“We’re fed up being fobbed off, says the voice of Islington’s estates”
PETER GRUNER Islington Tribune July 29, 2011
TENANTS’ campaigner Martin Rutherford is fighting next month’s by-election as an independent on the single issue of the removal of the borough’s housing agency Homes for Islington (HfI).
Mr Rutherford, 49, admits to being generally uninterested in politics and doesn’t expect to win St Peter’s ward on August 11. But he is adamant that housing should be managed in-house by the council, rather than by an outside agency.
Mr Rutherford, chairman of Popham estate residents’ association, had to retire from full-time work as a customer services manager due to ill health – a recurrent thrombosis problem.
“I’ve spent so much time arguing with HfI and like a lot of residents I’m fed up with it,” Mr Rutherford said. “They don’t care about tenants and leaseholders and they don’t listen to us.
“We’ve had ongoing battles with them over security gates that don’t work and utility cables which disfigure homes and walkways and make our estate look ugly.
“It’s time to bring housing back into the council’s domain. We want a return to the position where we are able to take our housing matters to elected councillors who have a vested interest in listening to us rather than paid officials who just fob us off.”
Islington’s housing activist Dr Brian Potter, who had planned to stand in the by-election on a similar platform, stood down at the last moment to rally support for Mr Rutherford.
Mr Rutherford added: “We were promised by the new Labour council that we would have a referendum on the future of HfI. All we get are daft questionnaires from the so-called independent housing advisor, which are designed to get the answer the council want.”
Green Party candidate Caroline Allen, a vet at Canonbury Veterinary Practice in Essex Road, is championing “a greener, fairer Islington”.
A question-and-answer session with all candidates is being held at Popham community hall, Popham estate, Angel, at 7pm on Tuesday. Islington Leaseholders’ Association will be hosting a “hustings” in the main council chamber of Islington Town Hall at 7pm on August 10.
We need to deal directly with the organ-grinder… not the monkey
ON the Finsbury estate, where the Decent Homes work was carried out in the early stages of the programme, we have seen a gradual slide back to our tenants’ and residents’ association either having to be on the case 24/7 or having to highlight Homes for Islington (HfI) failings in the local press to get anything like the service we pay for in our rents and service charges.
At present, we have a three to four-year leak in the entrance of one block of flats. It has damaged the ceiling panel (now missing) and floor tiles, which are dangerously slippery when wet.
In April last year, fed up with reporting the problem, we asked for a full report on the leak. Despite periodic requests in writing and in meetings with the most senior HfI Old Street officer, we still haven’t received a response and the problem remains unresolved.
A survey in the same block into reports of damp patches or the smell of damp in flats found that the problem impacted on 10 per cent of residents who had responded to our survey. This was reported to the head of HfI Old Street office in February, but again no action has been taken.
In September last year we found, in our own inspection, that about 60 lights in the communal areas of the estate were not working. Despite being reported to HfI officers, we found the same situation in March. Despite promises of “investigations”, the situation remains unchanged. It is, of course, possible that the Finsbury estate is the only HfI-managed estate in this situation, but unlikely.
There is more of a need for tenants’ and residents’ associations to hold our landlord, the council, to account for the decisions they make. It is better we deal directly with the organ-grinder rather than the monkey – or worse, the monkey becoming the organ-grinder – particularly with security of tenure now intended to be phased out and with the potential for homes to be rented out at almost market rents being on the horizon.
Chair, Finsbury estate Tenants’ and Residents’ Association
JESSIE White asserts that estates are cleaner under HfI (Remember the long waits to get a home repair done, July 15). What wasn’t explained was that since HfI’s inception there have been lots of instances of “double charging”, with estate residents paying twice for services they are entitled to through council tax charges (five free collections per home per year).
Since 2005, tenants have paid approximately £1.5million extra for the privilege of cleaner estates through the new bulk refuse charge. Therefore we’d expect some instances of improvement. It would have been a lot more cost effective if HfI had simply utilised the service we were already paying for, rather than claiming it was a new service and charging us twice.
The costs of running HfI’s “core business” of repairs, to quote its chief executive, Eamon McGoldrick, is astronomical. Examples include £84 to change a light bulb and £1,162 to lay some cheap rubber step tread nosing.
People who go through HfI’s accounts are shocked, particularly in instances where it takes several visits to address repairs and we get charged for each visit. What we can’t claim back is the fortune’s worth of additional costs HfI has tied us to via framework contracts with private companies which charge considerably more than the open market price.
It’s time to disband HfI. It would be great if we could instigate change to a genuinely tenants and residents-led housing service.
Crouch Hill, N4
TWO years ago, during major works managed by HfI, Ilex House tenants and residents asked that it finally repair the windows throughout our block (we had been lobbying for this for four damp years).
Consultants came out with clipboards and said we didn’t need them. We did a proper door-to-door survey and worked out that almost every flat had some problems with windows. We then got an agreement that some would be fixed. In our case it took a flurry of frustrated emails (going up to HfI director level) and nine visits before it was agreed that someone would fix our leaking window, just under a year from the first attempt. I’m not alone in thinking claims that only one in 100 repairs is mismanaged are down to HfI rewriting history via its glossy brochures.
It’s the gritty reality of housing mismanaged by HfI that makes people so determined to demand it is disbanded.
Crouch Hill, N4