You may have recently received an email from a group named Lambeth United [Lambeth United Housing Co-operative: www.lambethunitedhousingco-op.org.uk] about former ‘short life’ properties in Lambeth, which makes various allegations about their treatment by Lambeth Council.
It goes without saying that we dispute these claims strongly, but as Lambeth’s Cabinet Member for Housing and Regeneration I thought it would be helpful if I provided you with a briefing that provides some context. The key points are:
* ‘Short life’ accommodation refers to properties that were used for a temporary fixed term period, with a guarantee that the property will be vacated by the end of the period. This was commonly used by local authorities and housing associations to ensure properties remained in beneficial use while awaiting refurbishment, redevelopment or disposal.
Between the ineffectual ‘secondary’ housing associations and an absent council, the administration of what became long-term social housing was left to the co-ops that were formed. No fixed term agreements were made. ‘Shortlife’ was a piece of legal sticking-plaster applied to an already existing situation—homeless people housing themselves in hundreds of homes that Lambeth had CPO’d (usually at knockdown prices), or were transferred to them by the GLC for social housing purposes, and then left to rot.
Meanwhile the council intermittently started and then withdrew from permanency deals for these communities. At least one council officer has been heard to express regret that these ‘megadeals’, as some were known, were not successful.
* Short life residents were never given tenancy rights.
The council would not accept rent from ‘shortlifers’, fearing having to take some responsibility for them.
*Many other local authorities in London were in a similar situation to Lambeth and have resolved the situation – Lambeth is the last borough to resolve this.
Lambeth had more ‘shortlife’ than any other borough and left it the longest. Dragging people through the courts in order to sell their homes to the highest bidder is not a resolution.
* Lambeth council has gone beyond the offer made to former short life occupants in other local authorities by giving all households the chance to take up secure council tenancies, with higher priority on the housing register – most boroughs only made one direct offer. We also offered everyone the chance to buy their property.
Lambeth Council leader Lib Peck has agreed with us that few ‘shortlifers’ could afford to purchase their homes. Meanwhile, anything other than priority on the housing list would not amount to actual re-housing.
Lambeth are pushing people onto their already over-burdened waiting list, displacing others for people who have homes and losing social housing units to private developers in the process.
Offers have been used as coercion, with various threats of withdrawal made.
As for the residents who have taken up re-housing; many have had no choice, finding themselves unable to afford a legal defence. Some of those re-housed have endured problems such as asbestos in their new homes. Meanwhile, others have had to turn down unsuitable offers and ended up being evicted, or on the point of eviction.
* As a result, since 1997 most of the former short life occupants have either taken up offers of alternative housing or left voluntarily, and the numbers of short life properties have reduced from 1200 to 75.
Lambeth’s management means that many of the above people have been in their homes for 20-40 years, and are some of the borough’s longest-term residents – this is not ‘shortlife’.
Note: The current ‘recall’ process started in 2011 with 170 properties.
* We have met with Lambeth United, and we have offered to work with the group to develop three cooperative housing options in alternative property.
The first meeting in November 2012, explicitly to discuss the ‘Super Co-op’ plan was minuted and followed up, albeit belatedly, in January 2013. Two days before that meeting Lib Peck wrote to Lambeth United Housing Co-op to set out her vision of co-op housing in Lambeth, failing to refer to the ‘Super Co-op’ and hi-jacking the agenda away from the one committed to at the last meeting.
If you have further questions, or wish to discuss with me in person, please feel free to contact me on the details below.
Cllr Pete Robbins
Lambeth Cabinet member for Housing and Regeneration
Tel: Erica Ballmann, Head of the Leader’s Office on 020 7926 5706 or Ameeta Rowland, Policy Officer in the Leader’s Office on 020 7926 2943
Short life briefing
Briefing from Cllr Pete Robbins Cabinet Member for Housing and
Regeneration Lambeth Council
22 February 2013
What are ‘short life’ properties?
• ‘Short-life’ accommodation refers to properties that were used for a temporary fixed term period, with a guarantee that the property will be vacated by the end of the period. This form of
accommodation was at one time commonly used by both local authorities and housing associations to ensure properties remained in beneficial use in the period whilst awaiting refurbishment, redevelopment or disposal.
Between the ineffectual ‘secondary’ housing associations and an absent council, the administration of what became long-term social housing was left to the co-ops that were formed. No such fixed term agreements were made. ‘Shortlife’ was a piece of legal sticking-plaster applied to an already existing situation—homeless people housing themselves in hundreds of homes that Lambeth had CPO’d (usually at knockdown prices) or were transferred to them by the GLC for social housing purposes and then left to rot.
