By guest writer Jackson Caines
Harrow Law Centre (HLC) provides free legal advice and representation to local residents but recently took the unusual step of creating a Housing Campaigner and Community Organiser role as part of their team of staff.
I was delighted to take up the housing role last year. People assume that I have a legal background, but that’s not the case. I have a social housing background, having worked as a housing officer for Hackney Council, and I’m an activist with an interest in housing.
Click to watch the recorded interview
My role is part of HLC’s response to tackling some of the housing problems local people experience. Our legal team helps people with individual casework, but to make longer term progress, we need to campaign for political change and to do so at the grass roots, empowering people to demand justice.
The first campaign I became involved in was a tower block called Trident Point which was notorious for its poor construction. Residents experienced terrible lift disrepairs, and both lifts were frequently out of order. There are also problems with their heating system, rodent infestations, damp seeping throughout the block, and inadequate security. These problems stretch back years in some cases.
The landlord, Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing Association, failed to make sustainable repairs, so even when the lift was fixed for example, it would soon break down again. They compounded problems too, for example when they removed the concierge without consultation. The concierge was a really important line of security for tenants, as well as meaning someone was on hand to help in an emergency. It was just taken away without tenants being given any choice.
Collectivising and the Strike Threat
I began working with residents who had previously tried setting up a tenants and residents association. It was clear from speaking to people that they were ready to fight for improvements.
As many other tenants have found, it is almost impossible to fight big landlords alone, case-by-case. With HLC’s support, we were successfully able to collectivise the problems, forming a strong group of activists, with tenants leading the campaign.
The first action was publishing a statement with our seven demands, calling MTVHA to act on them.
Later this week, we will be meeting with the landlord. We hope this will be enough to get permanent repairs carried out, but if we don’t see significant progress, tenants will consider a rent strike.
We believe that the rent strike threat is a really important step, albeit as a last resort. As well as making the moral case for the problems to be addressed, we need to have that option in our back pockets. Residents felt strongly that it is entirely proportionate given ten years of mismanagement by the landlord.
The longer term aim is to create a lasting coordinated group of tenants who can continue the dialogue with their landlord on a more equal footing.
The Housing Crisis in Harrow
Harrow suffers all the wider manifestations of the housing crisis. Too many people are unable to secure council housing. This means that they are often placed in private rented properties that are not really suitable. They find damp and mould are frequent problems, creating health and psychological problems.
Sometimes families are moved from one insecure home to another. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of street homelessness. These are the issues I will be working on in the future, as well as supporting others to take up block management campaigns.
SHAC supports the initiative by Harrow Law Centre and extends solidarity to the tenants and residents of Trident Point, wishing them success. We will continue reporting on the campaign’s progress. To keep updated, register with SHAC and visit our Events page.
1 February 2022
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