Created: Thursday, 10 August 2017 15:15
Written by FRFI
Glasgow TAG members stand up for tenants' rights
At the end of June, housing association One Manchester announced it would remove potentially lethal cladding from its tower blocks after 16 of them failed fire tests following the Grenfell fire. However so far only five have had any serious work done. There are also further issues in its buildings with poor stairwell exits and doubts as to whether a fire horn blown by fire wardens would be heard in the higher flats.
At Bikerdike Court in Longsight, One Manchester has simply put up a notice on the ground floor stating that the cladding had been widely adopted in schools, hospitals and other tower blocks, and was therefore assumed to be safe!
The £12.4m ‘refurbishment’ carried out in 2013-16 by One Manchester and its forerunner South City included erection of the flammable cladding as part of an effort to make the surrounding areas more visually appealing. Once again the needs of the property market have taken precedence over those of working class tenants.
On 20 July, Salford’s Labour mayor Paul Dennett endorsed moves by the council to set up its own private housing company – ‘to build our own homes for sale, rent and affordable rent … with a mixed tenure of rent appealing to different ranges of social need’. Steps have already been taken in that direction with Salford councillors John Merry and Paul Longshaw setting themselves up as directors of Derive (Salford) Limited, a move applauded by the mayor, who claimed they would build ‘the first council houses in decades before the end of this year.’
The reality is that in these private-public partnerships, social housing will be the lowest priority, as private investors demand profitable housing units for private sale or rent. So-called ‘council houses’ will be predominantly what is misleadingly called ‘affordable’ housing at up to 80% of market rent.
Dennett has form on this. In 2016 he authorised the first £40m Private Finance Initiative ‘transformation’ of Pendleton under the Pendleton Together project. The project will ultimately result in 1,500 homes being built; only a third will be ‘affordable’.
In order to make way for the development. 885 homes at social rent were bulldozed. Nine blocks in Salford have failed the latest stringent fire tests. At the start of the year, there were around 14,000 households on the council waiting list.
In 1981 63.2% of Glasgow’s population lived in council housing. Today over 50% of the housing is rented from ‘private’ landlords or housing associations.
FRFI spoke to Roslyn Irvine and Debbie Keaveney, founding members of the Tenants Advocacy Group (TAG), set up to counter the lack of repairs, rent increases and intimidation shown to tenants by Whiteinch and Scotstoun Housing Association.
They told FRFI that one of the first hurdles they faced was to maintain their independence from the housing association. The Chief Executive, Ian Morrison, had put pressure on them to form a residents’ association because, as they said, ‘it ticks their boxes at the end of the year with the housing regulator’.
The tame residents’ associations encouraged by the housing regulator exist too often simply to give the illusion of transparency and democracy, but in reality have to be officially recognised by the housing association, non-political and limited in their independence. TAG said no.
By refusing to be co-opted they were able to give real representation to the interests of tenants. TAG has supported elderly residents of Primrose and Northinch Courts threatened with the loss of their common room and laundry facilities as a result of funding cuts to sheltered housing, organising a petition with 1,000 signatures.
In response TAG has faced constant intimidation, with Debbie and others being sent ‘anti-social behaviour’ (ASBO) letters. One resident, accused of making ‘derogatory comments’ about the housing association, is now being refused her transfer to new housing for five years. The group has been slandered as ‘trouble-makers’.
Despite this, TAG is continuing to organise alongside tenants’ organisation Living Rent. Already repairs have been carried out which were previously neglected and boilers have been checked for the first time in years.
In a sign of how housing associations are getting into the private housing market, Magenta Living, which has about 12,000 social housing properties in the Wirral, has set up a private lettings company, Bamboo Lettings, in a partnership with Torus Housing Association, which has about 22,000 properties in the north west. The plan is to transfer a number of houses into Bamboo Lettings to be rented out at market rents; in the case of Magenta Living, the initial tranche is 100 properties. The Bamboo Lettings website is advertising some; the rents are about 30% higher than those for social housing. Letting fees apply; and the website makes clear that no applicants on DSS or housing benefit will be considered. On 10 July, a LibDem motion to Wirral Council condemning Magenta Living was easily defeated by the Labour majority, pro-Corbyn councillors among them.
In July East London RCG spoke at a Focus E15 meeting in Stratford – ‘East London in solidarity with Grenfell – safe and secure housing now’. Other speakers were the campaign’s Jasmin Stone, Brian Pead who spoke about the long struggle for justice for the Hillsborough families, a resident of Tanner Point, taking on Newham Council over flammable cladding and a resident of Carpenters Estate where over 400 council homes lie empty under renewed threat of demolition. Journalist Aditya Chakrabortty also spoke about the contempt with which the working class is treated.
Days later, we joined with Focus E15 to protest at Newham council against evictions and social cleansing. On 12 August we will be marching with Focus E15 from Ferrier Point and Tanner Point, both with the same cladding as Grenfell Tower, to Carpenters Estate.
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