Tenants and residents from Clare House, a tower block alongside lush parkland in east London, have slammed their landlord, Clarion Housing over woefully mis-managed – and still incomplete – evacuation of their flats.
Following checks carried out after the Grenfell fire in 2017, Clarion became aware of risks to the safety of tenants and residents. However, the landlord continued to assure all in the block that they were safe until suddenly informing them on the 27th September that the building was dangerous and all residents must leave immediately.
The announcement was emotionally devastating to many residents, as well as causing immense disruption to their lives. One wrote:
Despite the ongoing issues we have had with Clarion and the poor standards of repairs and poor service many of us love living here and there is a community that is being torn apart.Clare House resident Dawud Marsh
Residents have been told that the evacuation is permanent, and not to expect any right of return to refurbished flats.
The exact nature of the risks is still not clearly specified. Clarion has refused to share the reports made by inspectors and assessors on the basis that residents are unable to understand them. They have said that the Clare House cladding “would not comply with the government’s consolidated advice note”.
Clarion tenants and residents regularly highlight Clarion’s appallingly poor communication systems, and incompetence when it comes to engaging with tenants and residents. It led SHAC@Clarion members to launch the Clarion: See Us, Hear Us campaign last year.
Clarion has not learnt. Clare House residents have described how their landlord made no special effort to ensure that those who did not speak or read English were kept properly informed. Nor did they provide adequate support for those with additional needs, for example disabled people or those with carer responsibilities.
In a further twist, on the day that residents received their evacuation letters, they also found bills for additional service charges relating to safety measures of around £1,400. Clarion later ‘apologised’ for the error in sending out the bills.
Although Clarion has offered some financial assistance with moving costs, they have also told residents that they must continue paying rent.
Clare Miller, Clarion chief executive wrote to tenants saying “We will always prioritise our residents’ safety above all else”. But the issues affecting Clare House are not new. A bold question therefore remains over the urgency of evacuation. Or, if the safety problems are indeed so severe, why the building wasn’t decanted before.
Clarion has said that Clare House’s cladding would not comply with latest regulations. Yet thousands of blocks across Englad are similarly clad but are not being evacuated. Further, just prior to the decant, the cladding on Clare House was already being removed. Sprinklers and a new alarm system were being installed, and these measures were supplemented by a waking watch in case of a fire.
A report in Inside Housing magazine explained that the Clare House construction method “was popular in the 1960s”. The collapse of the Ronan Point tower block in 1968 exposed its weakness. The risks were further underlined during investigations in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower four years ago (More details here).
Clarion’s own inspections concluded with a report on the 17th September that led them to decide on evacuating the building. They then waited another ten days before informing residents.
There is clear mismatch between the Clarion’s claim that evacuation of the tower block is of the utmost urgency, and Clarion’s subsequent actions.
This, combined with the prime location of the building, and the failure to guarantee residents’ right of return has led many to question whether the safety investigations were simply a cover story. Many suspect that scare stories are being generated to clear them from Clare House before it is rebuilt as luxury accommodation at full market rates. The very definition of social cleansing.
Money No Object
Whatever excuses Clarion offers for its shoddy treatment of tenants and residents, the problem is not one of resources. In its latest financial report, Clarion boasted of a £258 million operating surplus, a net surplus of £122 million, and an operating margin of 27% during the 2020/21 financial year.
Despite this wealth, Clare House residents have not been the only ones to suffer Clarion’s brutal and ruthless disregard for their wellbeing. Just a few months before, ITV exposed appalling conditions of disrepair on the Eastfields estate in Merton.
Far removed from the lived experiences of their tenants and residents, chief executive Clare Miller earns over £340,000 per year. Former Housing Minister Gavin Barwell earns £18,000 for a part-time job on the board. The board chair, David Avery, earns almost £50,000 for his role. They have much to smile about.
The problem besetting Clarion is that it has grown through mergers and development to become Britain’s largest housing association, with 125,000 homes owned or managed by the landlord. With this growth comes an increasingly commercialised and unaccountable bureaucracy, and a leadership far removed from the founding principles of housing associations.
Give Tenants and Residents Control
At a meeting between SHAC and Clare House residents, the group described several demands, starting with Clarion sharing inspectors’ reports on the building’s defects. They also want to be instrumental in determining options for the building’s future, with firm influence over the final decision. Residents emphasise that they will reject any attempts at a sham consultation that is disregarded. In short, residents have lost all trust and confidence in the landlord’s ability to manage the processes affecting their lives.
Given the disruption and emotional distress caused by these events, residents do not agree that they should pay any rents or service charges until circumstances are stabilised, and should be given financial compensation for all expenditure related to the move. Finally, residents have celebrated the strong sense of community within and around Clare House, and want facilities that will help them maintain this essential support network.
SHAC will continue to support Clare House tenants and residents, and organise through the monthly meetings of the tenant and resident led SHAC@Clarion group.
19 October 2021
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.