Lambeth are serious about its 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
No, the average sale of a co-op home at auction is £465,000, a figure comparable, per unit, with the council’s mooted buyback scheme of R2B houses. How many properties have sold for £2m? We only know of one.
It’s standard for politicians to characterise grass-roots opposition to their policies as coming from a ‘small vocal group’. However, given the age and health of many housing co-op members, it is hardly surprising that others, more able to do so, have acted on their behalf.
Moreover, how can you use the inflated housing market to disadvantage people in this case? Housing co-op members repaired and maintained homes that the council did not want, after Lambeth Compulsory Purchased them for a few thousand pounds and slated them for demolition! As Labour councillors have said: “Some of these houses would not be standing if it was not for the work of the people living in them.”
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 list.
We are not living our lives to anyone’s detriment! That is a divisive and provocative statement. Lambeth is responsible for years of under-investment in housing – are you really saying that destroying communities and evicting OAPs is a fair solution to that?
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.
You claim to speak for Lambeth’s tenants and yet some have told us through our petition that they do not agree with the policy, including one lady who said that:
“Nobody should be kicked out of their home that they’ve lived in for years just so people like myself can come off the housing waiting list.”
“They are now chucking people out of their homes of 30 years and giving them no opportunity to at least rent the properties at a fair price (or any price at all). Private landlords wouldn’t be allowed to do that to sitting tenants, which is why the council doesn’t want to create a tenancy situation.”
What are ‘shortlife’ 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.
- It was clearly spelt out to shortlife residents in Lambeth that their occupancy would be temporary.
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 in the 1980s and 1990s, often after co-ops had already made the substantial investments required as part of these deals. At least one council officer has been heard to express regret that these ‘megadeals’, as some were known, were not successful.
- However, in the past some have undermined the principle of shortlife by not giving properties back at the end of the agreed time scale.
This has been cut and pasted from a general briefing on ‘shortlife’ and bears no relation to any case I know of because there was no agreed timescale. Lambeth were quite happy to let the situation run on for decades and never had any real intention of refurbishing the properties or plans for development.
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.
- Residents were never given tenancy rights, and still do not have tenancy rights.
Is this something to boast about given that some residents have been in their homes since the 1970s?! That Lambeth haven’t offered tenancies, and take responsibility, is a disgraceful failing on their part. It must also be pointed out that failure to give tenancy meant that residents were never in a position to pay rent to the council.
How did Lambeth end up with shortlife properties?
- Along with manyother London councils in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s Lambeth Council designated a large number of properties (around 1200 in total) as shortlife 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 asmall 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.
This was entirely Lambeth’s choice – to forsake 30+ years of a potential revenue stream.
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 shortlife properties remaining from this period and is now in the final stages of ending its shortlife arrangements.
Yes, the last borough with the most housing co-ops, and therefore communities that are among the longest-standing in the borough. Communities that even your own councillors have described as “bringing a sense of permanence and continuity to the area”.
Why is Lambeth disposing of shortlife properties?
- Shortlife 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 shortlife 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.
Freedom of Information on the specifics of this have been denied to us on the exact use of the monies raised. Lambeth cannot/will not show its own sums on this matter.
Meanwhile recent statements on housing are vague and the options for new social housing fall below your own pledge card aim of 1000 units. Furthermore, Lambeth’s plan to buy back Right to Buy Homes means that the council would spend as much, per unit, doing that as the average profit they made on selling-off co-op homes and destroying 40-year-old communities!
- 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 shortlife properties offers a way of generating part of the capital we require.
We are not capital, we are a community.
When I questioned Lib Peck on this done said she would not blame the cuts for this policy, but the line changes all the time.
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].
Case studies of ex ‘shortlife’ houses show that the council has hemorrhaged 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.
In addition, the borough has failed to collect over £40m in council tax and is spending a reported £50m 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.
- To convert shortlife 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.
We have never asked you to repair our homes.
Besides, where does this estimate come from – is it plucked out of thin air? How do Lambeth Council know what work is needed to bring ‘shortlife’ 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 shortlife 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 ‘shortlife’ now feels like a misnomer given how long they have lived there.
