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Talk of ‘customers’, not tenants, another sign that housing is now a commodity

15 June, 2018

St Mary’s Path estate

• ALTHOUGH my disabled friend, who lives on the St Mary’s Path estate, showed me a letter from Islington and Shoreditch Housing Association (ISHA) some weeks ago, I let my concerns lie at the time. However two articles in the local press prompt me to raise my worries again.

What the letter from ISHA to its tenants said was that it had decided against complete demolition of the estate and would instead try to find finance for a renewal programme and the creation of additional homes.

The letter highlighted four issues raised by “customers”. These were broadly the same as those reservations raised nine or more months ago by the residents’ association and highlighted in my earlier letter, (Will ‘affordable’ rents that tenants can’t pay fund estate rebuilding? December 1, 2017).

All ISHA has to say about these questions and reservations is that: “We will be looking to answer these questions once more detailed work on the options and programme is complete.”

Now, ISHA’s published policy on rehousing – it will decide what is suitable for you, you’ll get just the one “choice” and if the rent is higher, tough – does not fill one with confidence, but the situation would not be entirely gloomy were it not for something that is emerging from the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry.

Grenfell resident and survivor, Edward Daffarn, whose blog suggested, months before the fire last June, that it would take a serious disaster to hold to account the Tenant Management Organisation, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and those who undertook the conversion from ugly but safe to a beautiful, upmarket death-trap.

Last week, he said, in a Channel 4 News interview with Jon Snow, repeated the next day in a Guardian article: “Greed, lack of respect, lack of humanity [caused the disaster]. It is the opposite of everything it should be. This is housing as a commodity to be exploited. It is not only in RBKC [Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea], it is what housing has become.”

Mr Daffarn is right: important elements of society have indeed come to treat housing as a commodity. The urge to build lots of expensive homes to subsidise a few social houses, or to allow developers to give money to local authorities instead of developing much-needed social housing, is part of this trend… as is ISHA’s use of the word “customers” to describe tenants to whom they have both a moral and a legal duty of care.

Use of the word “customers” suggests that “If you don’t like the service you get from us you can take your ‘custom’ elsewhere.” Try telling that to anyone on the housing waiting list.

MIKE CROWSON
Islington Green Party

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