Thursday, May 28, 2009


Crossing the north-south (London) divide is supposed to be a traumatic rite of passage, a journey into the unknown. I lived in North London (Wood Green, Bounds Green and Holloway) from 2001 until early 2009. Now, following our trip to Argentina and Brazil, I've moved in with DV, just around the corner from Brixton Tube.

There are posts to be written about what's different north and south of the river - posts which avoid the cliches of leafy avenues in Hampstead and fried chicken shops in Camberwell - but this is not one of those posts. This post is about something that's common to all of London (and, I dare say, most metropolitan areas in England): a crisis about where people live.

Camden's housing tenants made the news at the beginning of this decade for voting against the implementation of an Arms Length Management Organisation. The majority of Local Authorities in London persuaded their tenants to part-privatise the management of Council housing, and Camden mounted an aggressive "Vote Yes" PR campaign. But Camden's tenants stuck to their guns, and in a supposedly open referendum, they elected to keep the management of their properties in-house.

The Government then denied a large portion of capital funding aimed at bringing homes up to Decent Homes standards (funding dependent on tenants voting yes), and told the Council they must find other ways of raising the money. Camden now has a chronic housing crisis. There are 16,000 people waiting for Council accommodation, 2,000 in temporary accommodation, and 5,000 living in over-crowded homes. This demand will inevitably swell as homes are repossessed, and yet the Council is steadily auctioning off street properties to raise the money needed for maintaining the rest of its stock - this despite a rock-bottom housing market. There are even rumours of Council flats being rented to upwardly-mobile professionals on the open market to generate more cash.

Labour councillors blame the ruling Lib Dem-Tory coalition; the Lib Dems and the Tories say that Labour ruled Camden for nearly 40 years before 2005, and that the problem is of their making. Councillors could appeal to the Government for additional funding (and exasperated tenants groups are currently organising a deputation to the Housing Minister - see more here), but one should not be hopeful: Labour have shown not a hint of progressive thinking on housing whatsoever.


But what if Camden's tenants had voted for an ALMO? Other than surrendering the management of their homes to private hands, would everything have been ok? Would their homes now meet the Decent Homes standards? Would their rents have stayed low? The example of Lambeth suggests not.

Lambeth does have an ALMO. Unlike Camden, Lambeth Council has no housing management department. Its management arm is an organisation called Lambeth Living. Lambeth's housing needs are similar (in fact, a little higher, with 17,000 people on the waiting list) to Camden's, though it suffers less from exorbitant land prices.

Nevertheless, Lambeth Council is also selling off its properties, having identified 100 "smaller units" for auction in order to - guess what? - raise the money needed for Decent Homes. (In an echo of Camden, Lambeth's Labour administration blames the previous Lib Dem-Tory coalition for fucking things up...) Local activists from Lambeth's Defend Council Housing branch occupied a flat in Streatham for several hours before being removed by Police, and they plan to repeat this tactic with other homes.

Lambeth Living has recently announced a 20% cut in its workforce, and the emergency repairs team, concierge service (a fundamental service for social housing) and cleaning service in the north of the Borough have been set aside for privatisation. This goes expressly against what tenants say they want. It is also grossly inefficient: tenants have reported that a contractor will often make three or more visits to a property before finishing a repair job, claiming each visit as a separate job.

Perhaps even more significantly, there is talk of a rent strike, and why not? Rents have increased by 13.9% since April. Lambeth's tenants were told to pay £13.12 a week more than they did at the end of last year, and even after a Government intervention which shaved a little off this figure, but the £12.00 a week hike is still the highest in the country.


Saturday 30 May - Assemble 11am - Lambeth Town Hall

If you need help or advice or you want more info on our campaign against privatisation, overcrowding, high rents and for decent council housing for all – Contact Defend Council Housing 07834 828 292


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