A number of those who have expressed concern at the threatened evictions of housing co-op residents in Lambeth have received standard replies from council officers.
These replies are disingenuous in their content, and so we feel that we must comprehensively address the myths about “shortlife” housing, in the hope that a more sensible approach can be taken and the legal action can be stopped.
Lambeth United Housing Co-operative
Response to a letter from Paul Cooper, Assistant Director Strategy and Regeneration – Paul Cooper’s points in bold
“Please note that the leases or licences for all former shortlife properties were terminated in May 2010, at which point the properties were returned to the Council. Since this point there have been no management arrangements in place and the properties in question are not under the management of any cooperative organisations.”
This is simply not true. Co-ops have to continued to function after this date. While Mr Cooper might wish to give the impression of a “fait accompli”, for some co-ops no licencing arrangements were in place (and so they are being brought to court on the basis of a lie), the implication of what these licences mean for others has yet to be determined by the courts. Meanwhile, the secondaries who were employed to keep the council at arm’s length from the co-ops were often conspicuous by their absence and where they were more active they mysteriously disappeared around 1997 – presumably orchestrated with the recall?
“However, the Council does recognise that many of those living in these properties have done so for many years and in doing so may be well established members of the community.”
Recognising us as part of the community – and yet the council are still happy to tear at the social fabric. One councillor told a constituent that “shortlife” has brought “permanence and continuity” to local communities – mind you this is the same gentleman who said: “I have many friends in ‘shortlife’ and we have been able to maintain our friendship by not talking about this issue.”
It is worth bearing in mind that in maintaining our homes we have performed another duty the council neglected – namely to care for listed buildings and conservation areas that English Heritage describe as “a crucial component of local identity and community cohesion; the element of England’s heritage that is all around us and that touches all our lives.”
While the council’s legal war of attrition continues we have to witness property developers take speculative strolls up and down our streets and watch while vacant property managers (paid for by both Lambeth and their “tenants”) move in short-term occupants to where our neighbours once lived. “Shortlife recall” is a deeply unpleasant business that is destroying our communities.
“In recognising this, the Council has gone beyond the options that have been offered in similar circumstances elsewhere…”
We hear a lot about similar situations elsewhere and would welcome more details on this. Lambeth has historically had more “shortlife” housing stock than other boroughs – and certainly is the borough that has most neglected it.
“…and since 1997 have given these occupants priority to move to other properties in the borough when these become available.
Since 1997? This is news to many of us. In the words of one “shortlifer“: “I recall is that we were told ALL our members had to be on the council waiting list or they would not be given the option to be re-housed when the time came.”
“Since 1997 former shortlife occupants have had the opportunity to purchase the property outright or to become tenants elsewhere through the Council’s allocations process. The opportunity for former shortlife occupiers to purchase the property they were occupying was open until October 2011, although once we started action to gain possession this opportunity was closed. All of those who had expressed an interest to purchase before this time and were in a position to do so, have now been completed.”
Oh please. The council knew that the vast majority of us could not afford to do this. In many cases we are still the vulnerable, low-paid, sections of society who were desperate enough to be housed in what were originally derelict bildings. It obviously had not gone unnoticed that the value of these houses (once CPO’d for demolition for a few thousand pounds and – according to local sources, CPO’d in dubious circumstances) had rocketed – and so the council were now in a position to take advantage of the maintenance of the long-standing “shortlifers.” The ludicrousness of this proposition makes us wonder if the council ever fulfilled an Equality Impact Assessment on the people living in these homes.
Moreover, the properties were being valued with vacant possession as though we have never existed, and also valued with our improvements, so we were, in effect, being charged twice over for refurbishment and maintenance.
Finally, not all the purchase deals made before 31st Oct have been finalised. We know of two which have still not been completed and purchase deals that the council are trying to reverse in court.
“Otherwise, former Shortlife occupants still retain a priority status through the Council’s Housing Register, something that has not been the case elsewhere. However people need to have engaged in this process, and the longer that they have been engaged the more likely they are to have found a property that meets more of their requirements.”
The option to be put on the waiting list this means displacing those in desperate need of rehousing. There are now 27,000 people on the waiting list and 2,000 vacancies a year, but the council is selling off homes at auction where families once lived and forcing them (in the face of long, drawn-out emotional and expensive legal action, and thus the prospect of bankruptcy for some) on to the chaotic (with priority status or not) Choice-Based Letting System.
Consider the following instances of Choice-Based Lettings chaos:
1. People ceding possession after being led to believe they will get a certain property, only to be told afterwards that property is no longer available.
