Call for Union

Call for Union

Thu 11 Jan

Tenants of Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Managment Organisation are mobilising themselves to defend their position [see The NonSpeak of Grenfell]. More widely, social housing tenants need to to campaign for more democratic and greener social housing. 

Over the last few decades social housing has been consistently undermined with incremental rent rises to market level for people on working-class incomes. Housing Associations can and do charge 80% market rent for new tenants.

As tenants, we are constantly under attack and although there are activist housing platforms and Defend Council Housing, there is no organisation working on behalf of tenants from housing associations, housing cooperatives or local councils. Housing Association managers dominate the debate. But they often support the rise to market-level rents.

Our basic remit needs to be in defence of social housing. For instance, the plan to end lifetime tenancies and to bring in market-level rents for households with a combined income of £30,000 out of London and £40,000 in London. This policy will hit a huge proportion of households just above poverty wages. Crucially, the end of lifetime tenancies is the end of social housing as a time-limited tenancy ends security.

Social housing tenants are the biggest group in London - larger than renters or property owners - but nobody is fighting our corner. This is probably why we are getting treated so badly.

We also need to confront the propaganda that the public purse subsidises council housing. Actually council house tenants are net contributors to the country’s finances, and this is set to increase. The market rent of people in social housing is paying off the deficit. So people on average or below average wages will be paying the Exchequer to pay off the bankers. This does not get mentioned in the Press.

Finally, we also need to set out a practical, positive vision because at the moment we are being defined by a ghetto / market state narrative, rather than one based on solidarity, community, self-help, “commoning”, and green living.

The word “commoning” describes people living in close connection to the commons as established in Magna Carta. In the 21st century, the word has become a verb because living and housing are activities, not just ideas or material resources. The act of commoning draws on a network of relationships made under the expectation that we will each take care of one another and with a shared understanding that some things belong to all of us. The practice of commoning demonstrates a shift in thinking from the prevailing ethic of “You’re on your own” to “We’re in this together.” We need to move away from the ownership stance to the communal stance.

We need more of a commoning approach to social housing, more collective efforts to green our houses, and we need housing that is run for the community’s benefit. Also we think it is good politics to take a stance on something that affects us personally – a society or association formed by people with a common interest or purpose, hence the proposed union.

If we don’t take a stand now, it will be the end of social housing.

Article by a loose conglomeration of social-housing tenants

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