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EastendHomes – community-led housing provider?

EastendHomes – community-led housing provider? – concerns about EeH’ relationship with its residents

What was the thinking behind the setting up of EeH?

In the consultations with estate residents leading up to stock transfer, Tower Hamlets Council described EeH as a new ‘community-led’ landlord’. (Open House Issue 9)

“The proposed structure for the council-sponsored landlord is as follows:
EeH will be an umbrella organisation. Estates will be encouraged to set up their own local community housing trust or a tenant management organisation if they wish, or opt to be directly managed by EastendHomes.

Discussions are taking place with estates who have shown an interest in this model to develop various ideas on community led local service delivery organisations”.

As residents of these very estates which showed an interest in just such a model and opted for EeH as preferred new landlord, we have a number of questions to ask of Tower Hamlets Councillors and the governing body of EeH.

Community Empowerment – the community gateway model

Councillor David Edgar told us: “The planned structure has been influenced by ideas on local community control through stock transfer developed by the Confederation of Co-Operative Housing. It is exciting because it really does allow for local decision making and a higher level of resident control than we see with the council and traditional social landlords”.

We understand he was referring to the ‘Community Gateway Model‘, which recognizes that ‘the more power tenants and communities have to run their own neighbourhoods, the better they are run’. Community Gateway has its roots in a concept developed by CCH and the Co-Operative Union (CU). The proposal was that council housing stock transfer should take place to an enabling body that would allow tenants to pursue a step-by-step approach to controlling their communities.

We also understand that the government fully supported and encouraged this initiative, with then Communities Minister, David Miliband calling on housing providers to ‘put tenant involvement at the heart of their organizations’, bringing ‘to the fore the ethos and spirit of mutuality, self-help and voluntarism’.

This is exactly what the gateway approach aims to do, ‘by making residents members of the organisation, and by helping communities to help themselves’.
‘Under the gateway approach, having and carrying out a Community Empowerment Strategy is as much a key part of the business as having satisfactory annual accounts’. (Growing Confidence – introducing the Community Gateway Model
– Chartered Institute of Housing, CU, CCH, the Housing Corporation).

In line with government policy, Tower Hamlets Council therefore set up EeH as a Community Trust, consisting of a number of Local Community Areas. EeH was to have as a central long term purpose ‘the development and carrying out of a community empowerment strategy’ to enable residents to move towards ‘devolution’ – setting themselves up to manage their own neighbourhoods, as Local Community Trusts.

This was to be achieved through a systematic approach to ‘community empowerment’ – training, capacity building, confidence building, organizational support, funding, input from experienced teams of dedicated community development and resident empowerment workers and so on. This was Tower Hamlets Council’s exciting vision for its new stock transfer organization, EeH, communicated to residents in statements made by then Lead Councillor for Housing, David Edgar.

Walking the Talk – enabling body or standard stock transfer organisation?

  • ‘The critical difference between the community gateway process and standard stock transfer is its systematic approach to offering opportunities for community empowerment’.
  • ‘Tenants and other key stakeholders including council members and housing development staff need time to develop understanding and ownership of the model’.
  • ‘Time costs money. The Community Gateway Model recognizes that additional central government funds will be required to finance community empowerment, training and development.’
  • What has Tower Hamlets Council done to develop the understanding of Council members and its housing development staff to enable them to take ownership of the community gateway model?
  • What understanding about EeH’ intended purpose do the Councillor members appointed to EeH Board have?
  • What understanding does EeH Senior Management Team, all transferred from Tower Hamlets Housing Directorate, have?
  • What has EeH Senior Management Team done to develop the understanding of its own staff, Estate Resident Steering Group Members or Estate Board members, to enable them to take ownership of the gateway model?
  • What applications has EeH made to the Home Office for the available funding that exists to facilitate this happening?
  • What staff have been employed by EeH to develop its relationship with its new residents, or to help residents strengthen their relationships with each other to develop their estate communities?
  • Where are the dedicated teams of community development workers?
  • Where are the resident empowerment workers?
  • Where are the training programmes, the confidence and capacity building initiatives, set up as part of EeH’ systematic approach to community empowerment, with the aim of enabling devolution by the progressive, step by step move towards the setting up Local Community Trusts, managed by residents themselves?

EeH Community Trust or EeH Ltd?

We may have missed something and maybe we did not make it to the right meetings held in our Local Community Areas, but we have not seen any evidence whatsoever of any of this central programme of community empowerment being rolled out.

What we have seen is EeH rushing headlong into ‘regeneration’ programmes for our estates, before its own staff or any of its residents were in any way prepared to undertake a task of this considerably daunting scale.

What we have seen is EeH Senior Management limiting its attention and focus of activity to what has become, since transfer, EeH ‘stock’ – ie the buildings that we as residents happen to live in. What we have seen is that EeH Senior Managers’ primary concern is the state of disrepair of its stock, what sums of money need to be found to invest in this stock and how they can exploit the land values the stock is built on by building more buildings to raise that money.