Meanwhile the council intermittently started and then withdrew from permanency deals for these communities. At least one council officer has been heard to express regret that these ‘megadeals’, as some of them were known, were not successful.
• It was clearly spelt out to short life residents in Lambeth that their occupancy would be temporary. However, in the past some have undermined the principle of short life by not giving properties back at the end of the agreed time scale. Residents were never given tenancy rights, and still do not have tenancy rights.
There was never an ‘agreed timescale’. Lambeth were quite happy to let this situation run on for decades and never had any intention to refurbish the properties or plans for redevelopment. After thirty plus years their only solution is to evict the very people who have preserved these homes and to sell them off at auction. Many of the co-ops were actually primed for permanency in the 1980s, and in the 1990s the council initiated permanency deals only to pull out of them.
How did Lambeth end up with short life properties?
• Along with many other London councils in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s Lambeth Council designated a large number of properties (around 1200 in total) as short life properties. These
were originally leased or licensed to various housing associations who then typically made subsidiary arrangements with housing co-operatives for their temporary letting and management.
These secondaries/housing associations did very little to maintain these ‘shortlife’ houses. Often residents paid subs to these secondaries but for no discernible service. It was the co-ops formed of the residents who assumed responsibility for the houses.
• Like other boroughs, the reason for this arrangement was that the Council was not in a position at that point in time to fund the necessary investment to bring them up to a lettable standard. Occupants were aware that they or their co-op would need to invest in the properties. In some cases a small amount of rent was paid by the occupants, in other cases the properties were occupied rent free. Lambeth did not receive any income for these properties and it had no contractual relationship with the residents. Rent paid, if any, would go to the co-ops or to the housing associations which had leased or licensed the properties.
These properties – originally scheduled for demolition and disregarded as assets – have cost nothing for Lambeth to maintain. People living in them had claim to re-housing (many having been on the waiting list for decades) and so Lambeth made a double saving here! Furthermore, the council would not accept any rent because they were afraid of incurring any legal responsibility for the tenants.
Meanwhile, in some cases Lambeth did receive money from secondaries.
• Many other local authorities in London were in a similar situation to Lambeth, and have since acted to resolve the situation – however, Lambeth is the last borough with short life properties
remaining from this period and is now in the final stages of ending its short life arrangements.
Lambeth’s management of ‘shortlife’ means that many of the above people have been in their homes for 20-40 years, and are some of the borough’s longest-term residents – this is not ‘shortlife’, these are communities that have, according to Labour councillor Nigel Haselden: “given a permanence and continuity to the area.”
[Note: The current ‘recall’ process started in 2011 with 170 properties.]
Why is Lambeth disposing of short life properties?
• Short life accommodation was only put in place to ensure properties continued to be used before refurbishment, redevelopment or disposal. In 2011 Lambeth Council made the decision to dispose of the last remaining short life stock, seeking vacant possession and taking them to auction. This will raise a substantial capital receipt that will be available to fund expenditure elsewhere in the housing stock.
The process of ‘shortlife’ recall involves the council spending money on lawyers (who charge exorbitant rates), contractors (who smash up vacated homes to make them uninhabitable before making them habitable again) vacant property managers, auctioneers and on re-housing.
The capital receipt generated is not going directly back into the housing pot but into the general regeneration budget.
Note: “It would be senseless as well as expensive to evict people only to have to re-house them again.” Lambeth Labour councillors, Haselden, Wellbelove and O’Malley.
• The coalition government has instigated a wide programme of cuts and financial constraints in local government and as a result Lambeth is extremely short of the capital necessary to upgrade
its social housing stock (c. 34,000 units, including leaseholders), and to provide desperately needed extra primary school places. Lambeth needs to raise capital to fund the works – resolving the
short life properties offers a way of generating part of the capital we require.
Lambeth’s management of housing has been historically wasteful and plagued by problems, earning the department headlines such as ‘Lambeth’s Walk of Shame’ [Inside Housing].
The borough has failed to collect nearly £50m in council tax and is spending a reported £30m on new council offices. In order to add to its reserves it is purging the stable communities made up of some of the borough’s longest-standing residents.
Case studies of ex ‘shortlife’ houses show that the council has haemorrhaged hundreds of thousands of pounds after they have been left empty after vacation, for years in some cases. Subsequently they have been squatted numerous times; entailing legal fees (one property being served with an eviction notice 13 times in 7 years!), – council tax and rent have obviously not been collected from such houses, adding to the waste.
