Friday, 11 December 2009

Resisting "regeneration" wrecking in Toxteth, Liverpool - as homelessness grows

A recent video (below) from Liverpool shows how residents in the Cairns St and wider Granby Triangle area of Toxteth are resisting the deliberate running down of their area by both the local council, Housing Associations and English Partnerships. English Partnerships has now been absorbed into the Homes and Communities Agency, which claims to be "the new national housing and regeneration agency for England." That must be why they've been spending millions (billions?) of pounds demolishing, vandalising and running down whole areas of well-built useable housing across the north of England; this is happening at a time when there are 4.5 million people in the UK on the waiting lists for social housing;
"One person in twelve now on social housing waiting list
LGA media release - Thursday 22 January 2009

Responding to the new Government figures that almost 1.8million households, or 4.5million people, are now on social housing waiting lists, Local Government Association Housing spokesman, Cllr Paul Bettison, said"

Wednesday December 2,2009

It would take one in four local authorities more than 10 years to house everyone on their social housing waiting list, research has claimed.
Housing charity Shelter said it would take between 10 and 33 years for 82 local authorities in England to clear their housing waiting lists at their current rate.
Around 1.8 million households are currently on waiting lists for social housing, but last year only 270,00 properties were let out to new tenants.

The reality is that the national and local state (whichever political party runs them) have made it clear they have no interest in solving the housing crisis. They want to encourage "regeneration" - meaning gentrification and property speculation - in these areas in the hopes of turning some quick profits for themselves and their friends. Why let these old houses and the existing residents stand in the way when there's so much more dosh to be made from throwing up some ugly higher density housing - that won't last anywhere near as long as the present Victorian houses but will pull in higher rent and sales - and putting a trendy gloss on the area with a few art galleries and expensive restaurants to attract the wealthy? (Though they are getting a bit thin on the ground at present - the recession may actually stall this kind of "regeneration" as investors shy away from property investment under present market conditions.)

These speculators and their friends in local and national government know the game they're playing; a bit of apartheid/social cleansing is always good for the bank balance. Will palms will be greased, back-handers be distributed, as has often been the way when government and private entrepreneurs join forces? Surely not... But the locals are fighting back - good for them.
Contact information:
Granby Residents Association
138 Granby Street
Liverpool L8 2US

The following excerpt from the Granby Res. Ass. website provides some history and background to the situation - and shows how local Housing Associations (Liverpool Housing Trust [LHT], Riverside and CDS) have been deliberately failing to carry out repairs to 'encourage' tenants to leave the area. Housing Associations are now often property speculators who treat social housing as a sideline and an asset to borrow against to finance their speculation. (All under the laughable legal status of being "charities".) The HAs obviously have more profitable plans in mind;

The Granby Residents Association

The area with which The Granby Residents Association (GRA) is concerned we call the small Granby Triangle. It is bordered by Mulgrave Street, Princes Road and Avenue, Upper Parliament Street and Kingsley Road. Full membership of the association is for people living or working in the above area. Associated membership is offered to those living and working outside of the Triangle.

The Granby Residents Association was founded in 1994, when all the residents in and around Granby Street received a letter from the Council and the three main Housing Associations (Liverpool Housing Trust [LHT], Riverside and CDS) proposing the demolition of their homes. People were shocked and angry. Paul Ogoro and Anna Mintal of Cawdor Street, with a number of other people, convened a meeting with the intention of challenging the proposal.

In spite of lobbying the various institutions, local peoples’ protests were ignored. Since that time the GRA has tried every possible form of protest, picketing, petitioning and leafleting the council and other institutions.
It has made a variety of proposals, done research, presented a report to the Public Enquiry in 1996, talked with local councillors and key people in Housing Associations (RSLs), to no avail. The Granby Liaison Committee was set up at our suggestion and met for many years. It was initially chaired by Councillor Gideon Ben-Tovim and then by Councillor Alan Dean. We tried to use this committee as a forum to negotiate the best way forward for the people of Granby. It no longer functions.

In the meantime, the RSL’s has made it very difficult for their tenants to stay in their older properties, mainly through lack of maintenance of the houses. This has led to increasing dereliction. The formal definition of this strategy is ‘benign neglect’. Many tenants and people who live outside of Granby have wanted to buy these very attractive Victorian properties. Home Owners have been refused Improvements Grants over the years.