2. Properties accepted by some are not ready and the work required on them is subcontracted out to the nth degree, so that when/if someone turns up to repair, for example, a broken window, they can only fix the hinge and not the lock.
3. People being offered houses of a lower standard than the one people have been forced out of! One person was shown around, and offered the tenancy on, a council flat that had drug paraphernalia, rotten food and general rubbish strewn about the floor, and human faeces smeared on the walls.
4. Numerous viewing fiascos and inconsistencies.
Ultimately, CBL is being used as a stick to beat us with, with threats of withdrawal. Explain to us why “shortlifers” received letters saying their eligibility for CBL ended at a certain point yet their subsequent court summons suggests that Lambeth will rehouse? The letters are instruments of coercion. That’s the answer.
“As the Council seeks possession through the courts, those people who have not been active in bidding, or have not provided the necessary details to enable them to bid, could find themselves in a position where those options are no longer available. The Council therefore encourages all former Shortlife occupants to be engaging in the process.”
This is a threat – pure and simple. “We will make you homeless if you choose to defend your home.” Charming. How would you feel if someone wanted to evict you from somewhere that you had lived in for decades? It is no wonder that Kate Hoey describes this debacle as: “one of the more shocking things Lambeth has done.”
“In deciding what to do with the former Shortlife stock the Council has had to consider the economic realities of what investment means, and the risk it could be exposed to should a tenancy be created by default.”
Lambeth have tied themselves in legal knots over “shortlife”. Their only solution is to force scores of people put of their homes, after they shirked supporting co-ops in the 1980s and pulled out of “megadeals” in the 1990s. Surely a “co-operative council” wants to show more imagination or is Kate Hoey completely on the money (again) when she says: “I often wonder why we have councillors as some of them simply do what officers want.”
“In the first instance, the cost of bringing these dwellings up to the Lambeth Housing Standard far exceeds the costs required for the rest of the Council’s housing stock. Indeed estimations based on current knowledge suggest that it would cost six times the threshold the Council applies on its rented stock when considering whether a property should be retained or disposed. Although in some instances people may have invested in these homes themselves that does not necessarily mean that major works aren’t still required.”
So, what is “current knowledge” exactly? What could this be based on, given the fact that for the last 40 years the council has not set foot in the majority of “shortlife” homes? Survey requests pertained to disposal without the resident remaining in situ, so it is hardly surprising that these requests were largely ignored.
As we have mentioned, many of our homes are in better condition that some council stock – this arises from the fact that many of us have maintained them for so long. We have done so only for the council to come along and say “that’s handy, now we can sell them off.”
Moreover, these estimations of costs seem to have been plucked from thin air. We have been maintaining and repairing these properties for years at no cost to the people of Lambeth. Many were in a derelict state when first occupied. Since we have been living in them for decades, how can Lambeth claim that they are not in a ‘livable condition’?
“It should also be noted that the former Shortlife occupants have been paying a reduced fee, or even nothing, whilst living in these properties, and that when they originally moved in the temporary arrangements and condition of the stock was well known to them. None of those living in these properties have paid anything for this accommodation since May 2010.”
Hang on. Who are the council to decree on social housing rents, when they have had nothing to do with these houses for 40 years? All co-ops paid rent or membership fees and this money has been used for repairs. The situation since 2010 hasn’t changed for some of these co-ops who are still able to operate after their residents have been picked off by Lambeth’s punitive legal campaign against them. Many residents are still maintaining their homes, post-Notices To Quit, without their co-op infrastructure (destroyed by the legal process) and without any outside financial support at all. They do this because they care about their homes. Isn’t this what Lambeth want – tenants who takes responsibility for themselves and their homes?
“On the second aspect, the financial risk that the Council could be exposed to should former Shortlife occupants continue to live in these properties once works have been completed, could run into the tens of millions of pounds. In doing so it would also require the Council to invest in stock that is uneconomic, and could open itself up to retrospective claims from other former Shortlife occupants who have adhered to Council policy and taken the opportunity to move or purchase.”
What is being said here is that the council has taken so long to take any responsibility – fiduciary or otherwise – for “shortlife” that they are now liable to claims of “disrepair”. However, we want to continue to house ourselves at no cost to the council. We want to get on with our lives and have no intention of dragging the council through the courts for vast sums in retrospective maintenance. Mr Cooper is parroting a scare story to justify forcing us out of our homes.