• To convert short life properties into social housing and offer existing residents tenant
status is unrealistic as we cannot afford to repair the properties concerned (an estimate of the cost of this would be between £10m and £15m). Put simply, we cannot justify that expenditure on behalf of a small number of individuals at the expense of disadvantaging many more rent paying
tenants who require investment in their homes. For the cost of bringing an individual former Shortlife property up to the Lambeth Housing Standard, we could bring at least 5 properties
that are legitimately occupied by rent paying tenants up to the same standard.
Where does this estimate come from – is it plucked out of thin air? How do Lambeth Council know what work is needed to bring short life properties up to Lambeth Housing Standard when they haven’t been inside the properties?
Lambeth United Housing Co-op has advanced a plan to continue to repair the houses that do need attention – and again at no cost to the council.
Note: “We have reminded colleagues and officers that some of these homes would not be standing if it was not for the work of the people living in them.” Lambeth Labour councillors, Haselden, Wellbelove and O’Malley.
• This is a difficult position for many of the former short life residents, some of whom have now lived in a property for a long period of time, may have made their own repairs and improvements, and who do not want to move. Even though the resident always knew the accommodation was temporary, we accept that it is understandable that ‘short life’ now feels like a misnomer given how long they have lived there.
An understatement: nurturing communities have grown up and children gone to local schools, parents worked in the local community etc etc. Some of the people who came to live in these communities in the 1970’s are now drawing their pensions!
We are talking about a purge tearing at the social fabric. Again the notion that we knew it was temporary is erroneous and ‘shortlife’ quickly outgrew its title. That it has become a misnomer is now readily accepted by Lambeth Council leader Lib Peck. Accepting this one thing – doing the honourable thing is quite another.
• But the failure in the 1980s and 1990s to resolve short life situation is not a reason not to act now. Lambeth Council must act fairly to all its residents and consider the interest of the borough as a whole. We have a duty to our council tenants to ensure that our own housing is kept in a decent standard. Lambeth is investing £500 million in their homes over the next four years to bring 15,000 more homes up to the Lambeth Housing Standard, something that has been consulted with and
had considerable support from the Council’s legitimate tenants. Options available to former short life residents
The ‘Shortlife’ properties being sold off are diminishing the number of affordable rental properties, and adding to the number of unaffordable rental properties available in Clapham. For example, no.14 Lillieshall Road, SW4 sold at the beginning of last year, is now being rented out at £500+ per week. A co-op could refurbish (to listed building specs) and rent that property out for a quarter of what’s being charged now.
Furthermore, Lambeth has a chronic shortage of two-bedroom houses and yet they are happy to sell them off in the process of ‘recall’.
• Lambeth Council has gone beyond the offer made to former short life occupants in other local authorities by giving households a high priority on the housing register to bid for a property of their choice; most boroughs only made one direct offer.
Anything other than priority on the housing list would not amount to actual re-housing. Lambeth are pushing people onto their already over-burdened waiting list, displacing others for people who have homes and losing social housing units to private developers in the process.
Offers have been used as coercion, with various threats of withdrawal made.
• Lambeth Council gave occupants of short life properties the opportunity to either purchase the property they were occupying outright, or to become secure tenants of a Lambeth council home through the Council’s allocation process, effectively moving up the housing queue. 75 residents have
taken up this option in the last year alone.
Council leader Lib Peck has agreed with us that the offer to buy applied only to a small minority. As for the residents who have taken up re-housing; many have had no choice, finding themselves unable to afford a legal defence. Some of those re-housed have endured problems such as asbestos in their new homes. Meanwhile, others have had to turn down unsuitable offers and ended up being evicted, or on the point of eviction.
• In the majority of cases where the Council has sought possession there has been an amicable hand back. Since 1997 most of the former short life occupants have either taken up offers of alternative housing or left voluntarily to arrange their own accommodation. As a result the numbers of short life properties have reduced from 1,200 to 75. Because of this process we have generated £16 million of capital receipts from the sale of short life properties since July 2011 to invest in council housing and
As above – most people have not left voluntarily, but have been forced out of their homes by the threat of being dragged through the courts and incurring huge legal fees. Those remaining are also being threatened with ‘occupation charges’ of £30.000 plus.
• Possession of the remaining properties is being resolved through the courts. However we have retained the option for people to bid for council housing as a priority through Choice
Based Lettings and continue to encourage people to do so.
• In addition we have also brought some short life properties back into use as family housing – 13 former short life properties have been sold at a discount to Notting Hill Housing Trust. Once
refurbished they will be let to families in housing need from the council’s housing register.