The RSL policy of boarding up properties was so ineffective that the Triangle became a supply base for builders from around the city, who sent their posses in to dismantle the properties, removing many of the attractive features of the older houses. Most of the slates have been removed from the roofs of the vacant properties in Ducie Street. The RSL’s are in receipt of millions of pounds of public money which they have used to buy the properties and to improve them. They would now like to demolish them. Which would have cost over two million pounds. Their policy has been a waste of public money and shows the lack of a long-term strategy for our area.

The RSL’s and the Council have between them decimated our community both physically and psychologically.

Following the public inquiry in 1996, the Granby Triangle was declared a Renewal Area, the first one in Liverpool for 30 years. In spite of this, no money was made available nor strategy developed for the area’s long-term development. The Council continued to demolish houses, buy up shops ‘by agreement’ and issue Compulsory Purchase Orders to people who owned their own homes in the north end of the Triangle. This was done in spite of the resistance from both tenants and owners. It is important that the remaining older houses are handed over to local people, who could not possibly make a worse mess of the area. [...]

Thursday, 10 December 2009

How public housing tenants organise in Warsaw, Poland

Social housing tenants in the UK can only hope we never have to face what the Polish state is doing to their tenants right now. But - with inspiring determination - they aren't taking it lying down...

Tenants Burn Law, Declare War

Warsaw tenants fight on, taking direct action, challenging the law and giving the politicians a hard time.

Things are getting hot for bureaucrats, property speculators and thieves as Warsaw tenants take more and more action. Yesterday tenants protested at the parliament, burning the Law on the Protection of Tenants which they claim is meaningless and only protects the interests of property owners. "At least we'll put this meaningless paper to good use - by keeping warm," claimed the tenants as they lit a bonfire. They reminded people that throughout Warsaw, people must resort to burning all sorts of things in their homes to keep warm as many houses still have no heat and as slumlords cut off gas to drive people out of their homes. At a time when many tenants, often elderly, are sitting home freezing, it is much better to take to the streets and protest. Where there is no heat, there will be fire - our fires, the bonfires of resistance.

A growing group of hardcore activists are vowing to get better organized, take more action and to stop the state from their anti-social and thieving activities. Warsaw ZSP is part of the Tenants' Defense Committee which organized the protest yesterday and invited other associations with which it has contact. The Committee has declared war on city bureaucrats who make horrendous policies to enrich speculators and to redistribute property to elites, heirs of former elites, speculators and developers. Their cronies also earn on overpriced public tenders, often related to gentrification, but not the real improvement of public housing standards. The Committee has been exposing corruption, blocking the plans of the local bureaucrats and intervening on behalf of tenants with direct actions. It has publically opened a list of empty flats and buildings, suitable for squatting.

Tenant activity ranges from peaceful protest, to direct action to legal action. Some people are trying to fight bandit reprivatization through the courts. Today was such a case of a tenant from the Citizen24 group who is seeking ways to legal overturn some of the conditions of reprivatization. Reprivatization of public housing has been a tragedy for many hundreds of families in Warsaw, especially for the elderly. Housing that was private before the Second World War is reprivatized. The owners are dead, but the property goes to heirs, to people who claim to be heirs, to people who forged documents, or speculators who have nothing to do at all with the property but bought claims to the property years ago, when it seemed like getting property back would never happen. In the meanwhile, tenants are transferred to a new, private landlord who wants to do nothing but raise the rent - or sell the building, even to be destroyed. The law is constructed in such a way that the state is not required to provide them with alternative public housing. Only if the new landlord decides to evict them and the tenants meet very rigorous criteria can they qualify to get on a waiting list for public housing ---- and these conditions, were an improvement over the old ones, a small improvement won by months of tenants' protests.

Some tenants will fight losing their homes in any way possible. Some refuse to move, blockade themselves in their houses, fight with the landlords, become illegal tenants or squatters. Others are fighting now to overturn illegal privatizations - only again the law does not protect tenants. Illegally privatized housing is often resold and the courts consider that the new owners purchased the property "in good faith". It is increasingly clear to even non-politically minded tenants that the law was made by property holders and speculators, for property holders and speculators, and tenants are only treated as possible sources of income for the parasitic speculators and landlords.

At yesterday's demonstration, dozens of tenants spoke about the awful experiences they had with reprivatization, or with the city trying to get rid of them to gentrify their houses. And as more and more of these stories are repeated in the press, more people are becoming aware of the extent of the problem. At today's court session, the courtroom was overrun by tenants who hope that the Constitutional Tribunal will declare at least some aspects of reprivatization laws to be against the Constitution.

Also today, we can gladly report that the pandemonium caused by tenants protests, and in particular the Committee's analysis and protest of the city budget, means that Warsaw still has no budget approved for 2010. The politicians will try to pass one in an emergency session of the City Council next week. The Committee has vowed to block, through direct action, any attempts to vote on the budget as long as the city does not allocate 100 million zloties for new housing.

Why 100 million zloties? Last year, the City Council voted on drastic rent hikes (200-300%), which came into effect this year. The lying bastards set up a neoliberal brainwashing/PR team to convince the press and public opinion that these increases were necessary and the politicians vowed to use 100% of the money from the rent hikes to fund repairs to devasted public housing. They attempted to accuse us of being "against repairs" and of wanting people to live in slums. The counteroffensive to this propaganda took months and included going in a group of 100 people to the neighbourhood council and taking over the meeting. The Committee pointed out time and time again that money for repairs were already set out in a four-year budget plan adopted a year earlier and that an analysis of previous repairs on public housing showed that a) many repairs were made on gentrifying projects, including on housing that would later be sold or privatized b) the money spent on repairs was often like the amounts the Pentagon spends on toilet seats - overinflated and c) there were many fictious repairs, charged to the city, paid to contractors, but never made. The Committee started to document this and often confronts the authorities with instances of corruption.

Public opinion started to change a little - and then a lot when we got our hands on a draft copy of the budget for 2010. The budget showed that the city not only does not plan to spend the money from increased rents on repairs, but reallocated the money to things like... politicians' salaries. A major scandal broke out.

The Committee demands at the very least that the money be spent on what the bastards promised - or they can overturn the decision to raise the rents. The city tried to respond with PR - but it didn't work. The Vice-President of the City (who is the head of the City Council) has not shown up at the Council since tenants stormed his office a few months ago and officially demanded he be dismissed. A few weeks ago he tried to "make ammends" by announcing that the city would build new housing and held a press conference about it. The press asked the Committee for a response and we asked the politicians to say where they would get the money for this being that they didn't put it in the budget. After some days of embarrassment, the City announced that in fact, yes, there was no money allocated in the budget for the marvelous housing projects that they presented to the press, but maybe the Council of Europe Bank would make the city (another) loan. The Committee had another idea: since the city reallocated 100 million zloties from the funds to repair housing for things like politician's salaries and their mobile phone bills, the Committee proposes that they just tighten their belts, stop chatting and give the money that they wanted to misappropriate to actually build these houses.

The bureaucrats have egg on their faces. Next year is election year and they can't afford such a public relations disaster. In addition, there is an opportunist opposition in the city government trying to gain off this embarrassment. They have also decided to attempt to block the budget and give the ruling party a hard time.

Two weeks ago some tenants interrupted the Council. Others stayed and heckled and vowed to block the budget voting with protests, except the opposition also blocked it from the floor. Next week, before the emergency session, the Committee will try to make a final push on the city to at least build some houses. Even though the neoliberal ideology is deeply ingrained in most of society, there is wide public support for these demands. People have had enough of corruption.

But the movement, although it gained a loud voice in public discussion, is still not supported widely enough. This is a typical problem of the passivity of Polish society. More and more people will need to join, but for some, the lack of early response has already lost them their home. People are being moved into containers, or are forced to crowd into relatives' flats. The city even officially tells people now that if they lose their flats, they can move in with their parents - even if they live in a totally different city. (What better way to gentrify the town?)

The Committee calls on people to take direct action, organize themselves to help each other, block evictions, hold politicians and speculators accountable for their corruption and to put as much pressure on the bastards as possible to force a better social housing policy. In lieu of this, we say, take the law into your own hands, and burn it.


A report from the demonstration;

Tenants Protest at the Sejm
Akai47, Czw, 2009-Dec-10 00:15

December 9, the Tenants' Defense Committee and other tenants' organizations took part in a demonstration in front of the Polish parliament, the Sejm. The main theme of the demo was to protest against the law on tenants, which protects property owners more than tenants, and which allows for wild reprivatization of property and discrimination of tenants from reprivatized houses. The tenants say that the law has got to go and burned it and other unfavourable decisions of the local and national government in protest.

The protest was held on the eve of a court case being brought by a tenant which challenges the constitutionality of the law, in particular pointing to the fact that if the city sells a building, it must provide substitute housing to the tenants of the sold buildings, but has no such obligations towards tenants from houses that are reprivatized.

Tenants from all different reprivatized buildings in Warsaw and from Lodz spoke about the problems they face, which include being evicted, getting their heat cut off in the middle of the winter by landlords trying to get rid of them, having their rents raised even 5000%. The tenants spoke out also against totally illegal reprivatizations, where their was fraud involved or against local adminstrative bureaucrats that lie to them and try to help the property owners to get rid of the tenants. Residents of a building falsely reprivatized by a group of people including the husband of the Mayor also spoke about political corruption.

The tenants called on people to be more active, less passive in these struggles and vowed to organize themselves better. In the meanwhile, direct actions are being organized all over the city to defend people against the landlords and the city. Tomorrow people vowed to stop a slumlord from turning the gas off in one building - this will be the 3rd such blockade in recent weeks. Next week tenants also vow to block an eviction. Leaflets are being distributed all over the city, encouraging people to speak up about the problems they are facing and to do something about it.

The Committee's webpage (in Polish)

This week (Thurs 10 Dec 09) another action took place in Warsaw when tenants successfully resisted the gas disconnection of 107 families by the local council;
Yesterday was an action. This had to do with turning off the gas. There is social housing in a very attractive area - very expensive with elite housing being built. I know somebody from the yuppie side of the street, who is decent but knows that all the neighbours want to see the poor people gone and the city wants to see that place full of yuppie houses. So they run the housing down, claim there is a hazard with the gas installation and wanted to turn off the gas. It's 107 families. So some people came and said they wanted to do something and were even very scared, because in the houses without heat in Warsaw, many people die every winter because people have to do with makeshift heating, which is sometimes dangerous. It usually takes just one person to get drunk and careless and the house can go up in flames.

People from the Committee went early in the morning and the idea was a) to block the turning off of the gas b) to have independent experts there to determine if there is any danger or the installation is good. And it turned out that there were a few minor problems with the gas, the gas needed to be checked everywhere - but everything was fixed by the late afternoon and they resigned from these plans against the tenants. The head of the building inspection was there too and so were cameras filming the whole thing - so it was hard for them to carry out their plans.

During the inspection of the building, which a group of tenants and people from the Committe, including a technical expert oversaw, it turned out that 5 empty apartments were uncovered in the building. Most people didn't even know they were empty and they were asking the administrators how it is that whole families are living in tiny, tiny quarters (some of it really shocking standards - with shared toilets on the corridor for many families - dozens of people using the same rotten, corroded toilets), and they apply to get larger flats and are told there are none but there are even empty ones in their building. It turns out some were empty for years. And we know that some people turned it into extra living space for their families now.

Those people were not afraid to make a direct action, although of course it wasn't everybody from the building, just a small group of them - but enough to be successful. Later one of the people, who was very active and agressive during the action asked us not to put a film with her on the internet, because she was afraid of problems. So we didn't do it. I think this was more about not being at work and pretending to be sick than fearing the bureaucrats. But I understand some people have fear, some people are in more vulnerable situations and might not take direct action. Still, if the city or a slumlord is coming and turning off the gas or water, or throwing them out on the street, direct action is really the only thing that is going to help them and the most effective and enpowering method people have. Everybody who decided to take action today is very happy and feels proud of themselves that they stood up for themselves and were successful.

As for the bonfires, maybe this mislead you. Poland is not Greece and tenants are not burning down the City Hall (although personally I could care less if it went up in flames instead of people's houses). The bonfires is an idea to go around the city with cannisters with bonfires which people can gather around, to get them out of the streets and networking. We'll try one tomorrow night and think it will be both fun and motivating. Burning the legislation in front of the Sejm was a non-violent action, just symbolically sending a message. So far, there have been some direct protests, some a bit tough, but when tenants stormed the Vice President's Office, they were just yelling at him and interrupting him - but nobody beat him or lynched him. Right now, the politicians are more afraid that there are more and more desperate people, so protests might get more radical.


Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Old pictures of the neighbourhood

These photos come from a booklet - King's Cross - a tour in time, by Mark Aston & Lesley Marshall; published by Camden Local Studies & Archives Centre in 2006 - and is available for £5.99 or to borrow at the public library. (Click with your mouse on the pictures to enlarge them.)

Monday, 16 November 2009

CHA's privatisation of community space

For 30 years - since long before Community Housing Association/One Housing Group took control of Hillview Estate - no.1 Midhope had been a community space available for use to all who lived on the estate. But a few months ago our landlord CHA, without warning, changed the locks and so denied access to the keyholders of Hillview Residents Association and the wider Hillview community. Since then we've been told by CHA officials that 'all CHA community spaces must make a profit'. But CHA is officially registered as a charity (yes, amusing, isn't it?) so why the talk of profit making? Ah, well, that was a temporary slip of the tongue - CHA/OHG usually call it a "surplus". Even though OHG are expanding property speculators - using tenants' homes as assets to lend against/as security for investment risks - and the top management personnel get massive wages several times the average wage of most of their tenants, regular well above-inflation pay rises, and a big fat pension waiting at the end of the line THERE IS NO PROFIT. Nobody profits, got that?

Since CHA privatised 1 Midhope they have insisted that anyone who wants to use the space must pay a commercial rate of £30 an hour. (We believe - and hope - there have been no takers so far.) CHA say this is the same policy across all their estates and that the charge helps cover costs of electricity bills and cleaning etc. But tenants already pay for all these costs in their service charge - so CHA are trying to charge us twice for use of 1 Midhope!

There is a regular youth club in no. 1 Midhope; but this is also used by kids who don't live on the estate - so why should tenants also pay the bills for what is a public youth club? If it is available to the general public then the council, government and/or CHA should bear the cost as they do for other similar public services. Otherwise Hillview tenants are paying twice again - by the service charge and by paying taxes. We intend to challenge this. Feel free to write to CHA and ask for an explanation.

Hillview Residents Association (HRA) have been using and managing 1 Midhope for 30 years and holding its meetings there. But since CHA's change of locks coup they have insisted that HRA phone up to book usage of the room - then couriers will be sent to deliver the keys at the time the room is booked for. All this extra cost for couriers will presumably be added on to our future service charges, as the £30 fee charged for the room will probably be eaten up by courier costs. A typical example of the financial efficiency and common sense of CHA/OHG...

The privatisation of no. 1 Midhope is a small incident - but one that shows the larger general attitudes of CHA/OHG towards tenants and finances.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Pest control - your landlord DOES have obligations

Recently a few Hillview tenants have been infested with cockroaches and/or mice. (By the way, infestation is not related to being 'dirty' - the cleanest homes can suffer infestation if the pests somehow gain access. But it's true that infestation is made worse if there is plenty of dirt left around for pests to feed on.) Some have been told by CHA that as a landlord they have no legal obligation to provide any pest control services. This is nonsense - CHA and other landlords have a legal obligation to provide a property that is fit for habitation and in a state of good repair - infestation does not conform to this.

After having relevant legislation quoted to them, CHA now admit they have this obligation. But they have still sometimes recently claimed that more than one home must be infested before they will act. This is a ridiculous policy - 'let the problem get worse and harder to get rid of before we'll act' - but it can be challenged (see legislation below and contact Environmental Health Dept. if necessary). The landlord's legal obligation is to every individual tenant regardless of whether others are immediately affected. (In any case, the nature of most buildings - especially blocks like Hillview, for example - mean that infestations can rapidly spread via old chimney flues and pipework running through the blocks. Since the refurbishment of Hillview Est. in the late 1990s many flats have large gaps below their skirting boards and airbricks set into the connecting chimney breasts - all ideal routes for pests to travel between flats - something not taken into account when CHA carried out refurbishment.)

Camden Council now charges over £63 for two visits from their pest control services - they no longer provide any concessions for those on low incomes. Therefore many people simply can't afford to pay for effective treatment, making the problem worse for all.

Any landlord who cared about the living conditions of their tenants and the upkeep of their properties would be taking care to abide by these regulations - instead we get OHG's attempts to avoid their legal obligations by giving tenants inaccurate information. Yet they have the cheek to talk about wanting to promote 'tenant empowerment' (the current buzzwords) - yeh, right, as long as it doesn't cost them anything. If tenants stop paying the rent for 2 or 3 weeks we can expect to get dragged into court by OHG - but they give the impression that they believe they can bend and evade their legal obligations to us as and when they like.

Below are the relevant parts of the law, it's worth quoting chapter and verse if a landlord tries to be difficult;

Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949

Part 1 - sec 3

3 Obligation of occupiers of land to notify local authority of rats and mice

(1)Subject to the provisions of this section, the occupier of any land shall give to the local authority forthwith notice in writing if it comes to his knowledge that rats or mice are living on or resorting to the land in substantial numbers.


(1)If in the case of any land it appears to the local authority, whether in consequence of a notice given in respect of the land under the last foregoing section or otherwise, that steps should be taken for the destruction of rats or mice on the land or otherwise for keeping the land free from rats and mice, they may serve on the owner or occupier of the land a notice requiring him to take, within such reasonable period as may be specified in the notice, such reasonable steps for the purpose aforesaid as may be so specified; and where the owner of any land is not also the occupier thereof separate notices may be served under this section on the owner and on the occupier.

(2)Any such notice may in particular require—

(a)the application to the land of any form of treatment specified in the notice;

(b)the carrying out on the land of any structural repairs or other works so specified,

and may prescribe the times at which any treatment required by the notice is to be carried out.


Public Health Act 1961

Part 2 - Sec 35

35 Filthy or verminous premises

(1)Section eighty-three of the Public Health Act, 1936 (which relates to the cleansing of filthy or verminous premises), shall be amended as follows.

(2)For subsection (1) of the said section eighty-three there shall be substituted the following subsections—

“(1)Where a local authority, upon consideration of a report from any of their officers, or other information in their possession, are satisfied that any premises—

(a)are in such a filthy or unwholesome condition as to be prejudicial to health, or

(b)are verminous,

the local authority shall give notice to the owner or occupier of the premises requiring him to take such steps as may be specified in the notice to remedy the condition of the premises by cleansing and disinfecting them, and the notice may require among other things the removal of wallpaper or other covering of walls, or, in the case of vrminous premises, the taking of such steps as may be necessary for destroying or removing vermin.


If a landlord refuses or fails to deal with an infestation the two Acts quoted above give the Local Authority (local Council) powers to serve a Service Request on the landlord, ordering them to carry our the necessary pest control procedures . So if CHA or OHG refuse to deal with an infestation one option is to go to the Council Environmental Health Department, explain the situation and ask that they deliver a Service Request to CHA/OHG.


Defective Premises Act 1972

Sec 4 Landlord's duty of care in virtue of obligation or right to repair premises demised

(1) Where premises are let under a tenancy which puts on the landlord an obligation to the-tenant for the maintenance or repair of the premises, the landlord owes to all persons who might reasonably be expected to be affected by defects in the state of the premises a duty to take such care as is reasonable in all the circumstances to see that they are reasonably safe from personal injury or from damage to their property caused by a relevant defect.

(2) The said duty is owed if the landlord knows (whether as the result of being notified by the tenant or otherwise) or if he ought in all the circumstances to have known of the relevant defect.

This 1972 Act above states clearly the landlord's obligations - if CHA/OHG try to fob you off with excuses then quote this legislation and say that, if they make it necessary, you will ask the local Environmental Health Department to enforce these laws against CHA/OHG.


Serving a Disrepair Claim on your landlord;

If you have notified your landlord of a repair/maintenance problem (including infestation or other conditions that may be harmful to your health and safety) and they fail to carry out necessary works to resolve the problem, you can serve a disrepair claim on them. You must allow a 'reasonable time' for the repair to be carried out.

Then contact the Environmental Health Department at the Town Hall and explain the problem. To take action on your behalf, this Dept. must inspect your home - if they agree that your claims are valid they can order the landlord to carry out the work.

As with most legal issues, it doesn't always work quite as simply as that and there are also other options- so for further information see the Shelter site.



Cockroaches are a potentially serious health hazard - they can travel back and forth between your home and the sewers (and they ain't fussy eaters). They can also aggravate asthma and contaminate food, causing illness - and are generally one of the more unpleasant house guests to have around. If your home is infested, act fast and get help...

Some practical tips
for dealing with cockroach infestation - and even better, avoiding it:

1. Be careful what you bring in the house; roaches often nest in food containers such as packets of rice and beans. Large sacks and baskets are especially dangerous. Don't leave packets of rice and pulses open in the kitchen - keep them in sealed airtight containers.

Roaches also nest in electrical equipment such as TVs, stereos etc - they are warm cosy homes for them. So be careful if buying secondhand and treat with anti-roach sprays. The same goes for secondhand furniture. (Moths can also become unwanted house guests by this route.)

Keep the kitchen and elsewhere clean - crumbs left around are a free meal for roaches. Sweep and mop floors regularly and keep surfaces and sinks dry after use - roaches need plenty of water.

Block off possible entry points, such as gaps in skirting boards, airvents/airbricks connected to old chimneys (sometimes sited conveniently - for the roach - behind cookers) .

4. There is no shame in being infested, it can happen in the cleanest homes.
If you have an infestation ask your neighbours if they do too. If so they'll need to be treated too, and - if things are bad - possibly the whole stairwell or block. You will need professional pest controllers to visit and treat the infested properties.

Ujima - the depths to which social landlords and their 'regulators' can sink

The Inside Housing article linked to below* tells the story of the decline of Ujima Housing Association, the first HA ever to go bust in the UK, in December 2007. The Housing Corporation (HC) - at the time the official government 'regulator' of HAs - ignored several whistleblowers who worked for Ujima and who contacted the HC to express concern at Ujima's dubious financial and ethical practices. Instead the HC continued throwing money at Ujima, awarding it millions of pounds in grants. The HA was led by Chief Executive Keith Kerr (a former British Airways executive, pictured above) who had massive empire-building expansion plans - seeing himself as like a Biblical prophet, he named his property egomania plan ‘Project Jerusalem’.
"Under him Ujima would become one of the England’s five largest housing associations within five years, it proclaimed".

Well, it didn't end up quite that way - instead Ujima collapsed in a heap of debt and fraud charges and the supposed 'regulator' - the Housing Corporation - was left with lots of egg on its face. One can speculate that the HC was happy to fund the expansion of property speculation by its HA Chief Executives - especially one who brought with him the baggage, attitude and status of a former BA 'captain of industry' such as Kerr. One can imagine the HC 'regulators' turned a blind eye to the whistleblowing of 'minor employees' and kept throwing money at Ujima just so long as Kerr dazzled them with corporate buzzwords, optimism and slick progress reports - and generally made them feel good about what clever and important people they believed they were. In this trance-like state the Housing Corporation bosses continued to hand over wads of cash to Kerr's house of cards - until finally the inevitable happened.

*The Ujima article is here.

Mr Kerr was not one of those charged, but he was dismissed when London & Quadrant HA took over Ujima after its financial meltdown. But he claimed racial discrimination against L&Q and it was revealed at the employment tribunal hearing that;
"The previous December, Ujima had become the first housing association to go bust following its attempt to enact an ambitious expansion plan dubbed ‘project Jerusalem’.

The plan’s financial assumptions were described to the tribunal as ‘incredible’ by David Montague, chief executive of L&Q. According to the trust’s analysis, Ujima suffered a loss of £28 million while implementing the project - the highest recorded in the history of the social housing sector.

Mr Kerr was appointed chief executive of Ujima on 16 January 2006 on an initial salary of £100,000, the tribunal heard. This was increased to £120,000 in June of the same year and then to £130,000 a month later under delegated powers operated by Sandra Ebanks, vice chair of Ujima’s human resources sub-committee.

Although Mr Kerr had never worked in a housing association before, he had been on Metropolitan Housing Trust’s board and chaired its audit committee.

Most people get one pay rise a year if they're lucky; but in the surreal world of social housing management you can award - sorry, negotiate - yourself three pay rises in seven months. Pretty good wages too for flushing £28 million down the bog... A nice bit of 'regulation' that was.

The Housing Corporation has since been replaced as regulator by the Tenant Services Authority, who have today launched their new "regulatory framework" for social housing landlords. It promises many improvements for tenants - but whatever is written in the document, the proof of the pudding is in the eating - and any improvement for tenants will depend on Housing Associations being regulated in practice much more strictly than in the past. It would mean an end to the blatant bias in favour of the landlords' interests shown by the Housing Corporation for many years. As a regulator the HC and its Ombudsman was generally worse than useless - as many tenants who brought complaints there can testify, and as the Ujima incident proves.

Inside Housing is always worth a read to check up on what's happening policy-wise (and scandal-wise) in the world of social housing. The comments under articles (often by dissatisfied tenants) are worth reading too. There are also discussion forums; see this thread for example, where fed-up tenants have a good moan about their appalling HA landlords. (London & Quadrant Group HA, who took over Ujima after its collapse, comes in for plenty of criticism.)

A short article in the latest edition of Private Eye no. 1250 (27 Nov-10 Dec 09) gives further info on the Ujima collapse;

To Kerr is human

KEITH "Charismatic" Kerr, last chief executive of the black housing association Ujima, which went belly up owing £28m, had a novel explanation for the disaster: his dismissal for gross incompetence was, er, racist.

Ujima's collapse in December 2007 left a huge hole in the provision of housing and specialist support for young black people. Its 4,600 homes were handed to the housing association London & Quadrant, which promptly sold off its care homes and shed staff. A police investigation into alleged fraud at Ujima has led to three people being arrested. Two of these have been charged, but the third is on the run. The alleged fraud was not of sufficient scale to bankrupt Ujima.

