By Carl Davis
As social landlords face mounting criticism and public opprobrium on social media, sector leaders have just very conveniently held emergency talks with London Mayor Sadiq Khan and senior London Assembly members in a cynical face-saving exercise to discuss what they termed ‘the challenges of disrepair and substandard housing‘.
It is perhaps no surprise that Housing for Women featured so heavily in a SHAC campaign on the subject of disrepairs. In their Tenant Guide to Managing Mould and Condensation, they are clear on where they lay responsibility saying “Damp and mould in the home can be a health hazard, causing respiratory problems and exacerbating allergies. Making sure your home is free of mould and damp is not only important for your health, but it is also your responsibility as a tenant.” Among their useful advice is to turn up heating and grow damp-absorbing plants.
For years the sector has networked responses to bad press coverage usually by trying to shift responsibility for blame onto tenants, residents, or the government; anyone but themselves. But this time the excuses won’t wash.
Maladministration Cases Grow
The Housing Ombudsman spotlit the issue of disrepairs in its report entitled ‘Damp and mould: It’s not lifestyle’. Ombudsman Richard Blakeway acknowledges a growing number of complaints over disrepairs, and a higher proportion of cases being upheld. He goes on to say:
I recognise the challenges sometimes presented for landlords in tackling this problem; overcrowding, poverty, the age and design of homes …”Richard Blakeway in ‘Spotlight on Damp and mould: It’s not lifestyle’
But the only challenge faced by the huge unaccountable ‘Too big to fail ’ G15 social landlords and other large housing associations is that they don’t want to address disrepair cases because they prioritise rapid expansion, mergers, and house sales at the expense of older housing stock and existing tenants. Attention and resources are therefore focussed on generating surpluses for their own ends.
Addressing disrepair is seen as an unwanted and unnecessary cost. This not only leaves tenants and residents living in appalling conditions which their landlords often blamed the victims for, it also creates toxic relations between social landlords and their tenants and residents.
People are bullied, punished, and even threatened with legal action for daring to openly talk about their experiences of dealing with non-communicative social landlords, and for highlighting the one-sided, dysfunctional complaints processes that failed to address problems and left them living with disrepairs.
Tenants and residents have heard enough excuses. Khan and other metro-mayors across the country need to start listening to the people who have had to put up with appalling disrepair and poor service from their social landlords.
Social tenants deserve to be heard and need to be able to hold their social landlords to account. Most politicians – including Khan – are fully aware that social landlords have relied on the stigma their tenants and residents still face to systemically neglect and fail them.
Many of these huge social landlords have lost sight of their original social purpose and now simply misuse and abuse the respectable sounding ‘social’ prefix and charitable status for their own corporate ends.
The political establishment needs to give long-suffering social tenants and residents a real voice and stake in the overseeing of the management of their homes, not provide more pathetic excuses for reckless and greedy unaccountable social landlords. Our votes help elect them. There are millions of social tenants and residents, and it’s about time our voices got heard. Politicians ignore this at their peril.
- SHAC article – Not Welcome Here: The Social Housing Stigma
- SHAC Council Manifesto for People Centred Housing
- Housing Ombudsman Report ‘Spotlight on Damp and mould: It’s not lifestyle’
21 February 2022
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The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.