Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Tidemill and Reginald Road #3 - Deptford Husting

As mentioned in our previous post, residents at Reginald Road handed in yet another petition to the Council last week saying they don't want their homes demolished. They also asked the Council to stop harassing them. This obviously fell on deaf ears, as officers from the Housing Strategy team were back door knocking again within a few days. Not only that, but last week a tenant was told by Lewisham Homes that they would not carry out any repairs and she would have to fund them herself

Lewisham Labour pledge to introduce balloting of estates threatened with demolition in their new manifesto, which is too late for Reginald Road, although since the development hasn't been fully signed off yet there's no reason why it should be. Of course there's no guarantee the officers in charge of balloting won't use the same manipulative (and now bullying) techniques that they're employing now, and twist a majority ballot against demolition into 100% consent.

Meanwhile, at the Deptford Hustings held in Old Tidemill Garden last Sunday (watch a recording  here), Cllr Joe Dromey repeatedly referred to a young woman he'd met on his campaign door-knocking rounds who is in dire need of re-housing. He wouldn't say which estate she was from but kept referring to her like a mascot (or a trope for his election campaign). Because she had cried in his lap, he was personally guaranteeing she be rehoused.

In a perpetual state of campaigning, usually in support of Council policy that goes against his own constituents, in March he was on Facebook saying the same thing: "When we were door-knocking on the Winslade on Saturday, I met a woman who is living in a tiny studio apartment, riddled with damp, with her two kids. All of them suffer from mental health problems, and they were in a really bad way. I'm trying to get them moved, but we have so few social homes, and there is so much need. They deserve a decent home, and this new estate in Deptford will make an enormous difference."

Candidates Joe Dromey (Lab), Jerry Barnett (LibDem) and Andrea Carey-Fuller (Green) just before the Deptford Hustings started on Sunday
While we agree that it must be truly awful for the young mother he met, our first thought is that the Winslade estate is owned by the Council and managed by Lewisham Homes. If the property is 'damp riddled', whose fault is that

The Winslade has recently had "Decent Homes" work done, but as with most of the Lewisham Homes project-managed Decent Homes work done across the borough in the past few years, damp was never tackled; the work was based on desktop stock surveys done by Savills several years ago, with no attention paid to the issues in individual buildings. As Lewisham Homes tenants know full well, complaints about damp are rarely adequately dealt with and tenants are often told it is their own fault (for drying washing indoors for example), when more often than not it's the result of long term lack of repair to gutters, loose roof tiles or chimney flashing, faulty communal walkway surfaces, inadequate ventilation or a leaking boiler from another flat. After 12 years in existence, Lewisham Homes still does not have cyclical programmes in place to solve repetitive problems, and their repairs service can be summed up in short term fixes that lead to long term nightmares – yet they are now in charge of building new homes! 

Our second thought was "What about the people in Reginald House?!" who have been living with the threat of demolition for ten years – living in fear of displacement and unable to plan ahead – while Lewisham Council have faffed around trying to up affordable homes quotas, chopping and changing their minds, lying to residents, failing to communicate with them properly, trying to pick them off one-by-one, and not once considering the impact of their plans on people

In the early days of so-called 'consultation', Housing Strategy officers reported to Mayor & Cabinet that the scheme had lots of support and the only ones who didn't want the scheme to go ahead were older residents who'd been living there a long time. Well yes, what a surprise! Pesky old people – the ones most invested in their homes, with the most to lose! 

As one campaigner responded to Cllr Dromey on Facebook, "you are riding roughshod over one disadvantaged community to serve what you perceive as an even more disadvantaged community. It is divisive."

This news report from 2017 by East London Lines captures how people in Reginald House feel:

Stress, a sense of loss, grieving, poorer mental health and a decline in physical health have been found to occur in individuals who are forced from their homes. Stress can also occur from the anticipation of dislocation and the lack of understanding from the authorities. Qualitative studies in the US have found the sense of bereavement that comes from being displaced is particularly acute among the elderly. 

In her recent book about the "financialisation of housing" Big Capital–who is London for? Anna Minton documents, among other things, the effects of demolition and displacement on residents at the Heygate, where some people are thought to have died as a result of the upheaval.  

Academics refer to the 'phenomenology of place' to distinguish 'space' (ie a unit of housing) from 'place' (home). Both home and hometown are intimate places, full of memories, and to dismiss the 'emotional geography' of place simply reduces neighbourhood and home to a spatial commodity or just mere numbers. 

Lewisham Council are offering the Reginald House tenants new homes in the new development. "Look!" they say, "you'll have a lift, you'll have a brand new home!", but fail to see the difference between opening your front door to the outside world as you have done for years and opening your front door onto a corridor – let alone the extra costs incurred in service charges for maintaining a lift. Or the difference between knowing exactly where your neighbours are, then finding them transferred to a strange new block – or even another town.

At the Deptford Hustings Cllr Dromey (son of Harriet Harmen MP and Jack Dromey MP) accused members of the audience of "nimbyism" – he twice muttered under his breath "It's never here though, is it, it's always somewhere else" and "Never in this spot, though, is it" as if no one wanted to see new housing built. As we have previously noted, campaigners have shown it is possible to build more housing on the site without demolishing homes and the garden. So he obviously missed all the relevant points and insulted everyone in Reginald House at the same time (not that they were ever going to vote for him anyway)... 

Managed decline

The exterior of 2-16A Reginald Road has been allowed to become run-down (while the insides have benefitted from Decent Homes work) in what is usually referred to as "managed decline" – or deliberate neglect, as film-maker Paul Sng describes in his film Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle

At Reginald Road, service charges and rent are being paid but no repair work is being done. It's not as though the money isn't there to refurbish homes, it's just being spent elsewhere. An FOI request revealed that in the time that £104,000 was taken from Reginald House residents in rent and service charges, only £126 has been spent on repairs.

At Achilles Street in New Cross where 87 homes and 15+ businesses are under threat of demolition in Council-led estate regeneration, the residents made an FOI request to find out whether any money was being spent on their buildings. They discovered that whilst £2,601,009 had been collected in rent and service charges in the past six years, only £248,899 had been spent on repairs and maintenance. 

The way Lewisham Homes is managing the Council's current stock leads one to suspect that the Winslade estate – where Cllr Dromey met the desperately unhappy mum – is next in line for demolition and "regeneration". Meanwhile, residents at Achilles Street refer to Lewisham Homes as "slum landlords". 

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