BHA meeting minutes 21.05.13

BHA meeting:  21.05.13

  • Report back from benefits justice summit

Pat: – 350 people attended the event, from 37 different local anti-bedroom tax groups and local campaigns, at Westminster central hall. MP John McDonnell summed up the mood – people just can’t take any more. Stories were shared – such as that of Stephanie Bottrill, who killed herself because she was impacted by the bedroom tax. Messages included that of Leeds ‘hands off our homes’ campaign: ‘keep calm and stay put’. Other areas reactions to the tax were also shared – Leeds have 1700 new arrears cases. Liverpool say that half of those eligible for the tax haven’t paid at all. Scotland say that 2/3 tenants hit haven’t paid the tax. The decision was made to form a steering group to coordinate across the country a(akin to anti-poll-tax demos) There is a planned day of action on the first of June.

Paul voiced concerns about too many connections being made between this and the poll tax campaign. He also reminded the meeting that its important to focus on issues apart from the bedroom tax and to ensure existing contacts/campiagns (ie the Counihan-Sanchez family) aren’t damaged by action.

Decisions:

  1. It was decided that BHA will take action on June 1st. One planned action is a ‘bed-in’ in Wembley Central Square  – more discussion to follow
  2. The ten points signed up to by the summit were passed around the meeting to see if we can sign up. (To be voted on – could someone send these around if they haven’t been already?)

 

  • Report back from Network Stadium

Sujata reported back the visit to Network Stadium went better than expected – a group went to the headquarters with a letter modeled on the heavily criticised Stadium ‘bedroom tax letter’ and this received some coverage in the local press. However there was an additional outcome which wasn’t expected – the Head of Operations came down and had a meeting with Robin and Nic and a further meeting was scheduled for 3pm on Wednesday. Others were invited to attend or send questions along.

The Head of Operations said they had tried to doorknock prior to sending the letter to the Counihan-Sanchez family, and that was an ‘eleventh hour type thing’. However it still isn’t great practice as they should know who their tenants are and if they are likely to be affected. She also shared a breakdown of Stadium’s properties – they have a huge number in Brent . 220 households have been hit by bedroom tax in Brent, and stadium seemed to have a plan to support these tenants and try to mitigate the hit – so far, 10 tenants have been supported to get DHP, and 2 have had their properties re-designated as smaller.

A few issues were bought up:

  • The need to keep an eye on press coverage and monitor and respond to it. Discussion on the need for us to have standard information available and ensure that issues aren’t misquoted.
  • The fact that Stadium staff wouldn’t be pictured in the paper speaking to BHA, and the worry that they may have been trying to pacify us. Important to research issues fully.
  • Why Stadium are willing to meet BHA now – is the pressure is coming from tenants already in arrears?
  • The need to be clear on our demands from Stadium and other landlords – it was noted that this is the point of the open letter.

There was a general discussion about the achievements yesterday and the need to be able to have open discussions that aren’t always adversarial – people don’t go to work for housing associations to try and do bad things to tenants, but are put in that position. We need to be able to praise and criticise landlords.

Two final questions were posed that weren’t really resolved:

  • Do we want to invite reps from the RSLs along to these meetings? (We can’t count on the tenants meetings as being the main way to get in touch with tenants.)
  • Could we agree that other organisations’ materials (ie SWp) shouldn’t feature in photos in the media without the agreement of the meeting? (There was some general agreemen, but also some dissent, and no overall decision was made)

 

  • Report back from Open house strategy meetings

Robin went along to this. 30/40 organisations participated, including housing associations and networks of those resisting eviction, dealing with gentrification, squatters etc. Decisions were made to focus on internal educational resources for campaigning rather than to launch one overall campaign. This is beginning with the establishment principles and processes. There was a discussions about trying to echo these kind of educational workshops here.

  • Report back from Counihan campaign

A letter was sent by the headteacher of QPCS, supporting the Counihans. An organising meeting took place yesterday. Although it’s hoped that eviction isn’t imminent, the planned event next Monday is going ahead, as a party and continuation of the campaign – anything could still happen. The family met with Lawrence Coker – the head of temporary housing – who said that Brent council wont withdraw the notice to quit. Estate agents and would-be-tenants are still visiting the family home. So while there is no immediate threat for it’s still important that people turn up and celebrate and provide support.

Izzy updated us that she is ‘doing what I’m told to do’ – i.e. looking at private rented properties, to ensure they have somewhere to live. However they are still fighting, and appreciate of the support of BHA and CSC. Another meeting with Lawrence Coaker is planned for Thursday 6th June.

Some issues were bought up:

  • The resolution of the family’s housing is the family’s choice – the campaign exists to support the family in where they want to live and not to tell them what to do.
  • There is a bit of a muddle around the legal and the housing advice issues and this needs to be discussed at the next CSC meeting. Crinimal law, for instance, doesn’t address the housing issue but we need to learn from that.
  • Paul is in touch with Shelter to ensure that the family are aware of the full range of options open to them, as there is a worry that Lawrence isn’t being  open about actions they could take
  • Robin also pointed out that when asked why the family aren’t on the social housing register, Coker replied that there was no reason for them to have been removed for having been made ‘intentionally homeless’ – so the family have been reinstated with their points backdated to that point while that practice has now ‘ceased’.