This means nothing unless you honour the rights of residents to stay in homes that they have maintained.
It’s also 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! Already the eviction process has caused serious physical and mental damage – hospitalisations in some cases – and the elderly people who face being taken away from their supportive communities face an uncertain future.
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 shortlife situation is not a reason not to act now.
- Translates as “we don’t care about the communities created, we are more concerned with asset-stripping.”
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 2012, 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 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.
This investment comes largely from central government. The previous failings of Lambeth on housing have been detailed above. Long-term residents should not be evicted to plug the council’s failings. As a local housing provider has put it:
“Lambeth’s mismanagement led to a criminal deficit in its housing revenue account which is why they are selling these homes and other long-cycle voids that they failed to upkeep. All at a time of rocketing homelessness. Lambeth – ‘the co-operative council’ lol, should be enabling co-ops not destroying them.”
Using the word legitimate here is inflammatory language, given the failings of Lambeth towards these residents and their choice not to given them due permanency.
In the words of your own councillors:
“It would senseless as well as expensive to evict people only to have to rehouse them again.”
Options available to former shortlife residents
- Lambeth Council has gone beyond the offer made to former shortlife 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. Moreover, offers were supposed to be secure tenancies but they have been fixed tenancies in some cases.
- Lambeth Council gave occupants of shortlife 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.
We don’t want to move up the housing queue and displace others on the already massive list. We have homes for which we could be paying a social rent on, if our Super Co-op plan was heeded.
Even council leader Lib Peck has agreed with us that the offer to buy applied only to a small minority who could afford that. 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 shortlife occupants have either taken up offers of alternative housing or left voluntarily to arrange their own accommodation. As a result the numbers of shortlife properties have reduced from 1,200 to 58. Because of this process we have generated £55 million of capital receipts from the sale of shortlife properties since April 2011 to invest in council housing and school places.
Re: finances, see above regarding revenue stream.
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 shortlife properties back into use as family housing – 13 former shortlife 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 ‘voids’ 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 shortlife 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.
This is an oddly worded paragraph. You make the bidding process sound like it was in response to us. Actually, the ‘consultation’ of RSLs is a process that goes back to 2008-2011.
Some of the bidders 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?
The established housing co-op bidders were rebuffed on several occasions when they offered to manage ‘shortlife’.
They were eventually offered houses that were in a really decrepit state – so no wonder they wanted a nil transfer.
A local housing provider has commented on this and said:
“Permanent housing co-ops are willing to take these homes into management but Lambeth insist on market value, which means £500K for a dilapidated house in central Brixton! Even the large Housing Associations can’t buy at these prices. Communities destroyed and more profit for wealthy developers and sharks (i.e. private landlords). Brixton is filling with young professionals sharing homes in multiple occupation – they are the only ones who can afford to live here – families are forced out. Shame on you Lambeth.”
Meanwhile, Lambeth Housing Strategy 2009-13 said that residents themselves would be consulted about the future use of their homes – they were not.
As for the initiative mentioned, again, can the council 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?
What is the current situation?
- We are continuing to re-house former shortlife 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 shortlife 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 shortlife properties have reduced from 1,200 to 58.
Favourable? Is it favourable to live in limbo? 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 also vitally 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. In fact, when BBC researchers asked Lambeth if there were any former shortlife residents who could speak favourably of their experience with the council of their rehousing not one was prepared to come forward.
- 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 between Lambeth United Housing Co-op and the council was in November 2012, explicitly to discuss the ‘Super Co-op’ plan. It as minuted (though these were subsequently disputed by the council) 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 managed to get a meeting in July 2013, after which correspondence relating to the savings we identified (up to £13m) abruptly stopped with questions left unanswered.
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 led 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, something that costs Lambeth £1m a year.
Ultimately the citation of financial and legal risk is a total smokescreen. I have unanswered correspondence with director of housing and regeneration Sue Foster where I set out legal advice that there is no risk attached.