Southwark council are conducting a ‘public consultation’ on their New Southwark Plan, a draft plan of future developments in the borough. This public consultation closes on Friday 28th April. Southwark council’s plans for our borough look pretty huge and it’s hard to get your head around, especially with the fast approaching deadline, and if like many people in the borough lots of your time is spent trying to house yourself, support others and generally just survive. Despite the ‘public consultation’, it’s likely that you haven’t had your ideas concerning your neighborhood and borough listened to.
The threat to the PeckhamPlex cinema, one of the few affordable cinemas left in London, has caught the local headlines. There’s a template letter here calling for the current plans for the PeckhamPlex to be put on hold. And other community and public spaces are under threat too –such as the Peckham Arch in front of Peckham library (petition to save it here) and grassy plots in Peckham.
After Southwark’s terrible reputation for destroying council housing and doing terrible deals with developers (just look at the Heygate estate and the Aylesbury estate), the council are promising lots of new homes as part of the Southwark Plan. But their mantra of ‘homes, homes, homes’ is deceptive. Southwark desperately needs council homes, particularly for those with high housing need on the housing register, not ‘affordable’ homes or private rented homes. And homes should not come at the cost of community spaces.
Think that ‘regeneration’ shouldn’t look like this? Struggling or don’t want to fill in their in inaccessible and confusing consultation? Concerned about rent rises, poor housing and gentrification we’re already experiencing in our communities? Don’t worry, together we can make sure that there are plenty more ways to highlight and assert the needs of our communities and neighborhoods – council housing, community spaces, and affordable cinema for all!
The New Southwark Plan consultation can be viewed and responded to online here. Although it looks like it’s only available in English – so many of Southwark’s residents who do not have English as a first language, or literacy, or internet access are already excluded. Whether you fill it out or not, get involved in HASL to organise collective action on housing and poverty issues in our communities.
Last week, great research conducted by 35% campaign revealed how Southwark council have failed to make sure that developers stick to their promises and provide the agreed amount of social housing in new developments.
In Southwark, there are around 25,000 people on the housing waiting list – many who are homeless or in poor quality accommodation and are desperately in need of secure, quality council homes (these statistics are from 2012, since this year, local councils have been desperately trying to cut their waiting lists so that demand for social housing looks less).
When we visited Southwark council last week in support of 5 HASL families who live in severely overcrowded private rented housing – the council made excuses that they don’t have enough council housing. Instead of making excuses, the council must treat homeless households and others in housing need with more respect by actually making sure developers deliver the social housing that we desperately need.
We’re not at all surprised that Southwark council haven’t bothered to look after social housing for their residents (just look at the Heygate and Aylesbury estates!) – we have experienced first hand their disrespect for homeless households and others in housing need. But we will hold them to account for their actions and fight together for the quality homes we all need and deserve!
Southwark’s lost section 106 social housing
Ombudsman finds Council doesn’t know how much social housing it’s getting from developers
Posted on December 12, 2016
The Ombudsman’s decision came after the 35% Campaign referred its complaint that planning consents were being breached, listing 43 developments where we thought the social rented housing may not have been delivered as required.
In her decision notice, the Ombudsman said:
“In response to my enquiries the Council says it is taking legal action in response to several of the breaches identified by Mr X. It also accepts it did not have a systematic supervision procedure to check compliance. It relied on developers’ voluntary compliance.” (para. 12)
She concludes that ‘the Council accepts that fault’ and has agreed to roll out ‘a borough-wide annual audit to ensure compliance’, nonetheless noting that ‘until that audit is complete it is hard to know how many social housing units all section 106 agreements called for and how many developers delivered. Or indeed, how many remain social housing units.’ (para 20)
Despite the Ombudsman’s decision and Southwark’s own admission that it had no monitoring procedure in place, no further action is proposed in any of the other instances submitted – aside from the two cases subject to legal action (the Jam Factory and Signal Tower). This leaves unresolved issues about the levels of rent being charged for purportedly social rented properties.
Following this we discovered that 44 social rented units had been lost from the Bermondsey Spa regeneration and had instead been switched to affordable rent, at 62% market rent, by housing provider Notting Hill Housing Trust (NHHT).
The lost Bermondsey Spa homes were raised at the Aylesbury estate CPO inquiry in May 2015. The Council assured the inquiry that it had robust procedures in place and that it monitored compliance of S106 affordable housing provision every 12-18 months. This was evidently not true, but was asserted to show that NHHT could be trusted to deliver social rented housing in the Aylesbury regeneration.
