There’s an old saying in cynics’ circles: if voting could change anything, they’d abolish it. Resident activists sometimes have a little joke about that and say to ourselves: “if tenants could change anything, they’d abolish us”. At least, we thought it was a joke: now it seems it might just be foresight.
When the Council was engaged in stock transfer, it allowed a number of established housing associations to bid to take over Council estates. However, the Council wanted a bit of variety, and it made sure residents had some alternatives. One of the things it did was to set up East End Homes (EEH) as a “community gateway” landlord. That meant that EEH was a community trust, with a special structure and ethos.
East End Homes was run by East End Homes Ltd, a not for profit company limited by guarantee. The company was a community trust: it had no shareholders but it had four kinds of company member. The Council was a member; residents and members of the local community who were not EEH residents could be members; and estate-based community trusts could be members.
EEH also had a special ethos. It was supposed to empower the local community on each estate to run its own estate. There would be as much or as little local control as each estate’s residents wanted – up to the point where they could evolve into being a Registered Social Landlord in their own right.
Unfortunately, East End Homes did not really operate in the way that the Council intended (and, in many cases, in the way that its own rules spelled out). In particular, although residents were supposed to be members of the company, EEH refused to recognise this. Eventually EEH had to concede that it had been wrong, and it published its membership policy. Having published its policy, it then refused to operate it. The result is that EEH residents still cannot become members of the community trust that runs EEH, contrary to the Council’s intention and contrary to its own rules.
This is particularly serious at the moment because East End Homes senior managers are trying to abolish the provision which allows residents to become company members. Yes: EEH doesn’t want to deal with its own residents so it is, in effect, trying to abolish them. And it’s trying to exclude residents from voting on whether they should be abolished. EEH managers also want to do away with much of the community involvement ethos of EEH and because just another standard housing association.
So far, Mayor Lutfur Rahman has indicated that the Council will not agree to EEH’s plot to abolish residents’ rights. However, so far EEH managers have not indicated that they will give up their plans.
Another worrying factor is that EEH has conducted virtually no consultation among residents about whether they are happy for their landlord to write them out of the script. There has been a little bit of very token consultation, mostly in the form of EEH officers telling residents at meetings that the plan is “generally a good idea”. This is despite the fact that EEH has signed the Tower Hamlets Federation of Tenants and Residents Association’s Residents Charter, which commits it to “meaningful consultation”.
A meeting of East End Homes Ltd was called for 17th July. Management’s rule changes were on the agenda: all the formal changes necessary to dump the “community gateway” model and become just a normal housing association. However, it seems there was a fuss over who was allowed to attend and vote at the meeting and in particular over who could vote on behalf of the Council (in its capacity as a company member of East End Homes rather than in its capacity as a body which nominates board members). That meeting, we understand, was then adjourned and no votes took place.
However, for the price of £1 members of the public are able to buy from Companies House a letter signed by Peter Gibbs and dated 18th July which states that the rules (formally speaking, that is the Memorandum and Articles of Association) have been changed by East End Homes Ltd. Mr Gibbs’s letter is accompanied by a letter from the Homes & Communities Agency (the body which applies the Coalition Government’s “light touch” regulation to social landlords) which states that the HCA has approved the rule changes.
It’s not surprising the HCA agreed the changes: it is an arm of government, and the present Government wants housing associations to become more businesslike and cut down on the number of tenants and residents involved on landlords’ boards. Nonetheless, you would have thought that the HCA would have been a bit bothered about East End Homes’ highly superficial attempt at consultation and in particular about the way it stopped residents voting on whether they should be abolished: apparently, not so.
What is surprising is that the senior managers and board members of East End Homes are pushing forward these changes. Two people in particular should be fully aware of the Council’s intentions when it set up East End Homes: Paul Bloss, who was then the Council officer who wrote the Cabinet papers establishing East End Homes, the very documents which formed the basis of Council policy, and former Labour councillor Martin Young, who has chaired the board of East End Homes since its inception and must, therefore, have known what he was doing. Perhaps these two should be held to account for how Council policy has been implemented over the life of East End Homes.
The meeting scheduled for 17th July was reconvened on 31st July, but East End Homes is being very tight lipped about what happened. ELN understands that the changes to the governance of East End Homes were actually voted down, but we cannot obtain clear confirmation.
One of the reasons why we cannot obtain confirmation is East End Homes’ rather strange policy of only having one officer who talks to the press: if he is not in, no press comment can be given. The only way of contacting East End Homes’ press spokesperson is to email the general contact address, as the email addresses of individual officers cannot be given out on the phone. It’s policy.
ELN emailed East End Homes on 25th June: we are still waiting for their reply. We phoned them on 13th August. Their press spokesperson was not in and in fact there was no one in at all as they were all on courses. That is to say, Paul Bloss was in, but the operator could not connect us as calls are put through to his PA first. It’s policy. But she was on a course, so no calls could be put through to Mr Bloss.
•In other news on East End Homes, the landlord has announced that it is looking for residents to join its Board. If you are an East End Homes resident and would like more information about joining the Board, contact Tower Hamlets Federation (firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. 079 03 06 03 03) and they’ll send you the details of what to do. If EEHis trying to recruit residents to the Board, we can only hope that their next step will be to un-suspend their resident membership scheme so that residents can get involved in electing their board, as well as being on it.
(These articles first appeared in the newsletters of the Tower Hamlets Federation of Tenants and Residents Association and are reprinted with their permission.)