Sheltered housing residents have slammed Southern Housing for its ruthless decision to evict them in order to sell their homes
By guest writer Gareth Sheppard*
Since the abolition of the Housing Corporation in 2008 and the transfer of a reduced set of functions to what is now the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH), rigorous scrutiny of housing associations has all but disappeared.
The result is a dramatic decline in maintenance standards, complaints handling, and genuine tenant engagement, alongside an ever upward cost of rents and service charges.
I can add another alarming trend: the use of underhand methods to sell off irreplaceable stock to fund housing association inefficiencies, commercialization, and the constructive neglect of their tenants and residents.
Southern Sells Out
Southern Housing residents living in Redcliffe Square, Earl’s Court, London, of which I am one, were recently shocked and devastated to hear that they are to lose their homes, separated from their friends and community and facing a deeply uncertain future.
Forty residents of Millicent Buller House, a sheltered housing scheme for elderly residents in Redcliffe Square, were recently informed by an unsigned letter that the scheme is to be closed and disposed of.
Southern Housing has been unable to resist the lure of cashing in on the attractive properties at Millicent Buller House
The reason given was that the Victorian building cannot be brought up to modern standards, including fire safety.
The lie is exposed by the fact that a dozen or so general housing tenants (all having secure tenancies) with basement flats at Millicent Buller House were similarly informed that they are to be rehoused, even though their properties are fully compliant with fire safety regulations.
Servite Housing’s founder, Dame Joan Bartlett, a social housing pioneer, almost fifty years ago overcame considerable odds to raise funds and acquire Millicent Buller House and to leave an everlasting legacy that she believed would be preserved and maintained for future generations.
In fact, she herself became a resident of Millicent Buller house in her final days and will be turning in her grave at the destruction of her legacy.
The appalling and callous treatment that the occupants of this building are being forced to endure has already taken its toll on their physical and mental wellbeing.
Conveniently Faulty Data
The residents feel that Southern Housing is acting improperly, without sufficient justification and with undue haste. They also feel that the options for bringing the building up to standard have not been properly explored nor costed.
At one time, the Regulator had the power to stop such disposals of social homes. This power was removed by Grant Shapps as the Conservative government’s housing minister, and at the same time changing the law to make it easier for associations to sell tenanted properties. We are suffering the consequences.
Southern Housing is the product of several mergers, most recently with Optivo. It owns almost 80,000 homes
Residents have evidence that the premise for the move is based on faulty data. The contractors used by Southern have a history of overstating fire safety needs. We know this because we’ve sought independent advice from our local fire brigade.
Hypocrisy and Aggression
Residents feel threatened by the aggressive attitude taken by the relocation officers. Threats include the declaration that
“we will make you two offers of alternative accommodation (without guarantee of location nor comparability) and if you refuse you will have made yourself homeless.”
The values that Southern Housing claims underpin its ethos include providing affordable and secure housing, resident safety, listening to residents, and supporting residents and the local community. The hypocrisy is evident.
Residents are certainly not secure when they can be thrown out of their homes as easily and as quickly as this. And Southern’s actions surely have wider implications for the future of scarce social housing stock.
There is an ever-increasing demand for retirement living in London. Residents feel that the department heads of Kensington and Chelsea could be doing much more to save Millicent Buller House, and should protect an irreplaceable community asset.
Not only are the homes of many vulnerable and elderly people being impacted, but the community structure, such an important tenet of social housing and the bedrock of Dame Joan Barlett’s philosophy, is being eroded.
Community is hard to come by in London, but studies having proven that local networks combat loneliness and depression; bigger killers than even cancer.
In the midst of a national rental crisis, with rents become ever more unaffordable, governments and local councils should be working with housing associations to preserve and modernise stock. This is infinitely cheaper and better for the climate than building from scratch.
Instead, they increasingly climb into bed together only when it is time to grab some local land and build for the highest price possible.
SHAC is supporting the residents of Millicent Buller House to fight their eviction. Join us to demand housing justice.
* Not his real name
20 September 2023
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