Complaints Procedures, Housing Law, Housing protest, Optivo, Racism, Southern Housing

Southern-Optivo Race Discrimination Accusation

Optivo Housing Association, now merged with Southern Housing Group, has been accused of racism by community organisation Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL).

The allegations were set out in an open letter to the landlord as the group fights the eviction of an Eritrean tenant served with a ‘no fault eviction’ notice by Optivo.

Open letter to Optivo Housing Association – now Southern Housing

Don’t evict our member for being Eritrean! Social housing not homelessness!

Our member has rented a room in a shared flat from Optivo housing association for the last 7 years. He has his life, work, church, and community in the local area. The room he rents is tiny, with shared facilities, and he is paying almost £700 a month.

Suddenly, Optivo issued him with a section 21 no-fault eviction notice. For anyone receiving a section 21 no-fault eviction notice, the consequences are devastating as they deal with the stress of imminent homelessness.

In our member’s case, the notice was particularly painful. As well as losing his home, Optivo’s eviction notice states that the reason for eviction is that the property “is no longer used for the Eritrean Community”. Our member feels that he is being evicted because he is Eritrean.

As a social landlord, Optivo Housing Association should not be using section 21 no-fault eviction notices against any of their tenants.

They should never be evicting people based on their nationality.

The eviction notice came as even more of a shock because during the 7 years he has lived there, our member was repeatedly re-assured that he would be moved to his own social housing flat – but now he finds himself faced with street homelessness.

If Optivo Housing Association have other uses for our member’s home, they should make sure that he and any other tenants are suitability re-housed in local social housing, as he was promised he would be. Optivo Housing Association is “one of the largest housing providers in the UK with over 77,000 homes across London, the South East, the Isle of Wight and the Midlands”. As a social landlord, they should be seeking to end homelessness and racial discrimination – they should not be a cause of these.

  • We call on Optivo housing association to stop this eviction and to urgently re-house our member in local social housing – as they originally promised.
  • Optivo must end the use of section 21 no-fault eviction notices against their tenants.
  • Optivo must ensure that their tenants from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are treated fairly and with respect and not singled out for eviction.

Yours faithfully, Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth

Southern has replied to the allegations in a media statement shared on Twitter, but HASL representatives say that it is “totally unsatisfactory”. Southern admits referring to the tenant’s Eritrean origins in the eviction application submitted to the court, and apologises for having done so.

The reason given for the eviction is that the property is designated for supported housing and the tenant doesn’t qualify. They add that they have referred the tenant to the council for re-housing, but do not explain why the council should be tasked with doing so rather than using one of their own vacant properties.

Stressed and Afraid

The tenant at the centre of the dispute believes that he will be sleeping on the streets as a result of Southern’s actions. He says that the uncertainty is “really stressful, without housing, I can’t do anything, I can’t work, I can’t cook, I’ll lose all my life”. He goes on to say:

When they accepted me, I was Eritrean, and now they are saying that because I am Eritrean, they are evicting me. What is different between before and now?

I feel stressed by Optivo. They told me that I would get my own house if I pay the rent.

Other people who lived here all got re-housed by Optivo but not me, and now they are telling me to move from the building, I’m feeling bad about this situation. I tried to do my best, I’m suffering at this time.

I feel bad, it’s not right how they are treating me.”

HASL remain deeply concerned for the welfare of their member, and other Southern housing tenants who may suffer the same treatment.

Housing Association Racism

In December 2020, L&Q hit the headlines in the notorious Lara Tate case after a judge ruled them guilty of ignoring a code of practice on protecting tenants from racial harassment, compounded by “defensiveness and insensitivity”. L&Q is a major landlord, and houses 250,000 people across London and the south-east. (The Guardian Housing Association Pays Tenant £31,000 over Neighbours’ Racism)

More recently, Sky news and other media outlets highlighted racism as a factor in the death of Awab Ishak, whose family are Sudanese. Sky quoted a former emplyee who had been forced to resign because of racism at the landlord.

The former employee went on to explain that “The culture was horrible. It was bullying, toxic for the employees. It’s not fit for purpose at all. It’s meant to be run as a charity for the focus of the tenants [but] nothing could be further from the truth.”

Rochdale Boroughwide Housing took over housing from the council in a stock transfer, and now houses more than 12,000 people. (Housing body that ran flat where Awaab Ishak died of mould is ‘racist’, former employee claims).

No Fault Evictions Must Be Abolished

The Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto included a pledge to abolish ‘Section 21’ of the Housing Act 1988. This provision allows private landlords (which includes housing associations) to evict tenants on assured tenancy agreements or rolling contracts, but does not require the landlord to establish that the tenant is any way at fault. Four years on, the provision remains in law.

A coalition of tenant groups continues to press for reform, including Generation Rent who say that removal of Section 21 “should stop landlords from evicting tenants simply to re-let at a higher rent, or to avoid making repairs after a complaint, giving tenants more confidence to report problems and hold their landlord to account.”.

SHAC supports their endevours, and continues to agitate for an end to racism within housing association. This still affects both workers and tenants and is unacceptable.

Housing Action Southwark & Lambeth is a housing action group made up of families and individuals who are homeless in temporary accommodation, living in overcrowded housing or face other housing problems.

SHAC also supports HASL’s call on Southern Housing to use their considerable resources to re-home their tenant and regain some social purpose, instead of off-loading their mis-management onto overstretched local authorities. The fight for dignity and respect for all social housing tenants and residents continues.

January 2023

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