Labour councillor hoping to topple long-standing Sir Robin Wales: I'll build more social housing

The woman hoping to topple a long-standing London borough mayor has said she is determined to tackle social housing after being made homeless in her twenties. 

Labour councillor Rokshana Fiaz is set to go up against party colleague Sir Robin Wales, who is facing the first challenge to his leadership in Newham in 23 years.

Ms Fiaz, 47, said her family home was repossessed in 1992 and the memory of such a difficult time means she would put social housing at the centre of her election bid. 

“As someone who has experienced homelessness, the impact of that can last years and it’s an awful experience to go through,” said Ms Fiaz, who would be the first woman of colour in the country to become a directly elected mayor if successful.

“It was around the time of the first major crash and my father’s business wasn’t doing particularly well. I was home from my university holidays and saw a letter on the mat saying “urgent – do not ignore”. It was from Lloyds bank saying your house is going to be repossessed at the end of the week.

“We had just days to pack everything up. It was awful,” said Ms Fiaz, whose parents came from Pakistan in the early 1960s and had a garment manufacturing business in Aldgate East.

She said housing in Newham has been a long-standing challenge considering the average income is £26,000 a year and the council house waiting list stands at 20,000 and 7,000 people are classified as homeless. 

Last week Sir Robin promised to build record-levels of council-owned homes as part of his election pitch but she worries his promise is to expand the Red Door Ventures scheme in the borough, where council-owned homes are at market rents.

“My questions would be what is the type and tenure of these houses. Are these houses Newham people can afford, and if they’re not, what are you going to do for residents that have been waiting for year for genuinely affordable social homes?” said Ms Fiaz, who has been a councillor for four years. 

She has vowed to build 100 homes for social rent in her first year if she is elected, rising to 1000 homes by the end of a four year tenure.

Placing herself on the centre-left Tribune wing of the party naturally, she also hopes to win the support of Jeremy Corbyn’s Momentum organisation and claims she would invite Mr Corbyn to Newham if she is elected.

She said: “I’m very clear about the kind of council I want to lead. It’s one that’s going to be outward looking, involving people and residents because they need to be at the heart of everything that we do. It’s going to be collaborative. This polarising style of politics, you know, …“you’re not in my gang so I’m not going to like you”, it’s just tedious and it’s not going to help anyone.”

Labour’s open selection for a mayor of Newham came after every single ward in the borough and the majority of affiliate members voted that Sir Robin should be challenged. 

He was council leader between 1995 and 2002, and has been the borough’s directly elected mayor ever since.

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