Can Lambeth please make public exactly which properties and what price they sold to NHHG for? What was the discount applied? Other RSL’s wanted discounts and they were denied!
We understand that the refurbishment costs for one block of ex-shortlife in Brixton is to cost £4.7m to re-furbish, making a laughing stock of Lambeth’s void formula.
• Mindful of the continuing interest in co-operative housing shown by a small number of former short life occupants Lambeth selected 11 properties that housing co-operatives could express an interest in acquiring. This was on the basis that a capital receipt would still be provided to the Council, but at a discounted rate that could be justified to the district auditor as
also delivering clear community benefits. While four organisations responded to this, all assumed the dwellings would be passed on at nil cost – that they would effectively be given the properties for free – which is not possible. As a result these properties are now being purchased by another housing association and will be used to provide affordable housing and in the process also supporting another community led project, working in partnership with London Youth (who represent London’s youth Centres) to provide valuable experience and learning, helping to get people back into work.
Again, can they please make public exactly which properties they are referring to and which housing association they now being sold to, and for what price and discount?
‘Consultation’ of RSLs is a process that goes back to 2008-2011, some offered 25% of market value for ‘shortlife’ at this time. Lambeth knew that RSLs would never be able to give them a full market receipt so why did they go through this charade?
Meanwhile, Lambeth Housing Strategy 2009-13 said that residents would be consulted about the future use of their homes – they were not.
What is the current situation?
• We are continuing to re-house former short life occupants and dispose of properties to raise much needed capital receipts. We have gone to great lengths to help people who have benefited
for a number of years from an arrangement that was very favourable to them. Most former short life occupants have taken up our offer to be re-housed elsewhere in the borough or have left voluntarily to arrange their own accommodation, which has meant the numbers of short life properties have reduced from 1,200 to 75.
Favourable? Cllr Robbins needs reminding that people maintained homes over four decades and did so through hard work on various committees, living self-reliantly and working on their homes or the homes of their neighbours (with skill swaps etc). It is important to note that some co-ops took new members from the council’s waiting list.
Again this idea of the voluntary and amicable vacation of co-op homes is a fiction in our experience, many people have felt forced into this by the legal threats against them including the council’s use of law firm that costs 5 times what their own lawyers charge, the threat of huge charges for ‘unauthorised occupation’ and intimidation in court
• We have met with Lambeth United, and the Council is keen to look at models that could deliver cooperative housing in the borough. We have offered to work with the group to develop three cooperative housing options in alternative property. However, none of these models enable those residents to remain in the properties they occupy, and to do so would put the Council in a position of significant financial and legal risk.
The first meeting in November 2012, explicitly to discuss the ‘Super Co-op’ plan, was minuted and followed up, albeit belatedly, in January 2013. Two days before that meeting Lib Peck wrote to Lambeth United Housing Co-op to set out her vision of co-op housing in Lambeth, failing to refer to the ‘Super Co-op’ and hi-jacking the agenda away from the one committed to at the last meeting.
We have repeatedly asked Lambeth what the ‘financial and legal risk’ of leaving us in our homes consists of. They have refused to answer citing ‘legal reasons’. This leads us to believe that there is no real bar to the ‘Super Co-op’ – an initiative that could help recycle some of Lambeth’s empty homes (a significant percentage of the empty homes in London] and could lessen Lambeth’s continued reliance on B&B accommodation.
• We are serious about our ambition to be a cooperative council but this does not mean favouring a small vocal group of residents some of whom are living in properties worth £2million to the detriment of the 24,000 Lambeth Council tenants across the borough who desperately need investment in their homes, or the thousands of residents who are on our housing waiting
Exactly how many ‘short life’ properties are actually worth £2million and please identify them. How many ‘short life’ properties have actually been sold for anywhere near that amount so far? None of us are aware of any. Typically values are much lower and, anyway, we aren’t responsible for inflated property prices in the borough (or for the poor condition of many council properties).
By selling short life properties, Lambeth are simultaneously shrinking their housing stock whilst at the same time lengthening their housing waiting list, as they re-house the displaced ‘shortlife’ residents.
It’s standard for politicians to characterise grass-roots opposition to their policies as coming from a ‘small vocal group’. A number of our members are old and infirm and we can’t expect them to always mobilise to counter Lambeth’s deafening- and often ill-informed-propaganda.
‘Shortlife’ recall is an ill-conceived policy, so please help us find a fairer solution for some of the borough’s longest-term residents.