Lib Peck (Co-operative Party) kicks out Housing Co-ops

(It’s a long story)

Lib Peck, Leader of Lambeth cooperative council, is a member of the Co-operative Party.

Peter Robbins, Cabinet member for Housing in Lambeth cooperative council, is a member of the Co-operative Party.

So, why are PECK & ROBBINS COMPLICIT in the EVICTION OF HOUSING CO-OPS and the DESTRUCTION OF long established CO-OPERATIVE COMMUNITIES?

Should members of the Co-operative Party really be evicting Housing Co-op residents? Ummm, probably not?

So, why are Peck and Robbins turning their backs on the ‘principles’, ‘purpose’ and ‘commitments’ of the Co-operative Party? Even more baffling, how can they? (I mean how can they do it and keep a clear conscience, not how can they employ people like Simon Matthews and a bunch of dodgy barristers).

I’m a member of a Housing Co-operative, and a member of the Co-operative Party. That is, I am until Peck and Robbins effectively make me an ex-member of the Co-operative Party by destroying the Co-operative community that I’m part of… (in case you don’t know, a person can only join the Co-operative party if they are already a member of another Co-op organisation).

The current recall of ‘Shortlife’ homes is the continuation of a despicable policy of ridding Lambeth of Housing Co-ops, devised in the mid/late 1990s and now utterly at odds with Lambeth’s current pretension of being a co-operative council.

This is where the long bit of the story starts. One qualification, it’s from my perspective only, it’s not necessarily how other Co-ops have experienced the last 35 years…

‘Shortlife’ Co-ops began back in the 1970s, Lambeth council had a pile of houses that it had intended demolishing, but after many of the buildings ended up being listed (thank you, the Clapham Society) Lambeth found they couldn’t knock them down after all. The properties, on the whole, were identified as uninhabitable and designated part of Lambeth’s then ‘slum clearance’ programme. In actual fact, the properties were in various states of repair/disrepair – from pretty good, to almost falling down.

Lambeth council decided to allow mainly single, young people to live in the buildings, on the condition that these people formed themselves into Housing Co-ops, raised their own funds and did the places up themselves. Many of the original occupants (including me) were teenagers and would otherwise have been homeless. To avoid the responsibility of having to even make the buildings safe, let alone habitable, Lambeth licensed the houses to Housing Associations (‘secondaries’) who then sub-licensed to the occupants. The secondaries acted as a buffer, keeping Lambeth at arms length from the Co-op members, ensuring that they had no legal obligation with regards to the new occupants and the unsafe condition of many of the buildings. (This was a complete swerving of the obligatory duty of care they legally had for the listed properties, but, apart from not demolishing the buildings Lambeth simply acted as though the listings didn’t exist).

In 1981, formal 5 year licenses were drawn up, however, most Co-ops were never allowed to see the licenses that they were supposed to be party to. After the first 5 years, the licenses were supposedly renewed, but still the Co-ops were not given sight of them.  At one point, in the early 1990s, Lambeth council were, on the one hand, asking us to agree to new licenses, but on the other hand refusing to let us see what we were supposed to agree to… my Co-op was threatened with eviction if we didn’t agree to ‘sign’… but ‘sign’ what?! We never did manage to see a license. (Along with threat of eviction, we were told we’d be rehoused on the Stockwell Green Estate…this tells you 1. what Lambeth thought of Stockwell Green Estate and 2. the way Lambeth tried to intimidate us back then). Other Co-op groups have similar stories of being threatened with eviction & subsequent rehousing on so-called ‘problem’ estates). Of course, our real problem was Lambeth council itself, bullying and intimidation has almost always been a feature of their dealings with us.

From the late 1980s through to the mid 1990s, Lambeth council and the various secondaries encouraged some Co-ops to become ‘Permanent’. We attended courses, we changed our rules, we did what we were told to do. We formulated plans to raise funds for a renovation programme… we intended providing safe, community based housing to specific vulnerable groups, we expected to take more properties on, we would be able to house more people off Lambeth’s waiting list than we were already doing (in homes Lambeth didn’t subsidise)…  But, out of nowhere, we were informed that Lambeth had decided to sell transfer all the ‘Shortlife’ housing stock to a Housing Association. Oh dear, what were Lambeth doing now? Housing Associations came and went, and the Co-ops were left in a depressed state of limbo. The atmosphere of despair was palpable. Do we continue to raise funds even though we have no assurance of being able to stay in our homes anymore? Do we spend thousands on new roofs, with the possibility of being moved out within months? People became very despondent. Lambeth became locked in a cycle of soliciting interest from various Housing Associations, then backing out when the price wasn’t right. This went on for years. Again, Lambeth asked us to to sign contracts unseen, even though we had the threat of eviction hanging over us.  We were told to sign a waiver, agreeing to rescind any rights we may have accrued over the years of residency. If we didn’t sign, we’d be evicted. What, really?

