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Social landlords are deviating from their intended purpose

Keith Parkins | 20.01.2004 16:48

Mike Lane recently wrote of social landlords deviating from their intended purpose, ie acting as private property devlopers. Some more examples from Farnborough and Aldershot.

Mike Lane recently wrote of social landlords deviating from their intended purpose, ie acting as private property devlopers. Some more examples from Farnborough and Aldershot.

Pavilion, that operates in Farnborough and Aldershot and is currently empire building across southern England, including speculative property development and the building of student accommodation on Surrey University campus and in parts of Farnborough.

In 1974, Pavilion took over what was Rushmoor council housing stock, estates in Farnborough and Aldershot. Since then Pavilion has gone on an empire building spending spree, acquiring housing stock across the country, building student accommodation on campus at Surrey University, although its core estates still remain Aldershot and Farnborough. The tenants have seen deteriorating property, repairs going undone and rising rents.

Firgrove Court, a small estate of 28 maisonettes arranged around a grassy area close by Farnborough town centre is not atypical. 1950s era, good solid brick built housing, is falling into rack and ruin through lack of repair. The walls are cracking, paint peeling off the doors and window frames. Some of the windows are so rotten the occupants dare not clean their windows for fear they will fall out. Pavilion are trying to evict the tenants, many of whom have secure tenancies, to enable the land to be sold for a car park for a superstore! Harassment by neglect? And if Pavilion working in conjunction with the property developer can't get them out, the local council will obligingly step in with Compulsory Purchase Orders.

This is part of an unwanted town centre redevelopment, where a Kuwaiti-financed property company (in collusion with the local council) is destroying the town centre.

The large estates in Aldershot are far worse, compounded by yobs running riot on the estates.

The case of Daphne Parris illustrates the treatment of tenants.

Daphne Parris went on holiday a couple of winters ago to visit relatives and friends in Jamaca. She returned home to find her home flooded and her possessions being dragged out of the house and trashed in a skip, Pavilion having broken into her home. She has been in dispute with Pavilion ever since.

The cause of the flooding was a burst water tank. Pavilion claim it was due to negligence by Daphne, failure to adequately heat her home whilst away. At the time there was not adverse weather conditions, certainly not below freezing, and as Daphne lives in a semi, not sub-zero for several days to lower the internal temperature below freezing. At the time, Pavilion were on a programme of replacing aged water tanks and a replacement was long overdue.

The net result of the flooding was a house unfit for human habitation and Daphne was forced to seek alternate accommodation. She has since been seeking compensation for damage to her house and property, cost of alternative accommodation and recompense for stress. Pavilion have also been asked to make good repairs. Within the flat, walls and floors are damp, radiators leaking, wallpaper hanging off the walls, carpets sodden.

Pavilion have claimed to have fallen over backwards to help Daphne, claimed there is not a problem with dampness and humidity, and if there is, it is condensation, ie the fault of the tenant. But this begs the question: why did Pavilion eventually install a dehumidifier, and why were several buckets of water extracted by the machine?

Daphne is now living in a house that has still not been satisfactory restored to its previous state and due to the stress is close to a nervous breakdown. In sheer desperation and as a last resort, she has since last June withheld her rent to force repairs. The response from Pavilion has been to threaten her with eviction for rent arrears.

Daphne has asked: why am I being treated like this, is it because I am Black? Or is it because I am a woman? Or is it because I am single? The simple answer Daphne is that it is none of these reasons, it is because you are a Pavilion tenant.

The local council has powers to enforce repairs, to date they have done nothing. Local councillors have, with one or two exceptions, proved useless.

As a legacy of the transfer, three Rushmoor councillors, one from each of the three main parties, sit on the board of Pavilion. Who they are acting for is anyones guess. Are they acting for the council, the local community, the tenants, or Pavilion? One thing of which we can be certain, they are not acting for the tenants. As board members of a limited company, they are legally obliged to act for the shareholders.

One Pavilion board member, as a member of the Rushmoor planning committee, spoke and voted in favour of a planning application from Pavilion. In the Orwellian world of Rushmoor politics, this was apparently not a conflict of interest.

