Letter to Brendan Sarsfield

Submission by Peabody Family Mosaic tenants and residents regarding the proposed amalgamation between Family Mosaic and Peabody Housing Associations

Dear Brendan Sarsfield,

We represent a group of Peabody Family Mosaic tenants and residents who wish to oppose the amalgamation of our separate Housing Associations. We have no faith that amalgamation of Peabody and Family Mosaic is in our best interests. We feel that communication with management and levels of service will only get worse, and will meanwhile introduce new risks to our security.

We have a number of objections to the proposed amalgamation, as our experience has been that, as Housing Associations have grown ever bigger, they have provided worsening services to their tenants and residents, while poor staff relations from senior management has led to rapid staff turnover, which in turn impacts on tenants and residents.

Before contemplating amalgamation, the Housing Associations must provide assurances that they will prioritise the interests of tenants and residents in a number of key areas. We have suffered bitter decades of mismanagement within the Housing Associations as they have grown exponentially. We insist that Family Mosaic arrange for management to become truly accountable before amalgamating with any larger organisation such as Peabody. Tenants are angry at being ignored, and we see any further expansion as worsening this issue.

We insist that the Housing Associations return to the values they used to embody ā€“ the provision of social housing at social rent (i.e. at a level related to the income of tenants, and not to market rents) and the reconnection of housing provision with its locality, thus ensuring the survival of mixed, sustainable communities.

Decentralisation and Localisation

We have learnt over decades of experience that centralisation does not work. The privatisation of repairs and maintenance does not work, while the centralised call centre is a hated barrier to accountability and access to the relevant staff, and should be closed. We insist that the Associations adopt a cohesive plan of localised management, providing tenants with accountable, responsible representatives who have power over budget at a local level before amalgamation can be accepted.

An example of why we oppose the amalgamation is the treatment of staff and residents of CBHA (formerly Community Based Housing Association), a small Housing Association with around 5000 tenants, based entirely in Waltham Forest, which Peabody proposed to absorb. CBHA residents opposed the merger, and produced statistics to show that in all key performance measures, their Housing Association performed better than Peabody:

  • 87% of CBHA residents were satisfied with the overall general needs service they received, compared to 74% at Peabody;
  • 97% of CBHA residents were satisfied with the quality of completed repairs, compared to 79% at Peabody; and
  • 100% of CBHA residents were satisfied with the handling of anti-social behaviour cases, compared to 59% at Peabody.

Despite these findings and vigorous campaigning, Peabody pursued the merger, and on 5 September 2017, CBHA was dissolved. This behaviour demonstrates Peabodyā€™s apparent inability to listen to tenants, residents, and staff, while the survey findings confirm our own experiences that service provision, especially repairs, is NOT more efficient and effective when run from a remote corporate centre. Service providers who are locally based and accountable clearly provide a much higher level of tenant and resident satisfaction.

Government Social Housing Policy

The recent deregulation of Housing Associations is a major factor leading to unrestrained amalgamation, and is another step on the way to privatisation of our social assets. We therefore insist that Peabody and Family Mosaic recognise the dangers of current government policy and work together with us on strategies to resist the worst aspects of the Housing Act 2016. This means continuing to issue permanent tenancies, refusing to collect tenantsā€™ income or immigration status data, refusing to sell off empty homes or participate in the extension of Right to Buy, and resisting the introduction of short-term tenancies.

We are concerned that in Family Mosaicā€™s letter of 28 November 2017 asking for our views on the amalgamation, the only reasons we were given for amalgamating were to ā€˜build more homes and provide local community servicesā€™. While of course we support the development of local community services, we are very concerned that there is no mention at all of improving repairs and housing services and holding down rents, which are the major concerns of existing tenants. Family Mosaic has so far not implemented all the proposals in the Housing Act, but given the disproportionate rent hikes imposed by Peabody on some of its tenants, such as those living in former Crown Estate properties, we do not feel that an amalgamation would be to our advantage.