With hindsight, I guess they wanted to sell our homes on the open market back then, but presumably they couldn’t justify the sale of so many council owned houses (about 1200 homes) all at once, to the private sector.

In 1997, we received notice that Lambeth, under a Tory/Lib Dem administration, were ‘recalling’ the Co-op properties and we were to be evicted imminently, though households in properties that were not under-occupied would be able to stay put, somehow (the mechanics of this weren’t clear). Tom Franklin, Head of the Labour Group at the time, tried to derail the planned recall but, unfortunately, failed.  Over the next 10 years, we received intermittent threats of ‘imminent’ eviction.

In the late 1990s, the secondaries disappeared from view, they still held the head licenses but were no longer interested in dealing with us. From about 2000 onwards, they wouldn’t even answer our queries about our status or advise us what the situation was. Oh, hang on a minute, one Co-op did receive a very bizarre offer from their secondary,  Family Housing Association. A Shortlife worker offered £50,000 to each household (which was bumped up to £100,000 when nobody took the bait) to vacate their homes. When other Co-ops heard about this and tried to question why one single group was contacted, we found the worker in question was no longer employed by Family anymore. Did he jump, or was he pushed? This is just another example of the very odd way Housing Co-ops have been treated in Lambeth.

In 2007, 10 years later (!) we received the eviction threat yet again, including a repeat of the assurance that houses with optimum occupation levels would be allowed to stay. We were told consultations with residents would take place before the recall started. We were told that our homes were in such poor condition (i.e. not up to the Decent Homes standard) that they would cost too much for the council to repair and refurbish, so they had to off-load them onto someone else. Someone else but not the Co-ops who already lived in them. Unsurprisingly, Lambeth didn’t know what they were talking about. Lambeth council had never set foot in most of the properties ever, so they knew nothing about the state of most of them. In reality, many of the properties were Compulsorily Purchased for demolition, the original occupants shipped out (against their will) and the houses either boarded up without inspection or immediately occupied by homeless young people (Lambeth neighbourhood officers were simply handing out keys in the 1970s). We managed to get sight of an internal council document that supposedly described each property, but the information they had was generally wrong. They were over-estimating the sizes of the properties and under-estimating the ages.

Then it all went quiet.

In 2009, out of the blue, notices to quit were issued. Some people were given 30 days to leave their homes of 30+ years.

Clapham Town’s Labour councillors, Helen O’Malley, Nigel Haseldene and Christopher Wellbelove, rallied to our cries of distress and vowed to help us fight the recall. We were told that we brought a ‘welcome permanence’ to the area (that meant we weren’t ‘buy-to-let’ landlords or developers who bought a house, did it up and then sold it to, errr, ‘buy-to-let’ landlords. Everyone, except the hapless residents forced from their homes (you know, the people who’d sunk thousands of pounds into each house, and countless hours of labour and graft) would make a tidy profit in the process, thank you very much).

Then, oh surprise, Nigel Haseldene and Christopher Wellbelove changed their minds and dropped us. You’d almost think they were more interested in planting olive trees or messing about deciding where to let the buses park, or something. However, Helen O’Malley (also a member of the Co-operative Party) remained supportive.  Maybe a factor in her continued support of our Co-ops was that her brother, John O’Malley, a Lambeth councillor in the early 1980s, was very supportive of the Co-ops when they were originally set up.

Along with the notices to quit, we were told that everybody would have to be evicted because the Housing Association that was taking over the properties (Notting Hill Housing Trust) needed vacant possession. Lambeth said many of the homes would continue to be used as social housing, though some might have to be sold.

We were offered the opportunity of buying our homes (thank you most sincerely) but, generally, the only people who managed to buy weren’t actually Co-op members in the first place, they were people (opportunistically?) occupying Co-op houses, who took advantage of the situation. The Co-ops did not have the power to evict anyone, so we didn’t have total control over who occupied Co-op properties. Lambeth refused to have any dialogue with us, so they’ve never checked the status of the people they sold properties to. Most Co-op members are middle aged or older, working as musicians or teachers, bricklayers, plumbers, artists, nurses,  upholsterers, writers, the disabled, OAPs, blah blah blah… we’re neither kids with ‘well-off’ parents or people with highly paid jobs. We simply couldn’t entertain the thought of buying our homes as individuals.

In response to piles of emails from terrified Housing Co-op members, Kate Hoey (Labour MP) contacted the CEO of Notting Hill HT and was told that no, vacant possession was not requested by Notting Hill. In fact, she was told that Lambeth had insisted on getting vacant possession, even though it was unnecessary.

In 2010/11, during this particular debacle, the Head of Housing was Lib Peck (you know her, she’s the one in the Co-operative Party). Did Lib Peck know that the council’s solicitors were playing fast and loose with the truth in order to get us evicted? Did Lib Peck authorise this steamroller-y kind of approach adopted by the Housing department?

In late 2011, Notting Hill pulled out of the transfer deal (Lambeth wanted too much money, of course). However, Lambeth’s solicitors were still saying, in court, four months later during possession proceedings, that Notting Hill needed vacant possession. Argh! the Notting Hill deal had fallen through months earlier, but it suited Lambeth to continue with the story. Lambeth council, lying in court, nooooo?! Tellingly, in all the court papers we were issued with, Lambeth said, over and over (and over again), permanency for ‘Shortlife’ Housing Co-ops had never been an option… Poppycock! Utter rubbish! We even have council minutes, disclosed by Lambeth’s own barristers, Devonshires, discussing the option of Permanency. This begs a few questions… is there a deliberate use of misinformation by Lambeth council? Or is this an example of Lambeth’s lack of knowledge of it’s own affairs? Or is Lambeth simply incapable of telling the truth if it means it might not be able to ride roughshod over residents in the borough?

Lambeth’s barristers, Devonshires, have been using court costs and ‘occupation charges’ as a way of intimidating residents – they want us to agree not fight possession & eviction, and then we won’t be saddled with costs of £35,000+.  Essentially, we are being told, ‘fight to stay in your homes and we’ll have you for everything you’ve got, or leave quietly and we won’t touch you’. A point of interest here, the first barrister on the recall cases was a bloke called John McCafferty, I think he may be the same McCafferty who was an ex-leader of Hackney council in the 1990s, where Sue Foster, Lambeth’s current Executive Director of Housing, was Head of Planning in the 2000s.

If you’re interested, read a bit more about Sue Foster and John McCafferty’s stints in Hackney.                                                                    http://incompetenthackney.blogspot.co.uk/2006/12/hackney-planning-dept-in-complete.html
http://www.ourtext.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/DefendAbneyPark.htm                                                                                                                           http://hackneyplanningwatch.blogspot.co.uk/2007/07/how-you-can-help.html                                                                                                                  http://hackneyhistory.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/hackney-heckler-issue-6-january-1991/

Pre-trial, some Co-op residents have been taken into ante rooms at court and ‘persuaded’ not to fight Lambeth (persuaded verbally, rather than water boarding-ly… maybe that would leave marks?). Many ‘Shortlifers’ are ‘vulnerable’ members of the community, a significant number of people have mental health issues and/or chronic health problems, 99% of us are very low-waged. People are being intimidated into accepting something they would have rejected if given the choice. What happened to the ‘consultations’ that were supposed to have taken place? They never happened. You know what, sometimes I think that a lot of the mental health issues and the chronic health problems in Housing Co-op communities, actually originate from the  constant uncertainty we’ve been subjected to by the council over the last 30 years. Read up on Masalow’s theory ‘the hierarchy of needs’, from experience it rings true.

In late 2012, Lib Peck (Co-operator) became Leader of the Council and Peter Robbins (Co-operator) became Cabinet Member for Housing. And things got worse. But more about that later.

In response, Lambeth United Housing Co-operative has been formed as an umbrella group for the remaining Co-operative residents. Outline proposals have been put forward to take over the remaining ‘Shortlife’ properties: to keep people in their current homes; to provide additional Co-operative housing; to provide training in building and administration; to safeguard the listed buildings we have managed for decades; to ‘recycle’ Lambeth’s void properties and bring them back into use; to retain the remaining social housing stock in Lambeth. Discussions and negotiations have been requested. Respected Co-operative Housing experts are acting as Lambeth United’s advisors. But Lambeth council (Lib Peck, Peter Robbins, Sue Foster, Rachel Sharpe and Derrick Anderson) go into stonewalling mode. According to them, there’s nothing to discuss. As far as the money goes, sometimes we’re told that the revenue from the sale of our homes is needed for education and roads (and brand spanking new council offices), other times we’re told it’s going to provide much needed housing in the borough. I guess the condition of our homes must have improved, we’re not being evicted because we’d fail the Decent Homes standard anymore, so that’s something to be pleased about… When the subject of Lambeth’s use of misinformation was brought up with Rachel Sharpe, she said there was nothing to talk about, ‘too late now’, she said, smiling. I heard, somewhere, that her partner is a property developer, does anyone know if that’s true?

The council seems to have a healthy bank balance at the moment. Are Lambeth trying their hand at socially engineering the population? Or do they just want to sell off Lambeth’s assets and… well, and what?

more later… but in the meantime, look at this website –

http://www.lambethunitedhousingco-op.org.uk/

and think about these things –

Once a resident has given up possession, the possibility of eviction without alternative accommodation becomes a distinct possibility, even if you’ve had an assurance of being rehoused. Apart from the hollow words of councillors and council workers, the nightmare that is Lambeth Choice Based Lettings comes into play too…

‘Micra bloke’ (not his real name) gave up possession without a fight. He tried to get rehoused via Choice Based Lettings but his application was mucked up. He was designated a Category ‘H’ bidder, not a Category ‘C’ as all ‘Shortlife’ had been ‘promised’. He was issued with an eviction notice, even though he still hadn’t been allowed to bid correctly. He contacted Nigel Haseldene, Nigel contacted Peter Robbins. ‘Micra bloke’ gets told the eviction is suspended. He goes to court on the day of the proposed eviction, in order to sort out the promised suspension. But 10 minutes before entering the court, Lambeth’s solicitor hands him a piece of paper telling him the eviction is going ahead after all. 20 minutes after he leaves the court he’s back home. The bailiffs have broken into the back of his home and the locks are being changed. All his possessions are locked up inside.

Big, public stink ensues. Contradictory and revealing excuses spew forth from Robbins and Haseldene. Haseldene says Robbins mixed ‘Micra bloke’ up with someone else who was being evicted, Robbins said he couldn’t do anything like suspend an eviction, only Sue Foster can make those kind of decisions.

Then a bid that ‘Micra bloke” had put in on a CBL property a couple of weeks earlier, suddenly jumps from number 500 to number one in the CBL pop pickers chart. Thank you, Sue Foster. Maybe she is the one who calls the shots? And nice to see that the CBL list is based on the number of points an applicant has, rather than being open to manipulation by council workers.

‘Micra bloke’s’ home was sold within 10 days of him being thrown out. A Co-op member for 30 years and he was treated like that, by Peter Robbins, ‘Co-operating’ in the manner we have come to expect from Peck and Robbins (i.e. say one thing, do the opposite).

…………………….

The avalanche of nonesense doesn’t stop with the possessions & evictions, oh no… once a property is sold, Lambeth’s Planning department then seems to employ a ‘hands-off’ policy where refurbishment and modernisation of listed buildings is concerned. Just bought an un-modernised Georgian worker’s cottage? Want to bin that plain Georgian fireplace and put in something overblown and showy? Go ahead. Hate those tedious, lower-class, unobtrusive wooden fences at the front? Yeah, put in some swanky railings, who cares if they’re completely wrong? And if you’re lucky (?) the English Heritage bloke will bung you a grant so you can tart the place up with your recessed halogen ceiling lights and your MDF wainscotting (I mean, the old wooden stuff that was in there to start with was so, well, wooden, for goodness sake).

…………………….

Yes, the dates and numbers may a bit skewed, get bit tired then the dyslexia kicks in. If you want exact info, email your request and we can dig out the paperwork.

Got more info to add? Leave a comment and we’ll get your message

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