So nervous are Lambeth about this link between tenancy and “disrepair” that during a recent court case, when the judge suggested that a defendant pay, by installment, occupation fees charged by Lambeth’s expensive lawyers (Devonshires), the representative from Lambeth jumped up to scotch this suggestion.
“These costs, and the risk of exposure to costs, are significant and would either have to be picked up in one of two ways. The first would be the Council diverting the resources identified for its own tenanted properties, just at the point where the Council has agreed a standard in co-production and undertaken that this would be delivered within the next five years. These are households who are legitimate tenants; who have been paying rents throughout their occupation; and who themselves have been living in non-Decent homes for many years.”
Ok, please don’t blame us for the failings of council housing or for the council’s deficit, or that it hasn’t collected £48m worth of council tax (“shortlifers” pay council tax in case you were wondering).
On the point of being “legitimate tenants”, it will be for the courts to decide whether “shortlifers” were in fact legitimate tenants for 30 years or more, tenants who had their licenses revoked (where they existed) without consultation or discussion.
Moreover, the council are instructing their expensive lawyers (Devonshires) to treat us like tenants, and to try and push us further towards bankruptcy, with intimidatory “use and occupation charges”. Why are they charging above council housing rents (£200pw and upwards) for properties which they describe as falling well below decent homes standards? They are, by this definition, behaving as a slum landlord would, (complete with never having done recent gas safety checks and not fulfilling other statutory duties).
“The second option would be to divert resources from other investment projects planned in the borough for regeneration opportunities. This includes investment in schools, projects to improve neighbourhoods, or projects that will deliver significant improvements to the environment. In effect this would have a double impact on these types of schemes, as not only would they have to be de-prioritised at the expense of investing into the uneconomic former Shortlife stock (and covering for legal claims for compensation), but many of these projects are reliant upon the capital generated through the Shortlife disposal programme to be funded in the first instance.”
Good to know that Lambeth depends so much on evicting its long-term residents to fund itself! This makes it sound like projects were being hooked on the disposal of “shortlife” well before the cuts bit.
Essentially, we are just assets to the council, and not, in fact, communities who have been stable for nearly four decades. It seems that community doesn’t matter; it’s not enough of an “asset”. If you don’t have community, what is there left?
The money raised is not going back directly into social housing (retention of social housing being something that would be achieved with the Super Co-op – see below) and, while on the one hand the council is plugging the hole left by its deficit (that has come about, in part, from fraud and mismanagement) they still have £25m to spare for new council offices!
“The Council has explored options to use part of the former shortlife stock to establish a stand alone co-op. This was supported by Cabinet decision in July 2011, at which point the Council identified a pilot group of former Shortlife properties, agreed a criteria that would generate wider community benefits (including training opportunities and environmental sustainability) and then invited cooperative organisations to submit proposals. Whilst the Council expected to receive a capital receipt for this stock, it recognised that this would be reduced if it led to these kind of community benefits. Unfortunately, whilst there were four bids returned, none of these were compliant as they all expected the properties to be transferred to them at nil or nominal value, assets which the Council had valued at £2m.”
“Explored options”? Which ones? Were they pursued with an open mind? Lambeth must have been aware from the outset that no method of providing affordable housing can generate receipts comparable to those obtained by selling on the open market. One established co-op, Ekarro (that grew out of properties threatened with eviction), was rebuffed twice with its plan for “shortlife”, one that required the council to sell properties to them at 25% of their value – hardly nominal but completely realistic given the community benefits on offer.
“The Council is now working with other partners on these properties, which will deliver the benefits originally envisioned, whilst also generating a receipt for the Council, and also providing social housing for people in need.”
Is there any detail on this? The council, exposed by the collapse of the Notting Hill Housing Group deal, has been secretive about what properties they are talking about when they reference trial co-ops. So far nearly all “shortlife” has been sold off at auction.
“The Council has considered the proposal of a ‘Super Co-op’, something that has been suggested by former Shortlife occupants, and those representing former Shortlife occupants, this has been rejected on a number of grounds.
No, you haven’t considered it! A draft outline of it has only recently been put forward to councillors – an outline that is being added to all the time.
Only the notion of it has been considered, and officers don’t like the sound of it because it won’t immediately fill the holes in their budgets, but it will provided added value in so many other ways.
Despite being under attack, we have put together an innovative plan that has been supported by a wide cross section of people, politicians, housing professionals, co-op organisations and members of Lambeth’s own Co-op Council Commission of 2010.
The Super Co-op’s aim is to ensure a legacy of social housing in the borough and recycle Lambeth’s voids/empty homes. It is not a limited, selfish exercise; it has much wider connotations for Lambeth and elsewhere.
