Housing associations too often fail to provide the safe, secure homes that people need. Tenants and residents suffer infestations, mould, damp, shoddy repairs and maintenance, anti-social behaviour, inadequate access for those with disabilities, and fire hazards.
Landlord complaints procedures don’t work. They are deliberately exhausting, demotivating, and fruitless. But tenants and residents are not powerless; we can organise collectively to bring about improvements.
On Thursday 28th January 2021, we held a Safer Homes conference. We had an excellent discussion and are now building our campaign.
Phil Murphy possesses an unusual combination of work & life experience that give him a fairly unique and highly specialised perspective on high rise residential building fire safety. Phil has lived in three high rise blocks, is a former Firefighter and Fire Officer, is an experienced complex building compliance expert, and a tireless housing safety campaigner.
Phil drew out the lessons from Grenfell and previous fires in tower blocks, and brought a great insight as well as useful facts and figures.
Truus Jansen is a housing association tenant and veteran of two successful campaigns, one opposing rent increases and another to ensure that safety hazards were addressed by her landlord. Truus has a deep commitment to housing causes, understands the need to collectivise the fight, and has a wealth of campaigning experience.
Truus brought out the power of campaigning, describing protests that she had been involved in, and highlighting vital steps for those considering similar actions.
Many attendees also contributed to the discussion. Among the issues highlighted were the need to continue pressuring on flammable cladding and other fire safety issues, like retrofitting sprinklers and ensuring those with mobility problems can easily exit blocks of flats.
We must demand that housing associations are subjected to governance reviews, and should rely on campaigning rather than legal action which can prove expensive. It is helpful to link with trade unions as these can offer free legal support in some circumstances. Lots of other points were made as well, and will be discussed by the SHAC committee.
The theme which ran most powerfully through all contributions was the almost total lack of accountability of housing association executives, and lack of genuine, democratic tenant input into decision-making. This is a deliberate direction of travel for housing associations and will not be easy to reverse, but nonetheless must be challenged if we are ever to change things for the better.
- Political Approaches: Develop a plan for approaching politicians in the local, national and mayoral spheres to get greater accountability made integral to partnerships between councils, government, regional assemblies and housing associations.
- Institutional Approaches Contact the Regulator of Social Housing, new Building Regulator (once established), Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and the Housing Ombudsman to highlight the issues our members have raised.
We are grateful to all who made the conference such a success and look forward to reporting further on making our homes safe.