Inquiry document 27 – evidence submitted by the Council to the CPO public inquiry, 12/05/2015
Southwark struck a deal with NHHT to reprovide the 44 lost social rented units on another site – Manor Place depot, but this deal double counted the social rented units and in any event the development is still not under construction.
Social rent is not affordable rent
Social rent is calculated by using a legal formula, based primarily on average local earnings; in Southwark social rent currently equates to between 19-25% market rate and this percentage falls as market rents rise.
Our list of suspect developments shows many where the level of rent identifies them as affordable rent, not social rent. The list was compliled by cross-checking planning committee reports, section 106 agreements, Land Registry information, the GLA affordable housing outturn dataset and CORE lettings data.
Amongst the sites we’ve looked at where the ‘social rent’ is higher than it should be, are the following;
This redevelopment of the former Colorama film processing warehouse in SE1 was completed in April 2016 and should have provided a total of 19 social rented habitable rooms, about 8 units, according to the planning report.
However, GLA affordable housing outturn data, shows that the developer has provided affordable rent, not social rent. These range up to 59% market rent, giving rent levels of £215pw (excl. service charge) for a 1-bed flat, over twice the current average social rent in Southwark (£100 pw).
143-149 Rye Ln/1-15 B’mouth Rd SE15 4ST (L&Q)
Southwark’s planning committee report (06/AP/0995) approved 61 new homes of which 7 should have been social rent, but the GLA dataset shows that these have been delivered by London & Quadrant as affordable rent of between 74% and 78% market rent.
32 Crosby Row SE1 3PT (Family Mosaic)
Southwark’s planning committee report (11/AP/0140) approved the demolition of St Hugh’s church on Crosby Row and the construction of 22 new homes, which should have included 5 social rented units. But the GLA dataset shows that these have been delivered by Family Mosaic as affordable rent at up to 57% of market rent.
177-184 Grange Road, Bermondsey (Linden Homes Ltd)
The planning committee report (11/AP/1390) for this development approved 38 new homes, of which 9 were supposed to be social rented units. The GLA data shows that these have been delivered by Leicester Housing Association as affordable rent of up to 52% market rent.
34-42 Grange Road, Bermondsey (Bellway Homes)
Southwark’s planning committee report (11/AP/3251) approved 41 new homes of which 8 should have been social rented, but the GLA dataset shows that these have been delivered by Leicester Housing Association at affordable rent of up to 52% market rent.
Royal Road, Kennington SE17 3DA (Affinity Sutton)
This development was built on the site of a former old people’s home. The site was designated as one of the replacement housing sites for decanted Heygate tenants and sold by the Council, at cost, to Affinity Sutton housing association. Notwithstanding this, the new development wasn’t completed until 5 years after the Heygate was demolished and the government’s CORE lettings database is showing only 45 units let at social rents at this site, while 76 is the number required by the planning consent and correspondingsection 106 agreement.
430 Old Kent Road SE1 5AG – (Family Mosaic)
This is one of the Neo-Bankside off-site affordable housing sites, which according to Southwark’s planning committee report (11/AP/0138) approved 22 social rented units, but the GLA dataset shows that these have been delivered at affordable rents of up to 49% market rent.
Silwood estate regeneration Site 4B (Notting Hill HT)
This is yet another Notting Hill Housing Trust redevelopment of a council estate. It was supposed to provide 22 social rented homes as part of its redevelopment of the Silwood estate involving the demolition of 57 council homes and construction of 127 new homes. The definition of social rented in the section 106 agreement is worded as affordable rent and the CORE lettings data system shows that only 19 units have been let at social rent levels.
Southwark has confessed that up until now it has not ensured that social rented housing has been delivered in accordance with planning approvals, but instead relied on‘voluntary compliance’. Southwark promises an annual public audit as a remedy, with some unspecified ‘further investigation to ensure accuracy’ and has budgeted £60,000 for this. Developers and, unfortunately, housing associations have demonstrated that they cannot be trusted, so we doubt that this will be enough.
Southwark charges developers a 2% administration fee on the sum total of financial S106 contributions, including affordable housing. The table below shows this amounts to be a considerable sum each year and far more of it should be invested to ensure that the affordable housing conditions are properly monitored and enforced.