A single mother with a 14-month-old child asked Pavilion as a matter of urgency to deal with the lack of heating in the child's bedroom. 2-3 weeks and many requests later, still no repairs. A Rushmoor councillor, also a Pavilion board member, was then contacted. He did not want to know. He immediately sprang to the defence of Pavilion, claiming there was no money and the repair lacked priority. Quite what had greater priority than the health of a small child put at risk was not explained. Pavilion has money for fat cat salaries, empire building, property speculation, but cannot find the money when the health of a small child is at risk.

Where repairs are carried out, it is way behind the period Pavilion claim in excess of 90% are satisfactory completed, and is usually of very poor quality. As far as anyone can tell, there appears to be no quality control or monitoring of repairs.

One person, has decided enough is enough, and has decided action is needed. He is local campaigner Peter Sandy. First he formed a tenants committee, but then following interference from Pavilion (they were dictating who the group chose to represent them), he formed an action group.

Their demands are simply: treat the tenants decently, carry out repairs, clean up the estates of yobs and rubbish.

The reaction of Pavilion has been to wage a war of attrition against Peter Sandy. He has been threatened with eviction, threatened with an anti-social behaviour order. He has been told by Pavilion, he cannot represent other tenants, and if he tries, they will ignore him. Tenants have received letters from Pavilion, claiming Peter Sandy could not represent them.

If Pavilion thought this would intimidate Peter Sandy into silence, they have had a shock. He has galvanized people on his estate into action. Letters have been sent to the social housing ombudsman (those who complained have gone on a Pavilion hit list which in turn has generated more letters to the Ombudsman), lawyers have been engaged, press coverage has escalated.

Pavilion behave like landlords in the Dark Ages, their tenants serfs to be ordered around and housed as they please. They seem to think they can dictate to their tenants who can represent them. In the case of Peter Sandy, Pavilion have even gone so far as to state any complaints that originate from him will be ignored. More recently they have questioned what they call his 'political' activities.

The Housing Corporation has proved to be a toothless watchdog, as has the housing ombudsman, as has the local authority ombudsman.

Forming new political parties, however well intended, is not the solution, as they are part of the problem, and any new party would probably end up the same way.

What is needed is a strong network of independent councillors who act for and are directly accountable to the local community, not party elites.

In the long term, we have to move away from 'representative democracy' which is not working, to 'participatory democracy' were we have the active participation of the local community.

But to return to social housing.

Where housing associations are failing, they have to be stripped of the special status they are given, as they are no different to private property companies, and has been noted across the country, often far worse. At least private companies have some accountability, if only to their shareholders, whereas for housing associations there is no accountability (and certainly not to the tenants), other than to the senior staff who are on a very lucrative gravy train.

But what we really need to do, especially for the worst excesses, is to strip the housing associations of all their properties and the properties to placed in self-managed not-for-profit companies run by the tenants.

A suggested management model is to hand estates over to tenants for self-management under the ownership of a not-for-profit company. Each tenant is a member, the tenants elect a management committee, the committee appoints a chief executive to run the estate on their behalf. Rents from the estate are ploughed back into the estate. The management of the estate is accountable to the tenants, not, as is the case of housing associations, accountable to no one.

Council tenants being conned, or forced by disrepair, into transfer of housing stock from council control, should look at the experience of Pavilion and other housing association tenants, and think again. No matter how bad your council, and it would be rare to see council housing well run, it ain't half as bad as the private sector.

But what we should be doing, as already noted, is take estates, or small groups of estates, and the housing run by the tenants, for the tenants. Nothing less, should be considered.


Keith Parkins, Farnborough town centre - compulsory purchase orders, Indymedia UK, 16 October 2003

Keith Parkins, New political initiative, Indymedia UK, 16 October 2003

Keith Parkins, New political initiative, Indymedia UK, 20 October 2003

Keith Parkins, A sense of the masses - a manifesto for the new revolution,, November 2003

Keith Parkins, Town & Out II, Corporate Watch, 14 January 2004

Keith Parkins, A crisis of democracy, to be published

Keith Parkins, Social Housing, to be published

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Keith Parkins
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