Betiel Mehari is a single mother of two children, aged 10 and 11. She works in retail on a zero-hours contract. Housing has been a massive issue in her life for the last 4 or 5 years - she became an activist to try to save her own home. Betiel lived on the Loughborough Park Estate in Brixton for 11 years, until her family lost their home when the estate was completely demolished by housing association Guinness Partnership in a £75m "regeneration" scheme. She was forced to leave Brixton, losing the local community she strongly valued, with huge disruption to her family. ("That's what regeneration does," she says.) Rehoused in a smaller flat in Newington with no balcony, her children are now commuting the lengthy distance from Newington to Brixton in order to maintain their educational stability and friends.
Furthermore, Guinness whacked up the rent in the family's new flat, from a "social rent" of £109 per week to a so-called "affordable rent" of £265 per week. Although Betiel had been a Guinness tenant for 11 years, Guinness claimed that demolishing her flat and rehousing her had created "a new tenancy".
Betiel says: "'Affordable' rent is a con. You'd assume it's based on wages, but it's not. It's set at 80% of market rents, not according to any measure of actual affordability. With two kids it requires an income of £35,000, which is higher than the national average. This measure puts us at the mercy of the housing market - it's absolute madness."
Betiel is now fighting to stave off being evicted for a second time. Although in theory her new rent is covered by Housing Benefit, Housing Benefit payments are automatically stopped by DWP when financial circumstances change. For someone on a zero-hours contract like Betiel, this can be often. Betiel says: "It's happened to me twice. I was working in a cafe which closed down. The owner refused to provide me with a P45 or other paperwork, and DWP refused to rectify the situation until they received all the paperwork. I couldn't get it within the 4-week window allowed by DWP, after which they don't allow any appeals. Even if you do manage to get some payments backdated, DWP often refuse to fill the gap fully."
With Betiel's ongoing weekly rent right at the limit of the Tory Government's cap on Housing Benefit payments, she is unable to obtain any additional income to settle the arrears, which Guinness are pursuing her for. If Betiel is evicted, she may have to accept rehousing outside London; if she refused to do so she could be classed as "intentionally homeless", losing her rehousing rights altogether.
Betiel's own health has been affected and she describes her life as "totally ruined". Betiel says: "When I visited the office of Neil Coyle MP seeking help, he said he would be in touch and then I heard nothing."
Betiel is passionate about social housing, and how important it is to maintain it. Previously involved with Lambeth Green Party, Betiel is now standing for the Green Party here in the local elections because of its commitment to social housing and providing everyone with a safe and affordable home.
Watch the video from outside Beti's eviction court hearing: