Sunday 8 March 2015

What's Happening To Council Housing In Hammersmith and Fulham?

Residents chatting with the Rt Hon Keith Hill
H&F Conservatives have put two individually addressed mail shot letters out to council housing residents saying that council homes are about to be privatised by H&F's new Labour administration. That is patently untrue.

Last year my fellow Labour councillors and I promised in our manifesto (page 7) that we would "take immediate measures to protect council homes now and in the future" from unwanted demolition. We promised to "work with council housing residents to give them ownership of the land their homes are on" and said "each year the Conservatives have hiked rents and service charges up by significantly more than inflation. Labour will take action to keep rents and service charges low" - that is precisely what's happening. People now have the opportunity, with the new Residents' Housing Commission and the ballot of council housing residents, to decide what they want to happen next.

The reason H&F Conservatives are putting out such nonsense is simple. They are horrified that if residents gain control of the land their homes are on, a future Conservative run council would not be able to continue to sell it all off to property developers - just as they did before voters removed them from office last May.

During the eight years H&F Conservatives ran Hammersmith and Fulham Council it became one of the most controversial housing authorities in the UK. The Conservatives social cleansing activities made them infamous in the national press with for example, this video made by The Guardian in 2009 and this article in The Independent in 2010 telling people exactly what they were doing.

H&F Conservatives are the same people who tried to hoodwink local people into believing they had "saved" Charing Cross Hospital. Now they are spreading this new and completely cynical lie as a deliberate attempt to confuse council housing residents during this review.

What will the Residents' Housing Commission do?
The independent residents-led housing commission will review all the options available for the future of council housing in the borough. The Residents' Housing Commission is chaired by the Rt Hon Keith Hill and will consider with residents all the best possible options for giving them more responsibility and control of their homes, stopping unwanted demolition and keeping rents and service charges low. The Residents' Housing Commission will then make recommendations which will be voted on by council housing residents.
This new Labour administration's ethos is to try and do things with people - not to them. We want to give local people more power about what happens in their neighbourhoods and that includes people living in properties where the council owns the freehold and the lease.

What did H&F Conservatives do?
When running Hammersmith and Fulham council, Conservative councillors described council residents as “locked in a dependency and expectancy culture” and called council housing “subsidised housing”. That type of ignorant snobbery is one of the reasons why they reduced the numbers of council homes and want residents who usually live in social housing moved out.

In a borough like Hammersmith and Fulham the Conservatives could at some point in the future win an election. If they did, people on council estates would again find themselves treated like second class citizens and thousands of council homes would again be under threat. Here's what the Conservatives were doing until they lost control of H&F council last May:
  • H&F's Conservative councillors secretly offered over a third of all council homes to property developers for sale and demolition and only admitted it after being caught out by residents on video as you can view here.
  • Despite initially denying they were even in talks to sell people's homes on the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, H&F Conservative councillors went on to sell those people's homes and gave planning permission for them to be demolished - all against the wishes of the 800 households who voted 4 to 1 against the plans.
  • H&F's Conservative councillors sold individual council homes off to property developers almost whenever they became available even featuring on this episode of the BBC's Homes Under The Hammer.
  • Having cut the amount of social rented housing, H&F Conservatives would only offer housing in expensive private sector landlord (PSL) properties which locked residents into the welfare trap and was expensive for the public purse.
  • H&F's Conservative councillors successfully lobbied the Conservative/Lib Dem government (with this policy document) to hike all new rents up to 80% of market rates instead of 25% or 40%.
  • H&F's Conservative councillors hiked up rents and service charges for Hammersmith and Fulham's established residents by far more than inflation - with rents rising by as much as 7% in one year.
  • H&F Conservatives fixed the planning process to stop any new socially rented homes being built.
  • H&F Conservatives granted permission for more new homes for overseas investors than they did for UK residents.
These are just some of the things H&F Conservatives did to residents living in or needing social and council housing. Any study of their record gives an informed insight to the antipathy they have for our fellow residents living in council homes. Despite all of this, H&F Conservatives are bizarrely making out in their literature that they're now allied to Defend Council Housing and other left-wing groups.

What have H&F Labour done on social housing since winning last May's council election?
A lot has happened since the 22nd May 2014 when voters gave Labour control of H&F Council. We're working to do a lot more. Here's what we've done so far:
  • We’ve halted council homes sales to property developers.
  • We’ve re-negotiated H&F Conservatives' property deals and won 231 new affordable homes and we're in talks to deliver many more.
  • We have REDUCED the proposed rise in average council rent and service charges from 4.58% to 2.89% for council tenants.
  • We have FROZEN council management fees on service charges for council leaseholders.
  • We prioritise homes for residents, not overseas investors.
  • We are defending residents whose homes have already been sold.
  • We have set up a Residents’ Housing Commission to: give residents greater control and responsibilities; help them protect council homes against unwanted demolition and redevelopment; and keep rents and service charges low.
Who is the Rt Hon Keith Hill?
Keith Hill is the chair of H&F's new residents-led housing commission. He is a former housing minister with one of his most notable achievements being ensuring billions of pounds worth of investment into improving council and housing association homes through the Decent Homes programme.

Keith has an expert knowledge of housing and will work for H&F council housing residents to ensure they get the information and the independent support and advice they need when working through all the possible options for the future of their homes.

Keith is also famously one of the nicest people in public life. You can read more about Keith and the commission here.

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