Government plans to force through privatisation of council housing are running into increased grassroots resistance. Housing associations are turning to desperate measures.
Alan Walter, chair of Defend Council Housing, reports on the bizarre scenes at a recent debate held on the Lansbury estate in Tower Hamlets, east London, which the council wants to transfer to the Harca housing association.
When I arrived the room was packed. But I was astonished to see police officers there, standing at the front door and in a line at the back of the hall.
They had been called in because of a belligerent group of tenants trying to disrupt the meeting. There were around eight of them, standing at the front waving professionally printed placards supporting Harca.
They were trying to stop people speaking, shouting down other tenants and interrupting.
David Edgar, Tower Hamlets’ lead councillor for housing was there, along with several other councillors and officials from Harca, including Steve Stride, the housing association’s chief executive.
They looked ashen faced — but they made no attempt to calm things down.
Most tenants don’t have access to professionally printed placards. Harca had mobilised them — but they were outnumbered by the 120 local people who had come to hear a real debate.
I put the situation to a vote, asking people whether they wanted to continue. They voted overwhelmingly to go on and the Harca people piped down slightly.
Harca had set up a couple of local residents on their steering group to speak in favour of stock transfer. One made a big speech about how “committed to the community” Harca was, citing the nursery provision on one of their estates. It turned out that the nursery was set up under the government’s Sure Start scheme, nothing to do with Harca.
I outlined the case against privatisation and explained how Tower Hamlets has a surplus in its housing budget that could be spent on urgent repairs. There was a really good discussion, with serious questions about whether there was enough money, and whether the government could be forced to concede.
For more on housing see Defending council housing