Extract from the Council’s most recent S106 contributions report
We also need an audit not just ‘going forward’ but also one looking back, an historical audit of all relevant planning applications for an least the past 10 years, to retreive the social housing that Southwark Council has lost through being let at higher than social rents. Only when Southwark has done this will we believe that it is ‘leading the fight for social housing’ as it claims and is not the developers’ free-for-all it has been labelled.
We blogged urgently earlier this month when one of our members was given a days notice by Camden council to view and accept private rented accommodation. Camden council were using their new powers given to them in the Localism Act to force homeless households to accept an offer of private rented accommodation. If they refuse this offer, the council can end their homeless duty and evict them from their current temporary accommodation. The council will also remove them from the social housing waiting list.
We are deeply concerned at Camden council’s policy and treatment of homeless households. Why are Camden council forcing homeless households to accept private rented accommodation – or else face street homelessness – when the private rented sector is one of the biggest causes of homelessness? Homeless households must be allowed to wait for secure social housing if they wish.
We demand that Camden council urgently review their homelessness policy and housing allocations policy:
- Camden council must not force homeless households into the private rented sector. If a private rented offer is made, the uptake of this offer should be voluntary not mandatory. No one should face homelessness for refusing a private rented sector offer.
- If a private rented sector offer is accepted, the council should allow them to remain on the waiting list for secure social housing. Homeless households, people in housing need, and those who have faced homelessness must be able to access secure, social housing.
- Whether homeless households remain in temporary accommodation or voluntarily accept a private rented offer, these two groups must have high priority on the housing waiting list because of their high housing need.
Our member and her daughter were left in a hostel for over a year by Camden council, having to use shared bathroom and kitchen facilities. As soon as we raised concerns about this, they were provided with self-contained temporary accommodation. However, shortly after this, the council have now forced the family to accept a private rented offer.
We had another member who was also kept in a hostel by Camden council for over a year, and then after we challenged this, she was moved into private rented accommodation.
We are concerned that the council are happy to neglect people in hostel accommodation for years and when challenged, force them to accept a private rented offer. It certainly feels like a punishment for raising unsuitable hostel accommodation. After enduring unsuitable hostel accommodation, clearly these households need quality, secure social housing.
We sent a Freedom of Information request to Camden council to find out their policy on forcing homeless households into private rented accommodation. The FOI shows that in the last year the council conducted 112 suitability assessments, and have subsequently discharged their duty with a private rented offer to 25 households. So far, the number of households forced into the private rented sector is relatively small, although of course, the impacts on these families will be huge. That our member, who challenged her unsuitable hostel accommodation, was selected for a private sector discharge, does look targeted.
Overcrowding and insecurity
Our member is already worried about what moving into this private rented accommodation means in terms of insecurity. “How long will I be able to live there for? What happens after 2 years?” She asked us. Of course, with private rented accommodation, we can’t answer, because it is all in the hands of the private landlord (although any private rented offer given by the council through the Localism Act must be for a minimum of 12months) and whether she is able to cover what could be an ever increasing rent.
The accommodation is also a one bedroom flat so housing officers suggested that her 15 year old daughter could put a bed in the living room. This is totally unacceptable. Good quality housing means people have living space and private space. Living spaces should not double up as bedrooms.
Camden council must support homeless people and meet our demands above rather than their current project of cutting their housing waiting list.
We’ve been documenting the unacceptable, and often unlawful, ways in which Southwark Council treats those it has a duty of care to for some time now. This pattern of behaviour becomes increasingly and unsettlingly familiar with each new case we encounter.
Recently, L approached HASL. She has been living with her family in social housing provided by Southwark for 22 years. L has been battling with Southwark Council for the entire time – to try and get essential repair work done on the property and to be treated with respect. In attempting to make Southwark realise the severity of the problems, L has received backing from solicitors and a number of experts regarding the problems within the property. The family have been repeatedly moved out of the property for “repairs to be made” only to return to the same problems and the same poor attitude from Southwark. Attempts to make the property safe have been met with inadequate offers of alternative accommodation and coercion from Southwark.
L sought the advice and support of a new solicitor who progressed to presenting court proceedings to get the disrepair addressed. In the end, L made a successful bid for another property nearby. On moving into her new property, unfortunately a few snagging repairs requirements are outstanding – an issue we’re now working together to try and solve.