 

–          Multifaith forum

The forum invited us to speak. Robin and Paul went along and spoke to 8-9 people.  It was positive, and while they don’t have the capacity to send people along to meetings etc, they will keep passing on information to others.

Decisions:

–          There was a consensus that there is a need to campaign in quarters where we might not expect support.

–          To put in a request for an equalities impact assessment

 

–          Brent housing councillor

Margaret McLennan –  the new Labour councillor for housing, introduced herself. She was elected in Northwick Park, where there is lots of private rented housing with poor conditions, and is interested in housing due to her position working in the NHS, where she has had several patients that were unable to go home due to poor housing. She has also done some work with Jacky Peacock (BPTG) on fuel poverty and was previously chair of the Private Tenants Forum, which has given her an understanding of issues in the private rented market.

Cllr McLennan a concern about the lack of restrictions and council ‘pull’ with private landlords. She is Interested in looking at landlord licensing and the rights of tenants to a quality standard by tenants; and outlined one idea, of a ‘council-run letting agency’ which landlords would need to achieve a certain level of quality before being allowed to work with.

Margaret said that it was key to support people on benefits and mitigate the impact of changes as much as possible, but also to also give the housing department their due in working hard to try and support people through the crisis. Things, both good and bad, are happening, but need to be publicised better.

Some interesting points: Brent is made up of 24% social housing, (including 1% temporary), 32% private rented housing (which has gone up by 67% over past four years) and 44% owner occupied homes. Margaret has been investigating why Brent has so far decided not to go for a ‘no evictions’ policy – Cllr Butt seems unclear on the reasons for Brent not following other councils.

Points raised:

  • Graham – some positives, i.e. getting rid of bad old councillors and attempts to drive down rents. However, there are still some issues – i.e. Brent’s continued attempts to evict families like the Counihan Sanchezes. Would like to work on some positives together but not prepared to tolerate evictions.
  • Pat – welcomed the Cllr’s comments, but doesn’t feel that councillors locally will be able to express these views publically. (UKIP are the only political party that have said that they would repeal bedroom tax, and despite labour/.tories following them on immigration they wont follow them on this!) However, noted that while Margaret ‘may get issues if you come out against evictions from within the labour party, but you’ll get massive public support’.
  • Sarah – very happy to hear what you’ve said so far, would like to get you to go further. However, noted that historically in Brent, whatever councillors say, the decisions are taken by the officers – and they don’t necessarily back up Councillor decisions. Margaret replied that a lot of the old officers have gone, and there is a current sea change from the officers back to the party.
  • Kierra  – can we get direct figures on everything and a sense of your feeling on the points in the open letter?
  • George – Not satisfied with replies to enquiries to council on voids (they weren’t able to give clear figures)
  • Izzy – why can’t people decide how big their house needs to be? Ie some people are happy for their kids to share while some are paying extra – why not allow individuals to make the choice?

Decisions:

All questions for the Cllr need to be in writing – we will send Margaret a list of the information we would like before the next meeting. From the above points,, this includes (so far):

  • Number of council ‘voids’
  • A confirmation of numbers hit/to be hit by benefit cuts and overall council housing data
  • The councils Brent is aware of who have committed to a ‘no evictions’ policy
  • Brent’s stated reason for not also adopting a ‘no evictions’ policy
  • A map of social housing in the borough by tenure
  • Izzy’s question around under/over occupancy

UPCOMING ACTIONS AGREED:

  • Open letter

Kierra read out the main points of the letter and they were agreed, in addition to suggestions from the meeting, which were:

  • To cut rents so that people don’t get hit by the benefits cap
  • To list the info we want social landlords to give (ie on DHP) as a point

The letter will be recirculated so people can use it from this point, although a final version will be produced that might have more additions.

  • Proposal for petition

Sarah presented the petition and it was agreed to distribute on paper and online, with an added ‘postcode’ column. Sarah will investigate putting on the council website and Change.org

  • Street/estate action

Lucy and Tim are meeting tonight to talk about meeting people in Marley Walk where there is already a residents association. BHA will attend/support when this is scheduled.

BHA are meeting to go around Chalkhill  – meet Wembley 12pm at the front of Asda/town hall bus stop on Sunday 26th May, with the petition and flyers

BHA will also take action/s on the first of June –  one will be Wembley central square at midday, with a stall etc.

Kierra will make a list of estates so we can divide them up.

  • QPCS/schools

In terms of people having an understanding about how cuts are affecting communities it would be good if we could get case studies and support.  Jean (fightback) will send out leaflets to all teachers and schools.

Robin will try to meet with the school (with Izzy and Sandra?)

  • Proposal for banner

Sarah suggests we get a banner made. CSC banner cost £107, or we could get a 6ft by 2ft for about £50.  Kierra & Sujata will create a design and get quotes for some different sizes (ie 2 smaller ones) and banners made of mesh for easy carrying.

  • Gladstonebury/training/Barefoot lawyer conversation/Deputation to the council

Moved to next agenda, before which Pat will get details of the Housing Scrutiny Committee and others will look at the Councillors against the Cuts group.

  • Elections of secretary and treasurer

Kierra is taking the position of secretary until that can be voted on properly.

AOB:

  • Will have a draft agenda before meeting (send points to discuss or updates to Kierra)
  • All those present will be added to the mailing list/Google group
  • Limit updates time to a few meeting
  • Robin has a proposal to adopt a plan to help residents set up TRAs – this will be presented for a vote at the next meeting.

 

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