A group of tenants has been evicted from their homes after a charity set up to help the poor sold dozens of flats to a property developer without informing residents.
Monika Kojak, originally from Poland, is one of the residents facing eviction. She has rented her flat on the Butterfields estate in Walthamstow, northeast London for eight years.
Tenants have been renting their properties from the Glasspool Trust, which was created 75 years ago.
Monika assumed her tenancy was safe, until she called maintenance staff to report an issue.
“He said, ‘I can’t help you, you have a new landlord’,” she remembers. “That was the first I knew. Then the letter came through.”
Monika received an eviction notice in January from a property investment company that she had never heard of. She was given two months to move out of the home she and her husband had recently renovated. As many as 15 of the couple’s neighbours on the Butterfields estate have received the same letter.
It has now come to light that Glasspool sold 63 properties on two streets to a private firm, without informing residents, many of whom live on low incomes or benefits.
The new owner is a recently established company known as Butterfields E17 Ltd. It has already put some of the flats up for resale and says it is likely to evict more tenants to sell their homes for a profit.
Glasspool argues that it sold the properties to finance its work of giving one-off grants for household items, such as fridges. It claims that it received assurance from the new owners that no one would be evicted. The property firm has completely denied this statement.
Are these tenants yet more casualties of the housing crisis?
House prices in Walthamstow have risen by a huge 32% in just one year, and the Butterfields estate lies on the edge of an area called Walthamstow Village, the centre of local gentrification.
Already, six of the two-bedroom flats, which are less than 45 square metres in size, are up for sale at prices of up to £350,000. Estate agents have described them as lucrative buy-to-let investments.
No one has informed locals how much their flats were initially sold to the property firm for, and Monika adds: “I think this company bought the flats cheaply and wants to make a quick profit.”
The directors of Butterfields E17, listed as Jasbir Singh Jhumat and Pardeep Singh Jhumat, have refused to comment. However, another member of staff has announced that the firm is likely to evict more households and sell their homes in the future, depending on how well the first set of properties sell.
The local Labour MP for Walthamstow, Stella Creasy, says: “This is a charity supposed to help people in deprivation. This isn’t particularly charitable to say the least.”
She insists that housing is the most important issue on her casework list: “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.”1
The Butterfields estate consists of two adjoining streets of purpose-built, two-storey 1930s flats. It is a good reflection of modern Walthamstow – once a mainly working class suburb that has been transformed over recent decades by both immigration and gentrification.
As tenants of Glasspool, many residents enjoyed relatively low rents of around £900 per month – below the current market rates of about £1,200. However, tenants were forced to pay out large sums for extensive work to improve the rundown properties.
Monika is angry with Glasspool. “First of all, they should have told us,” she insists. “But also I don’t know why they didn’t give us the option to try and buy the flat.”
She will miss the close-knit community, including her sister-in-law, who lives across the road. She adds: “They’ve not been evicted yet, but they’re waiting for the letter. For them it will be a problem. They have two kids and they don’t have a huge income. I know that on this street there are plenty of people on very low incomes, and it will be a disaster to have to move out.”1
In a statement, Glasspool says it is “very saddened” to learn of the evictions, but it argues it sought assurances about this during the sale. The staff member from Butterfields E17 claims the company had never been asked about evictions.
Glasspool states it is devoted to “helping people out of poverty”, mainly through direct grants.
It explains its position: “In order to be able to provide these grants, the trustees realised that they had to sell the charity’s directly held properties to maximise the amount of money the charity could give away. It was a difficult decision to take, but the trust was not established as a social housing provider.”1