Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The future of the Mansions

I have no refuge in this world other than thy threshold;
My head has no resting place other than this doorway.


* * *

A note on the front doors of the Mansions, a couple of weeks ago:
On the 5th of March the House of Lords has reached a decision on the appeal of residents of Central Brixton, on the Human Rights Act, on the question of tenancy... this case is now lost... this is a huge disappointment for us, and it immediately effects all residents which do not have a tenancy in the area, even if they were not represented in the case... the minimum time for eviction is two months.

Eviction stories are always full of legalistic crypto-speak, soaked with details. For people involved, these details mean everything (another month; another year). For others, they are intractable sagas of a bizzare kind. The case of the Mansions is especially complicated: whenever I asked, no-one seem to be able to describe the situation. It's been going for years - long before I arrived in London, in various courts and disguises. The word Kafkaesque is overused, but I think it is adequate here. Each time people would say that this is probably the last year of the Mansions. And then there was another year. This was the safest and most stable squat I knew; many of my friends lived here. It is probably the last of its kind in London.

The history, as I understand it: once there were 19th century appartment blocs of social housing in central Brixton. Gradually the Council stopped maintaing them; the houses slowly fell into disrepair. People complained for years, and when the Council didn't do anything, they stopped paying rent. Some left, as conditions became difficult. Squatters moved in. All the while there was a battle over the ownership of these estates; when this was decided, the residents had their own court case against the Council. But now it's over. All legal means and courses have been exhausted. We're basically waiting for the council. It looks like this is the last summer of the Mansions.

So now it's the usual story, all too familiar in my case. A court date; a possession order; a date for eviction. Anytime this summer, from July onwards. And as always, speculation begins (it never stopped); nothing will happen before the May elections; we may be here till the end of summer; even if they get a Possession Order, eviction can still be a year away; they won't evict us before they have concrete plans for the buildings; it doesn't make sense to leave so many flats empty, they'll just get resquatted, probably by crack dealers.

The truth is that no-one knows. I've lived with this uncertainty for almost four years now. At times it eats you from within, incapacitate you, make you feel at the mercy of powers you have no control of. I just moved here a month ago, hoping for a quiet summer in a stable house; now I discover again the feeling of walking on a shaking ground.

But then you shrug it off and carry on. Eviction will come, but you can't let it take over your life. You can't live constantly thinking that this is temporary, that very soon you're going to be kicked out. And as a first act of defiance, I buy a 5kg bag of rice.

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