What we have seen is that EeH residents evidently don’t matter to EeH Senior Management – what matters is EeH stock and the value of that stock. And this is what drives the organization’s actual agenda. The fact that it has a paper commitment to consult residents on the decisions to be made about its stock is an inconvenience to be got around in whatever way it can – the importance attributed to these decisions about EeH housing stock is such, it would appear, as to justify EeH Senior Managers, in their own eyes, in manipulating, by fair means or foul, any process of supposed ‘consultation’ with residents.

Words, Terms and Definitions

One obvious way to ensure that residents are prevented from interfering with the ‘top down’ implementation of EeH’ Senior Management’s programme for ‘its’ organization is to provide us with as little, or as little useful information as possible. Withholding information, providing partial or misleading information, deliberate obfuscation and the presentation of information in formats which make it all but impenetrable to understanding is the stock in trade of those adept at achieving their own ends by what are apparently and superficially the ‘approved’ means of democratic consensus.

Residents have recently asked a number of questions about the way EeH operates and whether this complies with the organization’s Memorandum & Articles of Association. We were very, very surprised by the answers we got. The strategic intention of ‘enabling’ stock transfer organizations like EeH was built into their organizational structure, with the Mem & Arts providing the framework for the practical implementation of the organization’s strategic goals.

The point of our questions was to highlight the fact that, from what we have seen, very little of what EeH actually does follows from what its Mem & Arts say it should be doing, in order to carry out its intended purpose. It is difficult therefore to escape the conclusion that it is not carrying out its intended purpose. Our questions were answered by EeH Senior Management with a demonstration of disingenuous and wilful obtuseness, confusing,conflating, apparently misreading and generally making a nonsense of almost every single term contained in a document that is not, in fact, particularly difficult to interpret. What is the game plan here? Why is communication being rendered impossible?

Meaning, Communication and Relationships

Unable to relate meaningfully to, let alone trust EeH staff, unable to communicate with them or feel that we are ‘heard’, disillusioned residents experience a growing and deadening sense of exclusion. Far from being encouraged to ‘take ownership’ of initiatives regarding our homes, our lives and our neighbourhoods, we feel increasingly relegated to the sidelines. Residents are either forced to watch, powerless and in dejected silence as it all happens, decided and directed by others; or to react, driven by anger and frustration to fight for the right to have a say in our own future, to have our stake in our own lives recognized, acknowledged and genuinely taken into account.

It is for this reason that residents are forming their own groups on their estates, having found that EeH ‘estate boards’ do not enable genuine participation in the affairs of the organisation. There is a growing strength of feeling among residents across most estates that the democracy supposedly created within EeH is not participatory and that its governing body is both unhearing and hidden from view. A cynicism has resulted from residents’ contact with EeH’ Executive, in whose eyes residents feel they simply do not count in any positive sense and are to be managed, and manoeuvred around, treated merely as ‘obstacles’ in the path EeH Senior Managers have set out for the organization.

What do the Council and the Board of EeH want for its residents? – do they believe in resident and community empowerment?

This loss of confidence has now extended to EeH’ Board, the Members of which residents are increasingly concerned to be able to question direct. What is EeH trying to do, in the view of its governing body? Is it primarily concerned with managing residential buildings in the same old ‘top down’ way, acknowledged to have failed residents for decades; or is it committed to working with its residents, empowering them to develop their communities as places where people enjoy living, where people are happy and pleased to live and to invest their time and their energy in contributing to making those communities good places to live?

This is what we were told EeH was about when we were consulted on stock transfer. Stock Transfer offers a genuine opportunity and an appropriate vehicle to effect real change, but only if the ‘stock’ is ‘transferred’ to an authentically enabling organization, which doesn’t just talk the talk of being ‘community-led’. In the words of Christine Searle, Lincoln Estate resident-activist working with Poplar Harca, “Residents have to believe they can change things, and housing associations have to be focused on really wanting this to work by having staff with the right ethos and putting the budget into it. It is not cheap to have quality resident empowerment officers”.

As residents, a number of us feel that it is now time for EeH Board to ‘take stock’ of where we all are with this. If this was what the Council intended for its residents, if this is what the Board wants for EeH residents, does it indeed have staff with the right ethos and is it putting the budget into it? One thing is clear – EeH needs to have its residents ‘on-side’ if it is going to achieve as much as it could – alienating and angering residents can do nothing but damage the organization and jeopardize any chance it has of moving forwards successfully in difficult circumstances.

We would like the Council and the Board to hear our clear message that, as Tower Hamlets and EeH residents, we *’are no longer prepared to be treated as outsiders, peering over the gates into our own mysterious country’.

*(‘Addicted to secrecy, inured to public hostility’ – Guardian article by Ken Macdonald on the Iraq Inquiry)

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