We are concerned that ā€˜building more homesā€™ means that Family Mosaic will inevitably be tangled up after amalgamation in such projects as Peabodyā€™s recently projected development on the Old Kent Road for an 18 storey, 153-unit scheme, with no indication of how much provision there will be for socially rented property, if any. This project is based in the London Borough of Southwark, where the council has a lamentable track record on social housing: for example, Southwarkā€˜s ā€˜development partnerā€™, Notting Hill Housing is currently managing the loss of between 778 and 1,166 social rented units on the massive Aylesbury Estate regeneration scheme. This is all part of a tendency under the Housing Act 2016 for Housing Associations to place much greater emphasis on commercial property development, and to move away from the traditional values of supporting social housing ā€“ a tendency that will be exacerbated by amalgamation. This is likely to lead to a situation in which social housing tenants become second-class citizens in the overall structure. We are opposed to the strategy of building properties for sale or market rent, even if this is supposed to hold down social rents.

Cross-subsidy of social homes by building at market rates is an ideal that does not happen in practice. On the contrary, the large commercial housing associations are capturing the value to be made from converting their legacy of social homes and social rents into unaffordable ones. Complex and opaque overlap between their commercial arms and their social arms has led to a flow of wealth from the latter to the former. Risky financial behaviour has saddled the merged organisations with debt [Housing Association Residents Action submission to the London Housing Strategy 2107], and this is precisely what the merger between Notting Hill Housing and Genesis is doing. Therefore we insist that Peabody and Family Mosaic must not change the clauses in their constitutions which state that the main purpose of the organisation is to provide social housing.

We believe that the Housing Associations should desist from selling off so-called ā€œuneconomical housing stockā€, as this practice of selling housing stock to private developers means that social housing is lost. This is another example of where tenantsā€™ interests are not taken into account. Even though street properties are favoured by tenants, there appears to be a deliberate policy of running them down, and the significant neglect of effective and appropriate maintenance makes life very stressful. This was strongly evidenced at the recent ā€œconsultationā€ meetings with tenants. The desperation expressed by tenants at the meeting about the systemic neglect of their homes is only the tip of the iceberg, which is replicated for many, many tenants. We insist that there is an end to this policy.

As two of the largest and most influential members of the G15 group of Housing Associations, we insist that Peabody and Family Mosaic show public support for tenantsā€™ and residentsā€™ campaigns to oppose the destruction of social housing in this country. As you are significant social housing landlords, we insist that you establish a permanent role as a major and powerful agent to vocally defend the future and security of the right of poorer people to decent social housing at a fair rent. Instead of public investment to fix the housing crisis, the government is freeing Housing Associations to increase rents and service charges and build out-of-reach homes for sale and rent. Some housing association bosses are lobbying hard for an end to rent controls. You must not join them.

Rent levels

We insist that the Housing Associations do not pursue a policy of increasing social rent towards market rent. We believe that the 1% rent cap should be made permanent, not just for social tenants, but also for so-called ‘Intermediate Tenants’, the vast majority of whom are key workers struggling on wages which have not increased, yet their rent has been going up 3.5% per annum. Some key workers are having to go to food banks as their rent takes most of their salary.

Repairs and Maintenance

As you are no doubt aware, many tenants are very angry about the extremely poor performance of the repairs and maintenance services. This must be the Housing Associationsā€™ top priority for improvement. We insist that you end the outsourcing of repairs and take the services back in-house, while also being subject to the policy of decentralisation we propose above.

Accountability and Tenant Involvement

In general, lack of accountability to tenants and residents is a major issue. This was another theme that was clearly felt by tenants at the recent ā€œconsultationā€ sessions. So before we could support the amalgamation we would insist that the Housing Associations enable tenant empowerment as well as providing functional communication channels, i.e. significant numbers of tenant shareholders and democratically elected tenant and resident members on the board. This would give us a means of constructive feedback, allow our concerns about repairs and accountability to be taken seriously, and enable us be directly involved in managing and setting the direction for our housing associations, including how money is spent. A concrete plan must be proposed before any amalgamationĀ can be accepted, as at present we have no effective channel for feedback or discussion.

Charles Smith

Joannie Andrews

Rob Murthwaite

David King

 

On behalf of Peabody Family Voice