having to balance rising costs with a need to continue maintaining existing homes, build more desperately needed homes where we can, and provide essential services.

‘Since 2020 we’ve invested more than £23m in maintaining and improving the homes on the four former Crown Estates and we’re committed to investing further.’

The spokesperson added: ‘Although these homes aren’t for social rent, they are decent value for money in these central London locations, at an average of £1,233 per month for a three-bed home.

‘People are paying significantly more for similarly sized homes in the same areas on the open housing market. No resident on a former crown estate will pay any more than our self-imposed cap of more than £1,400 per month.’

They went on to say that as a not-for-profit organisation, Peabody invests ‘every penny’ into homes and services for residents and communities.

Pensioners were also protesting outside Peabody’s head office in Southwark on Tuesday (March 19) as they also face increases to their rent this year. 

Joannie Andrews, a pensioner and East Ender all her life, says she already spends over £1,000 on rent each month and is left with ‘hardly anything’.

Ms Andrews said: ‘I’m a pensioner, it’s hard for everybody that’s living on a pension and it’s very difficult, I’m worried about how I will pay my rent. I just make do, there’s no savings or anything like that. It is difficult because it’s somewhere I’ve lived all my life, it’s home, it’s my way of life, everything is there.’

Isaac Boateng, a pensioner who has lived in his home in Tower Hamlets for 30 years, said: ‘A few pounds here and there is fine, but 9 per cent is way above inflation, it’s way above. [Peabody] can’t do any painting or refurbishment because there’s no money left. It’s just bad, it’s not very good.’

The group were also joined by three Labour councillors from Hackney, Clare Joseph, Penny Wrout and Claudia Turbet-Delof, who helped gather signatures a few days before as part of a petition calling on Peabody to back down from the plans and instead freeze rents for this year.

The protest ended with Peabody resident and chair of the Victoria Park Community Association, Mary Pimm handing in the petition which had been backed by 545 people. 

Ms Pimm has been leading the campaign and is due to meet with Peabody’s CEO, Ian McDermott at a later date.

Peabody added: ‘Last year, for every one pound of rent we received, we spent 66p on repairs and major improvements. The rest was used to deliver other services for residents, including providing more local teams and to help fund more social homes.’

For more local news, read our piece about the development of the London Chest Hospital, the site of the endangered Bethnal Green Mulberry tree

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