Kerr, the former whizzkid special adviser to Charles Kennedy and ex-managing director of Bournemouth Airport, failed last month to convince an employment tribunal that his dismissal from Ujima amounted to racial discrimination. He insisted he was never "ultimately responsible" for the association's financial position - despite drawing a £130,000 salary to run the show. So who or what was responsible for turning Ujima's £7m surplus in 2004-5 into a £28m loss in just two years - the highest recorded in social housing history?

Losses mounted as a result of "Project Jerusalem", Kerr's overly-ambitious expansion plan, dreamed up with a crew of expensive consultants soon after he took over in January 2006.

The man supposedly checking Ujima's books was George Avwunu, the chief financial officer who was appointed personally by Ken in February 2007 even though the recruitment firm handling the appointment had not recommended him for a second interview. Avwunu was later suspended following claims he had been involved in fraudulent business activity in Nigeria. Avwunu is now on the run from police after failing to make a bail appearance in May. He was arrested last year with Rose Avwunu, who police describe as "a housewife", and Paul Campagne, a consultant - both of whom were charged with money-laundering offences in September.
Management accounts which were meant to provide monthly snapshots of Ujima's finances dried up following Avwunu's appointment.

Meanwhile the association showered outside consultants with cash. Avwunu recruited an IT consultant for £2,000 a week to do work that would normally command a salary of £25,000 a year; and Kerr hired a human resources consultant for £10,000 a month. Staff meanwhile leapt at an over-generous redundancy scheme sparking a mass exodus costing £600,000.

Kerr and Co also enjoyed benefits unusual in the housing association world. Ujima - Swahili for "working together" - rented an executive box at Reading football club, while its Wembley office complex had a £2m makeover by Metro Design. Kerr himself pocketed £32,000 in expenses in his two years as boss.

The Housing Corporation, the housing association watchdog, eventually appointed statutory advisors to Ujima's board in October 2007. Kerr was suspended in November and dismissed two months later. Staff are said to have applauded when they heard the news.

Being ripped off with OHG service charges - to the tune of £100,000! (And counting...)

After the long efforts of two Hillview tenants CHA have been forced to agree to refund nearly £100,000 to tenants as a result of overcharging for services. Though so far no one has actually received any repayments. The refund will in most cases be 'paid' as credit/reduction on future service charges - though we presume that those who are not on benefits can demand it is paid to them as cash/cheque, if they can be bothered with the hassle.

The refund is, so far, for three blatant overcharges over at least three years;
1) Hillview tenants were being charged £80 a week for a salaried CHA employee to sit in an office on the estate for 4 hours per week. This officer was already being paid a full-time wage as a CHA employee - yet Hillview tenants were being charged again for her weekly appearance, so paying twice for her 'service'. It seems that the CHA officer did not even always turn up, and when she did she was visited by very few tenants as her attendance was not publicised.

2) For over three years lighting in common areas throughout the estate was on 24 hours a day - including on top floor balconies open to natural daylight. When this was challenged CHA first claimed that it would be too expensive to fit timers to the lighting system - it was then pointed out by a tenant that there was already a timer system fitted that had been previously in use and that one stairwell was still working on it. For some stupid reason the timer system had been bypassed.

CHA then made the excuse that Royal Mail had insisted on 24 hr lighting as a safety measure for postmen delivering. This seemed strange to tenants, as no one could remember any postmen ever being attacked - and other similar estates in the area did not have 24 hour lighting. When CHA was asked for proof of Royal Mail's request for 24 hr lighting they produced a letter - but the letter had only requested 24 hr lights in two small blocks with some dark internal corridors. For whatever reason, laziness or incompetence, the whole estate had then been put on 24 hr lighting, adding thousands of pounds to the electric bill paid by tenants via the service charge. Finally, after all the excuses, CHA was forced to admit the error and agree a refund.

3) CHA overcharged for a year for a non-existent cleaner's wage for the estate - at a time when the reduction in cleaning staff meant the estate was not receiving a proper cleaning service.

We expect that further over-charges on Hillview will be revealed. The lessons from all this?
CHA have been overcharging tenants for years and this has only been revealed by the unpaid efforts of tenants - who have had to deal with evasions, excuses, refusals to reply etc from some CHA staff.

If £100,000 has been overcharged on just one of CHA's estates, it leads us to think that unchallenged overcharges could be still occurring on many other CHA/OHG estates and properties - and the total overcharged by OHG across all its properties could be a massive sum. So we strongly advise tenants to get together and go through your service charge with a fine tooth comb; if something doesn't look right or is unclear, then ask OHG for a full and clear explanation and proof that the costs they charge for have been incurred.