No let-up for Lambeth as housing crisis grows

Save Cressingham Gardens campaigns with placards

A  plan for the Cressingham Gardens estate prepared by its tenants is set to be rejected by Lambeth council.

The difficulties presented by housing in Lambeth are clear to see. Over 21,000 people are on the housing waiting list, while 1,300 families are living in severely overcrowded conditions.

But progress in tackling this problem seems mired in disagreement between opposing parties, councils and residents, many of whom feel they are not being listened to.

New figures obtained from the GLA earlier this month by Green Party London Assembly Member Darren Johnson appear to show that the borough is facing a net loss of 420 social rent houses.

Johnson lays the blame for these figures firmly at the feet of London Mayor Boris Johnson: “Under the cover of tired stereo­types about sink estates, the mayor is whittling away at homes that are genuinely affordable to Londoners,” he said. “With a few exceptions, estate regeneration has been a complete disaster in London and has made our housing crisis worse.”

Lambeth council disputes the figures, saying: “We don’t recognise the figures provided and, almost three weeks since the original press release was published, we haven’t seen any further details to support them.” The council says that the four estate redevelopments currently being undertaken in Lambeth will lead to a net increase of 73 homes, with the future redevelopment of Somerleyton Road alone providing 120 new houses.

But elsewhere council redevelopment plans are meeting with fierce opposition from residents, who have taken issues with proposals to demolish existing buildings.

Cressingham_PP_cover-crop_500The Cressingham Gardens community celebrated a victory against the council before Christmas, when a judge ruled unlawful its decision to halt consultation on the demolition of the estate. Victory has proved short lived. Lambeth council has just announced its decision to go ahead with demolition of the estate.

A  proposal developed by the residents themselves, in conjunction with local architect Ashvin de Vos has been rejected by the council as it didn’t provide enough additional homes.

De Vos, who grew up on the Cressingham Gardens estate, says: “We felt we needed to come up with a solution that didn’t demolish people’s homes but still responded to the area’s housing needs.”

Refurbishment would not require residents to move to alternative homes, so would have a “much lower social and economic impact on this community and also surrounding it.”

The project could provide up to 33 additional homes at council rate, by using “modular inserts” into underused car parks, and by redeveloping “The Voids”, the name given locally to the 14 homes on the estate which, according to de Vos, have lain empty and in disrepair for 15 years.

After the collective trauma of the judicial review against the council, many residents feel that the council would not take notice of their plan. So they are now considering legal ways to take back control of their estate’s affairs, either by exercising their right to manage the estate, or their right to transfer their landlord.

All tenants of council-provided housing (known as a secure tenancy) have the right to manage their own properties, by setting up a Tenant Management Organisation (TMO). Tenants still pay rent to the council, but the TMO receives an allowance from the council with which it can carry out the duties it has taken on. There are 270 TMOs in the UK at the moment, of which 10 are in Lambeth.

De Vos Architect addresses residents at Cressingham GardensRay Coyle (right), from Open Communities, says: “They all perform better than the local authority.” Open Communities is a training, advice and project management service specialising in social housing and community regeneration.

Alternatively, tenants can choose a new landlord, either an existing housing association or a newly created organisation set up by residents.

Whatever becomes of Cressingham Gardens, what is instantly clear is the feeling of discontent with Lambeth council and its management of the regeneration. Speaking at the public launch of the People’s Plan, one resident told us: “If anyone’s got a dog who’d like to campaign for Labour councillor, I’d like to vote for them instead.”