Monday, 14 October 2013

Shelter slammed over H&F record

 

Housing charity Shelter have been slammed by Andy Slaughter MP for appointing the former Chief Executive of our Council to chair its Board of Trustees. Derek Myers, who had a controversial record on housing issues, is alleged by our MP to have the 'worst housing record' in the UK. Mr Slaughter, in a letter to Shelter's Chief Executive Campbell Robb, says:
"During Derek Myers’ tenure as Chief Exec of Hammersmith & Fulham Council, the Council introduced some of the most punitive housing policies in England. Over 9,000 households were kicked off the Council’s housing waiting list, and the Council has placed many homeless families in unsanitary, poor-quality temporary accommodation, most of which is outside the Borough"
He goes on:
"For those in Hammersmith & Fulham who find themselves homeless, the situation is equally bleak. If you are one of the lucky few whom the Council agrees to help, you can expect to be placed in poor quality temporary accommodation many miles away from the Borough. Some of my constituents have been forced to take their children out of school, or have been forced to give up paid employment, after being placed in temporary accommodation on the other side of London.

Even those who are placed in temporary accommodation in the Borough may find themselves placed in uninhabitable flats, which are unsafe and infested with vermin. This was the fate of a blind constituent who has been forced to endure sleepless nights while being eaten alive by bedbugs. Despite her case being featured on the BBC news, the Council is yet to deal with the infestation and disrepair to her flat.

Finally, the Council, rather than commit itself to build more affordable and more social housing, has increased the rate at which it sells off its stock of housing, all the while giving priority to developers who plan to build luxury housing, which is totally out of reach to the vast majority of local residents. Whole estates are being demolished, blocks of council flats stand empty awaiting private development and developers are typically asked for 5% or 10% affordable homes against a target of 40%."
This goes to the heart of what Shelter claims it is all about. It is a charity who until recently forked out for giant advertising hoardings across Westminster tube with a mock up picture of children crawling across the green benches, to drive home its message to honourable members going home to their well sized (and frequently expenses-funded) houses that other people had rather less space.

So you might imagine that Shelter would respond with an impassioned defence of their new Chair. Er, no, not really. Here's what Jon Kenworthy, the Vice Char of Shelter told Mr Slaughter in his reply:
"I have spoken to Derek about the points that you have raised in your letter and I and the board remain convinced that Derek's experience, knowledge and commitment make him an ideal candidate for Chair of the Trustee Board".
Not the sound of an organisation entirely sure of its ground. Perhaps because their own staff also appear to be deeply concerned. Here's what the staff reps sent to the 'nominations and governance committee', responsible for the appointment of Mr Myers in the last few days:
"Our members are concerned that some of the recent appointments to the Board do not reflect this approach and that some Trustees have been appointed whose background does not appear to be consistent with Shelter’s core mission or values.

We do of course appreciate that the Board rightly seeks to appoint members who have previous experience in housing. We note that the new chair of the Board, Derek Myers, has previously worked as CEO of LB Hammersmith and Fulham. We appreciate that this is a non-political role. However, our concerns are that the policies pursued by this authority are in conflict with our aims and could be potentially damaging to our policy stance. In particular:

  • The borough takes a particularly hard line on tenure. In short, rather than lifetime tenancies, Hammersmith and Fulham advocates that the ‘vast majority’ of social tenants be granted fixed term agreements which can be terminated after five years, and that 18-25 year olds be granted two year fixed terms (p7 and p8, Tenancy Strategy). We note that Shelter has made recommendations to local authorities in terms of tenure and would be interested to hear the Board’s thoughts on these policies.
  • In terms of allocating social housing, LBHF states in its allocations scheme (p28) that only those with annual income of below £40,200 will ordinarily be considered for the waiting list. We note that Shelter’s research shows that LBHF is the fifth most unaffordable borough in the UK (Inside Housing, 9.1.13) and that the median income necessary to pay an affordable (i.e. 80% market rent) is £53,766 (Inside Housing, 9.8.13). We note that affordable rents are only available to those in social housing and that tenants on far less than the necessary income will be prevented from accessing social housing in this way. They will presumably also be unable to access private rented housing at 100% market rent. We are aware that part of Shelter’s current focus is on the affordability of accommodation and would be interested to hear the Board’s views. 
  • In terms of policies on homelessness, LBHF has argued for the legal requirement for housing authorities to have a homelessness strategy to be removed: this was something Shelter strongly campaigned for and regarded as a significant gain in the Homelessness Act 2002. The Borough has also indicated its intention to discharge its housing duty to homelessness applicants in the private sector wherever possible, including making out-of-Borough placements. 
  • In terms of the charity sector more generally, we note that Palingswick House, previously home to 20 voluntary sector organisations, was closed by the local authority and sold to the creators of a free school in order to reduce debt at a time when the council was cutting council tax each year."
They seem to know our neck of the woods quite well! 

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