Branch Secretary :

Genesis HA ceases social housing and OHG residents protest

This week one association withdrew from developing affordable or social housing and another was censured by residents and a local authority


Genesis Housing Association has announced it will stop building either ‘affordable’ or ‘social rented’ accommodation and, significantly, it will ‘review’ its existing general needs rented accommodation as it becomes vacant, with a view to selling it or changing its tenure according to this week's Inside Housing. Pointing to the recent budget, its boss, Neil Hadden, says that that the government is ‘no longer interested’ in low-cost rented housing.  Not all associations will respond in the same way, but it is clear that the government is killing off mass social housing and no-one should expect serious opposition from the housing association sector as a whole. 


"I could be really harsh and say that won’t be my problem"


Tony Stacey, chief executive of South Yorkshire Housing Association and chair of the ‘Placeshapers’ group of associations, said: “It depends what you’re about as an organisation, and it depends on your ethics as an organisation… I would be very, very surprised if any Placeshapers members took that view.” But when Hadden was asked by Inside Housing; “...for an organisation operating in high-value areas of London, doesn’t this strategy mean Genesis will no longer be providing housing to those on the lowest incomes?" his reply was clear “I could be really harsh and say that won’t be my problem. My problem will be to supply new housing at different price points in locations where the economics of those schemes stack up. Because of where we work, the demand will be there for those properties.” This is a simple commercial approach without even a veneer of social purpose.


Inside Housing also reports that lawyers are being approached by associations for advice on how to deregister as social landlords.  This would require repayment of historic social housing grant -  of course meaning they would take on extra debt.  They would then be free of the constraints of regulation by the HCA. The interest repayments would be covered by commercial activity, and by tenants in rent.


"No longer interested’ in low-cost rented housing"


Last week, there was a coordinated media attack on associations and their six figure salary bosses (see our report here.). They were portrayed by Channel Four News, The Times, and the Spectator as the ‘villains’ responsible for the lack of house building in the UK using a barrage of inaccurate figures.  It is true that not enough homes are being built but to understand the lack of house building you have to start with the cuts in investment in social or affordable housing – that means starting with ‘austerity’. 


The government want to use the perceived arrogance of ‘coasting’ housing association bosses as a smokescreen to destroy social housing at a time when more is desperately needed.  They are particularly keen to hit back at associations like Peabody who are resisting ‘right to buy’.  But Peabody is also on the road to commercialisation.  Tenants in Peabody subsidiary CBHA whose board has been swept away are not likely to see Peabody as defenders of social housing – see our report here.


Residents campaign against One Housing Group


Last week a meeting of residents of One Housing Group (OHG) on the Isle of Dogs agreed to set up a campaign against ‘Project Stone’, the association plans to demolish their estates, which they see as social cleansing.  There was a big response when a representative of the Barkantine tenants' organisation said “OHG are not interested in the people living here, only how much money they can make.  We must all fight together”.  Another resident said that OHG were great at uniting the community because “everyone hates them”.  


Sometimes of course, front line housing workers bear the brunt of resident anger.  I was invited to speak at the meeting (organised by the local Socialist Party) as branch chair and explained that we are keen to work with tenant and resident groups.  Our union is committed to fighting austerity and defending social housing; we want to make common cause with residents.  A campaigner from the New Era tenants’ campaign also addressed the meeting.


Badly written Bond villain


One Housing Group has regularly attracted publicity for their style of management, and of course for their sacking of union reps; both a Unison rep on the Island and, more recently, our own Bryan Kennedy – for more see here.  


OHG plan to hit tenants in two long-established communal houses with eviction, and have conducted a bizarre Twitter campaign against them.  The Islington Tribune reports on the OHG Twitter feed:


“...As the tone of the output grew more fractious, an actor who uses the site tweeted ‘I see @official_OHG have changed their social media policy from ‘petulant teenager’ to badly written Bond villain."


Rather than ignore the criticism, the response came back from One Housing’s account: “More lovies abusing a housing association to preserve their friend's cheap dig...”


A spokeswoman for the Islington Park Street tenants said: “Their [OHG’s] response on Twitter has been astounding. Their mockery, taunting and bullying tweets from what is meant to be a professional account is tantamount to abuse. One Sunday, over 100 hostile tweets were sent....” It would be comic if people’s homes and lives weren’t at stake.


Most expensive 'affordable homes'


Back in 2012 OHG hit the headlines for putting what was then the most expensive ‘affordable home’ ever on the market; a flat costing £705,000.  They justify the grant money on the basis that what counts as affordable in London has changed as prices have risen and it is true they are not alone among associations in taking this approach.  But it would be hard for most first time buyer employees of OHG to raise a mortgage to buy an ‘affordable’ home such as this.


Such is the strength of the resident response to OHG’s redevelopment plans that the local council have referred them to the regulator (the HCA) and suspended their preferred provider status and access to section 106 agreement developments.  Of course, if associations deregister as social housing providers, reference to the regulator would no longer be possible.  Local councillor, Dave Chesterton is quoted in the press as saying, “Something has gone seriously wrong with the leadership of One Housing Group, its residents say they have no trust or confidence in the organisation.  This is hardly surprising given that they propose to demolish 2,027 homes, yet are not prepared to be honest about their plans. One Housing seems more interested in the development opportunity on the Island than providing decent services to their residents.”


Every indicator of homelessness is rising


At a time when market rents mean that no London postcodes are affordable for people on the official living wage according to the website, and people who privately rent homes in London pay an average of 60% of their gross earnings to landlords, taking into account the slice paid using housing benefit - or 72% without it - we desperately need a fight back for social housing and rent control.  Every indicator of homelessness is rising. The housing problems of many of our members graphically illustrate the common interest we have with housing campaigners.  The growth of grassroots housing campaigns around London shows that there is a mood for a fight.  We are determined to work with the rest of our union - including Unite Community and wider campaigns - to defend social housing.


Don’t forget our branch housing manifesto – it can be downloaded here. We can also send a speaker from the branch to workplace or community campaign groups to discuss how we can work together – let’s build that fight back.


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