The Super Co-op will adhere to the seven co-operative principles:
- Voluntary and Open Membership
- Democratic Member Control
- Members’ Economic Participation
- Autonomy and Independence
- Education, Training and Information
- Cooperation among Cooperatives
- Concern for Community
And it will provide benefits on the following levels:
- Social – taking people off the housing list, providing an opportunity to upskill/train/initiate education programmes
- Economic – taking on repair work of voids for less than it would normally cost
- Environmental – emphasising the self-sufficient nature of co-ops and leading the way on energy-saving ideas and methods
A number of these reasons have already been explained in this response, but is further summarised as:
- This mechanism would not generate a receipt for the Council, which is required to invest in regeneration across the Borough. This is demonstrated by pilots the Council has pursued elsewhere with the former Shortlife stock
Name those examples.
- In order to avoid the Council being exposed to legal challenge, former Shortlife occupants cannot remain in a property, or be supported to return to that property.
How is not possible to make provision for this by signing a waiver? Show the legal precedent that backs up your assertion please. This system has worked in for co-ops in other parts of London e.g. Camden’s ‘Shortlife Community Housing’ in Coptic Street and Hillview Estate where residents were given the option of either being re-housed completely, or re-housed temporarily, then returned to their original homes.
- Allocating a property to a household outside of the Allocations Policy would further expose the Council to challenge from those on the Housing Register, many of whom would be in far greater housing need.
You mean those on the housing register who we are jumping ahead of by being put on to CBL?
- In disposing of a group of properties (including former Shortlife) the Council would require the consent of the Secretary of State, and in doing so would need to demonstrate ‘best consideration’ in the disposal value.
Why not ask Mr Shapps and see what he says?
“The Council will reinvest the money raised from the sale of these properties back into its housing stock and other vital projects. The Council feels it has gone to great lengths to help people who have benefitted for a number of years from an arrangement that was very favourable to them and one that many other people in the borough would have liked to enjoy.”
The money raised is going into a general regeneration budget and to plug a deficit that was brought about, in part, by fraud and maladministration.
Meanwhile, this idea that we were sunning ourselves in the glow of “shortlife” for years is so insulting. For a lot of it people were under siege from repeated legal threats; trying to facilitate “megadeals” to bring permanent social housing communities – an initiative the council backed out of – or they were building up co-ops that the council did not support even though they alluded to their permanency
It is shocking to read between the lines and realise that we are still being viewed as “free-loaders”. Many “shortlifers” spent vast amounts of time on committee meetings and performing various other duties to support their co-ops (including maintenance of course).
You are looking at us with hindsight. You are looking at assets that the market has upscaled and that the residents have ensured. We have enjoyed our homes – because we made them what they are. It is hardly surprising that we don’t take kindly to ill-informed insinuations that go all the way through the council staff to the point where one “shortlifer” heard two officers outside their door say: “these people don’t deserve to live in these homes.”
The “shortlife” arrangement was favourable to Lambeth. They CPO’d these properties and then walked away from them for four decades. “Shortlife” was a dubious legalistic device dreamed up to allow them to do this. It had nothing to do with providing people with homes. Their only consideration was their own convenience.
“The Council has gone beyond the offer made to former Shortlife occupants in other local authorities, although this does require those people to engage in the process. Many of those living in these properties are still not providing information that will enable them to bid through Choice Based Lettings and by doing so are putting themselves in a worse position when the Council does gain the warrant for eviction through the Court. The Council believes that it has acted ‘reasonably’ in the offers that have been made to former Shortlife occupants, and if they haven’t engaged, they may subsequently find themselves in a position where there are no longer any options available to them.”
A repetition of the previous threats. Thanks.
“The Council is serious about its ambition to be a ‘cooperative council’ but being co-operative does not mean favouring one small group of residents to the detriment of Lambeth Council tenants throughout the borough who desperately need investment in their homes and other persons on the Council’s Housing Register seeking for accommodation.”
Lambeth has a great opportunity to support genuine homegrown co-operatives. Their response is to attempt to destroy them. This isn’t about favouring a small group residents, many “shortlifers” are still left in the system and want to be part of a Super Co-op, and besides the plan has the potential to unlock positive outcomes for many more people in the borough. Lambeth never dealt co-operatively with its housing co-ops, and certainly not along the lines of the seven co-operative principles, but now there is an opportunity to put that right to the benefit of the many not the few – and to directly address those in housing need.