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Social cleansing of city centres

APRIL 18, 2018

Members of the Unite LE Housing Branch 1111 stood alongside tenants yesterday opposed to ‘the social cleansing of city centres’ by the same housing associations that are derecognising unions and cutting staff and who are also alienating residents and anyone concerned at the deepening housing crisis.

The auction, held at the Marriot Hotel, saw property developers and private landlords bidding for £7.2m worth of former social flats and houses with nearly one in 10 of the lots, were former social housing, with 14 lots being sold by housing associations and six by councils.

They include three housing association flats in Croydon, two housing association flats in Camberwell and a housing association house in Harlesden. These three areas have more than 7,000 families in temporary housing and 104 people sleeping on the streets, according to the most recent government figures.

Unite’s housing branch has long campaigned against the net loss of social housing that housing associations are now responsible for; the Chartered Institute of Housing calculate that 46,972 housing association properties at social rent have been lost since 2012, mainly because they were converted to more expensive “affordable rent” properties or sold off.

These sales are part of a wider trend that has seen some housing associations sell off social housing in high-value inner city areas in order to fund new developments, which tenants claim are frequently let at close to market rents, or even sold on the open market to private buyers.

One, one of the country’s biggest housing associations, Genesis, is at the forefront of this commercial drive. Westminster MP Karen Buck commented “Genesis and Notting Hill began life in my constituency as a response to private sector squalor and Rachman type landlords. Both of them have lost sight of their mission to provide decent social housing in areas like Paddington … and the auctioning of social homes was depriving her constituents of vital social housing.”

Genesis said it was still committed to helping those who find it difficult to meet their housing needs in the marketplace and Notting Hill Housing said it still provided Londoners with good quality homes, and any profits from sales were invested in affordable housing.

Genesis is set to merge with neighbouring London housing association Notting Hill Housing, which is selling five flats worth more than £1.6m in the auction.

Peter Denton, a retired engineer who became a Genesis tenant 40 years ago during his wife’s terminal illness, said he was saddened by the loss of so many affordable homes. “Social housing was meant to house the poorer sector of society and should not be treated as a saleable cash cow,” he said.

Gemini Verney-Dyde, who was rehoused from a squat by Notting Hill Housing in the 1970s, said: “If you sell off central London property because of its value, you are essentially socially cleansing.

Gaynor Aaltonen, a writer, who lives in a Genesis flat in Maida Vale, said housing associations were selling London’s inheritance to the rich: “It is a great creative city – it is not just a city for bankers. But it won’t have any life any more if it all goes.”

Molly Ayton, a Genesis tenant of 39 years, said she had paid for her flat many times over with her rent: “They were helped to buy these flats with public money so they should remain as social housing.”

Sales of housing association social homes to the private sector have more than tripled since 2001, with 3,891 social homes sold in 2016. Overall, more than 150,000 homes for social rent have been lost since 2012 – mainly through the government’s policy of converting social rents into affordable rents and right-to-buy purchases.

The last annual report from Genesis reveals it completed 159 homes in 2016. Of these, only three were rented at social levels, which are typically less than half the cost of market rents. In the same period, it sold 58 social homes to the private sector. And let’s not forget the words of Genesis chief executive Neil Hadden who told Inside Housing magazine in 2015 that housing people on the lowest income was not his “problem” any more as his focus was supplying homes at different price points.

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