This consultation took place at the Chrisp Street Idea Store and also at the Whitechapel Idea Store.
It was a relatively small crowd of around 10 persons who were asked to help councillors make decisions on how best to ease overcrowding.
Question is, how can you possibly build more homes in an area that is already over dense? We certainly cannot let go of our green spaces as this would increase stress levels for our residents.
The main questions centres around that local homes are not allocated to local people, families on the waiting list feel they are not allocated property according to their place in the queue and also a complaint was made that a larger home can be offered just then to be given to someone else. That’s what I would call immoral if someone has been waiting desperately for a larger home for years, then gets an offer of a bigger place, to turn up at the housing office to be told that the dwelling has been given to someone else. That seriously undermines the trust into the local authority. I do not know the particular circumstances of that case but would say that if one cannot trust in the promise of the local authority whom can one trust?
Discussed were incentives to free up under-occupied space and there a serious consideration must be given to social connections of persons. A resident builds up relationships with their neighbours, in fact one can here distinguish between 2 types of residents, the working ones and the family ones and those who work build their social relationships mainly around their workplace whilst the family type of people build their relationship around their locality.
An example was given in a 93 year old lady who resides in a 3 bedroom flat, could not be moved to a smaller home as she would loose all her friends and is generally not willing/able to adapt to a new environment.
There is a serious question arising in that we are starting to see a similar tendency to displace people as we saw it in Darfur, just that in Darfur the scenario was much more gruesome and ugly but in a civilised way, we are starting to displace people out of their social scene, disrupt the social fibre and create unhappy individuals.
It has always been the strength of British society that groups of the population built the hardcore in the fight against wrong doing, and social stability depends very greatly on social stability. There is prove that a large amount of students in an area increase social instability and I therefore think the building of student accommodation blocks was a mistake, it would have been better to have a letting scheme whereby residents with a free room take in a student.
I suggested that under-occupying tenants and even residents could be given the opportunity to sub-let to single persons or small families on the housing waiting list (depending on size of property) who otherwise would have to wait for up to 10 years to get a dwelling.
The council, as recently as 15 years ago promised the building of new large family sized accommodation just to take back that promise. Many families are severely overcrowded, to a volume of overcrowding that used to be outlawed.
With every new residents in an area the social fibre has to be built up again, are they law breakers or law abiding? Neighbourhood Watches depend on a steady amount of law abiding citizens, so does the local police. Each time a trusted member of a locality moves away it tears on the heart of this locality.
The quality of life was another important factor to be discussed that a lack of repair services for overcrowded tenants further decreased their quality of life because if you are overcrowded already the incidence of damage will increase simply because of the stress and less space for each individual, yet despite rents having increased repairs services have been reduced. Another contributor to the discussion said that if a tenant is flooded from above and there is a leaseholder in charge and because it is so difficult to prove negligence, one can have a go on the contractor that carried out dodgy work instead. I think that tenants have to negotiate directly with leaseholders or other third parties in case of damage is well above the ability of a tenant who is generally underpriviledged already.
This is important to be seen in the context that lease holders are allowed to rack up charge arrears, and some owe around £20.000 with nothing being done about it. Additionally persons renting from private leaseholders are in a bad position because if the leaseholder fails on his mortgage the tenant will be evicted despite paying the rent.
What tenants did not want and do not wish for in the future is the reduction in security of tenure, we do not want the creation of housing Gypsies moving from place to place, forced into this position through no fault of their own.
Another sidekick of overcrowding is children having to share bedrooms may not get on at all times and want to escape by spending time outside of their flat and there is no structured play facility available for them and they are generally seen as nuisance and the SNT gets regularly a lot of calls from people complaining about children “hanging around” outside.
A criminalisation of children because of overcrowding would be a big mistake.
My personal view, which I did not express yesterday is that of a general perception of life style, but what I did say that housing allocation is often child centred, so the young couple, wanting to start off a family on a low wage will hardly be able to find an affordable home, its those who have children without a home that get preference.
One good effort to reduce overcrowding is the stemming of immigration. What however the biggest cause of overcrowding here is the fact that families just grow as a way of life, that this rural attitude of just having kids doesn’t fit in an area where homes are restricted.
My best suggestion is to give people incentives to have less children and not just by promoting homosexuality. But how can we promote small families if people’s mentality is such that woman have no freedom and are seen solely as child bearers and women themselves are happy with that role. I think the legal framework should be changed to make the enslavement of women for that purpose an offence. Not enough is done to help the emancipation of immigrant women in this country. The initiative on stopping forced marriage, is one step in the right direction but we need to go one step further and end the traditional child bearing role of women as their main role in life and that is very hard to do in an economy that cannot offer jobs and areas like Tower Hamlets that has no space left for business to recruit local workers.
Building more homes in Tower Hamlets is not the answer, building a local economy is. There should be assistance to move to other, less populated areas for overcrowded families.
But what is one other alternative, would be an attempt to create extra living space in the current uninhabitable areas of the world, what of course is not assisted by the upcoming earth warming that will make hot places hotter and will reduce the space we have to live on because of rising water levels. I think what we need is a publicity campaign to urge people for restraint and lay the environmental facts on the table and give people an informed choice. Here in Tower Hamlets only 15% of residents have internet access, that does not allow them to seek the information they need. Certainly East End Life does not provide a full information for residents.
Glen Ocsko was an excellent host who promised us that our submissions were to be included in the Overcrowding Reduction Strategy Consultation and we’ll be invited to come to the next Cabinet Committee meeting in October.
Generally I think a lack of continuance of a good strategy is also to blame for a lack of decent homes and housing for families, constantly plans get changed. The London Borough of Tower Hamlets was able to provide a 4* service for its tenants, just to get rid of its housing division and turn housing into ALMO and or let it go to private landlores altogether. The council tenants widely rejected these plans but the new ALMO now also has to start from scratch and the government I feel, takes this as an excuse not to provide finance for repairs and improvement because the new housing ALMO has not gotten the excellent standard as the old housing provision and is not yet 2*.
We saw old-fashioned council housing dismantled for the sake of private landlord-schemes but see that in Tower Hamlets blocks of privately built flats cannot attract the sought after cash laden buyers and so the homes are rented at a high price by the council. The same council that sold 3-bed flats near Victoria Park for £6,000 and now has to purchase them back for the market value, which can be £350.000 or more.
Bad housekeeping is the least critical assessment of this handling of the housing stock, who is profitting from those ideas? Also now the council pays tenants up to £45.000 to purchase themselves a home and to move out of large under-occupied flats. Money going down the drain because of some short lived initiatives, which show that local authorities and governments for that matter can have very short-lived ideas, which are not based on long-term thinking and cost the tax-payer a lot of money.