L believes, as do we, that no-one should have to face this kind of treatment. Everyone deserves access to secure and safe housing, and it should be the absolute minimum requirement that housing providers should treat their tenants with a sense of basic decency and respect. Instead, L who already faces the stress and complication of long term chronic health conditions has been met with intimidation, racist and classist prejudice and an irrevocable, irreparable and unfair service. We will be working together to make sure Southwark Council are held accountable for their behaviour in dealing with L’s housing situation.
Many of the problems we’ve encountered with Southwark Council are not isolated to individuals. Are you a Southwark council tenant facing similar issues of disrepair or mistreatment? These are conditions no-one should be expected to face, and they definitely shouldn’t have to be faced alone.
Get in touch – Come along to one of our meetings, or come share some food with us on Sunday at our lunch club. Over the last 2 years, we’ve demonstrated that we can win better housing, when we do it together. Join your local housing action group!
Southwark’s gatekeeping caught on video
Intimidation and policing of the homeless and vulnerably housed continues at Southwark’s housing offices, however this time we caught it on film.
Southwark have been under fire recently for the many ways in which they deny people making homelessness applications their right to housing. At the start of this year the High Court ordered Southwark to cease certain practices of gatekeeping “with immediate effect,” and in May the Supreme Court found Southwark was wrongly denying its duty of care. Have they changed their tune? Not a bit.
After experiencing bullying and harassment first hand at Southwark’s housing offices, last month HASL members and solicitors Hanson Palomares obtained written confirmation from the Council that homelessness applicants had a right to be accompanied to interviews. Cabinet Member for housing, Richard Livingstone, in a letter dated 14th May, stated that:
“I can therefore confirm that we think it is reasonable for customers to be accompanied to homelessness interviews by their representatives, family or friends”
On Friday the 5th of June HASL members were distributing flyers in front of the housing office (without reason we were denied permission to give out flyers in the office) when we met F, a single father of one who had been evicted from his accommodation by his landlord and had been forced to stay with a friend who was now also forcing the family to leave. Having spent the morning at the office, Southwark denied F a homelessness interview. Instead, Southwark turned F away stating, as shown in Southwark’s summary of the meeting with F, that the friend was required to give a period of 28 days for F to search for private accommodation. This false information shows the continued practices of gatekeeping by Southwark Council.
A HASL member agreed to accompany F and his son back to the office at F’s request. The video above shows what happened. This is not the first time that HASL members and homelessness applicants have experience arbitrary bullying and intimidation at these offices, it is however the first instance we have on film.
HASL members were called ‘trouble makers’, we were denied entry on the grounds that ‘we knew why,’ that ‘we were not professional’ and that ‘we wanted to cause chaos in the offices.’ Other applicants at the office that day joined our efforts to speak with the security guards who made no attempts to discuss the matter with us nor consult the letter from Southwark’s cabinet members. The manager in the office that day failed to speak with us or deescalate the situation and instead called the police who when they appeared affirmed the right of the security guards to use reasonable force to remove us from the premises should we attempt to enter.
Despite all this, as you may imagine, we had a great response from the leaflets and lots of support from people at the office that day. F, on returning to the office with our advice, was granted a homelessness interview, as is the law, and HASL gained a new member in the process.
HASL believe that the housing crisis is not caused by the most vulnerable, upon whom the blame and the effects of the crisis largely land. We refuse the intimidation and all gate-keeping practices of Southwark and fight for our members to be treated with respect. Another housing system is possible, and at this point it starts with the right to be accompanied to interviews!
You don’t have to attend a homelessness interview alone: join your local housing group!
We’ll be supporting our friends of Camden Housing Action Group who are in court next week for their protest occupation against the sell-off of council housing by Camden council. More details below. Please join and share their facebook event here.
2 protestors who occupied a residential building owned by Camden council in protest at its sell-off and the wider sell-off of council housing across London, will be at Highbury Corner Magistrates court next Tuesday 26th and Wednesday 27th August.
They are being charged under the Legal Aid, Sentencing, and Punishment of Offenders Act section 144 which makes it a criminal offence to live or intend to live in an abandoned residential building. Section 144 criminalises homeless people trying to find a home. It also criminalises protesters who are trying to take action against the housing crisis through protest occupations such as this one.
Come along for court support to show your solidarity. Join us outside the court at 9.30am, bring placards and banners. We’ll then head in for the court case at 10am.
Quality, secure, affordable social housing for all! Scrap LASPO section 144!
More info on the protest occupation here: http://camdenhousingaction.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/camden-council-houses-occupied-in-stoptheselloffs-protest/
Previous cases successfully challenging LASPO section 144 include: