Sunday, November 4, 2012

Housing Matters update

For those wishing to understand a bit more about the Housing Matters consultation, there are a couple of opportunities on Wednesday this week.

Crossfields TRA have invited the Chief Executive of Phoenix Community Housing, Jim Ripley, to come and speak to us in the evening.

Wednesday 7th November, 7.30pm at the Pink Palace
(Apologies for the short notice).

Phoenix Community Housing is an example of how a "Resident-led" Housing Association (Option 3 in the list of Housing Matters Options) could work. It's a not-for-profit resident-led housing association situated in the Bellingham, Whitefoot and Downham area of Lewisham, made up of properties transferred from the Council in 2007. Read more at their website. Crossfields TRA is not advocating Option 3 as the only future for social housing in Lewisham, this is simply an opportunity for everyone to find out more about Option 3.

Meanwhile, in the morning, the Tenants Participation Advisory Service (TPAS) (who are monitoring the Housing Matters consultation) Council and Lewisham Homes will be holding a drop-in session
Wednesday 7th November, 9.30am-12noon, at The Albany


TPAS will also be knocking on doors in November to explain "the options" and get feedback  – though they've admitted they're not confident about this method since catching people in is difficult. Indeed, due to the increase in bogus callers, many elderly people have been strongly advised not to open their doors to strangers.

If you've got questions about this Housing Matters malarky, you can also call TPAS on Freefone: 0800 731 1619.

TPAS have produced a “Factsheet” of Frequently Asked Questions which you can download at their website. Since it's a bit hard to find on their dedicated page for this consultation we have also made it available to download here.


Representatives from Lewisham Council and TPAS attended the Crossfields TRA meeting on Thursday 25th October.

They apologised for the recent mismanagement of the mail-out to residents in which envelopes had been incorrectly addressed (see our previous post). This had resulted in many residents not opening the envelopes and reading the contents – which was a newsletter produced by TPAS that was intended as a follow-up to the recent newsletter sent out by the council. Apparently this cock-up was not TPAS' fault, but the episode had some people wondering if sabotage was afoot, and others unsurprised by the embarrassing bungle.

Many may still not know about the consultation or understand it. Some mistake it for something to do with the new changes in housing benefit. Some may not be interested because they perceive the invitation to "Have Your Say" as inconsequential since they suspect the Council (or Lewisham Homes for that matter) may have already decided what they will do, regardless of opinion.

Even after going to three poorly attended public meetings and spending many hours reading the literature, this writer is not sure what to think. A 'Finance Session' held by TPAS at the Albany last week (attended by only two people who thought it was a drop-in session when in fact it was a two hour presentation on the intricacies of social housing finance) only served to increase the confusion. TPAS themselves are still examining the financial information the Council has provided them.

Lewisham Council insists that at this time we are not being asked to vote on anything, we are just "having a conversation", suggesting it is not necessary, at this stage, to fully grasp the implications of the potential radical changes proposed in the ‘options’ presented to us. The rather complicated and politically charged issues at the heart of these options have been simplified for our (?) benefit, and even TPAS appear to be glossing over the controversial aspects.

However, if changes are to proceed in a democratic and transparent manner, it should be necessary for residents to be properly balloted (possibly sometime in 2014), so that the Mayor of Lewisham does not make the important decision (to sell off the Council's housing and land, or not) by himself. Nevertheless, we are told the Mayor will be 'drawing conclusions' from the feedback received when this consultation ends on 23rd November.

We will be writing a bit more about it shortly.

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