Pat Turnbull, a council tenant transferred to a housing association, explains the experience of regeneration of her estate in Hackney, and the problems it created.
Our New Kingshold estate in Hackney was knocked down and rebuilt in the 1990s. The number of homes was reduced from 800 to 488. While we had been an estate entirely of council tenants and leaseholders, we became an estate with four landlords – three housing associations and the council. The great majority of the new homes were still social rented (unlike those in many of the more recent regenerations), but some were also shared ownership and private sale properties.
My family moved to New Kingshold in 1982. The estate was transferred from the Greater London Council (GLC) to Hackney Council when the government closed down the GLC in 1986. The upkeep of the estate was seen by the council as an expensive nuisance. The estate was system built, which came to be portrayed as a problem – ironic now that Modern Methods of Construction are being widely touted. The design of the estate was good; in fact it won an award. Our maisonette had large rooms and windows all down both sides. But the construction must have left something to be desired; the estate was finished in 1972 but in the 1980s windows were falling out and having to be replaced. Then there was a cockroach infestation which the council seemed to have big difficulties eradicating, although they finally did it, leaving us cockroach free for the last six years or so before our home was demolished. A scurrilous television film of 1990 called Summer on the Estate made big capital out of all this, also focussing on a small number of tenants with big problems rather than the great majority of ordinary working class people doing a job and looking after their homes.
The majority wanted refurbishment
But some tenants were disgruntled so when the council came with its grand plan to include us in the Comprehensive Estates Initiative, part funded by the government, they were welcomed by those with the loudest voices. Demolition not refurbishment was the council’s preferred option; I only found out recently that in a questionnaire to residents, the majority wanted refurbishment, not demolition. The council was also more than happy to transfer its responsibilities to housing associations, and sold its option with persuasive words and leaflets, and by involving tenants in the design of the rebuilt estate. People fed up with the council were easily convinced a housing association landlord would be better. A few people also had their own motivations; some thought they could get rehoused in a Victorian street property, and some did; some thought they would get a better class of neighbour (as they saw it) and were disappointed to find the residents of the new estate much the same as those in the old one. Nobody but me talked about losing our council secure tenancies and being transferred to housing association assured tenancies. Nobody foresaw the difficulties of having four landlords instead of one.
The demolition and reconstruction of the estate took about five years, which seems a very short period compared with the thirty year regenerations which have become the norm throughout London. However, it was still a painful process, especially for the people who did not really want to lose their homes, or who were elderly or ill, and quite a few people had to move more than once. The replacement homes were pokier and darker and proved to have their own construction problems, particularly inadequate sound insulation, and flimsy front doors to the blocks of flats on each street corner. Deprived of the communal walkways, where children played and people stood and chatted, many felt a greater sense of isolation.
We lived on the last section to be demolished. That part of the estate was intended for refurbishment and due to a last minute change of plans – over which we who lived there were not consulted – it was also demolished and rebuilt. In the process money which had already been spent on replacing windows and adding pitched roofs was wasted. There had also been talk of installing individual boilers to each flat, replacing the communal heating system.
Being the last two families to be moved out was an uncanny experience, living in a block whose end had already been chewed off. The worst moment was when I came out of my front door and saw workers in white protective clothing in the process of removing the asbestos from the next door but one maisonette. Due to the design, that maisonette had neighbouring rooms to ours, as well as a common heating system. When I phoned the clerk of works the asbestos removal was – belatedly – halted. The council also wanted us to move temporarily so they could get on with the demolition. In the end we dug our heels in and said no, we would only move when our new housing association home was finished. I will always be grateful to the considerate council employee who finally agreed that we and the other family could stay till then, especially now knowing what a huge experience the move was and thinking what it would have been like to do all that twice in a short space of time – not to mention that the temporary move would have been to a flat far too small for all our stuff.
People had got to know their neighbours on the old estate, and now there were new neighbours and there were many problems and disagreements as a result. It took about ten years for the estate to settle in. The properties belonging to the three housing associations are scattered throughout the estate so you may easily find your near neighbour has a different landlord. The council properties are separate as they were the last to be built.
Our determination to keep together
Our determination to keep together in one tenants’ and residents’ association has made us a stronger voice but increased the amount of work for the officers. At first our housing association landlords met together regularly with tenant representatives but these meetings tailed off and now do not happen. It is often very difficult to get an answer or even find out who is responsible when chasing up tenants’ problems with the housing associations, made harder by personnel changes, reductions in staffing, and difficulties with subcontractors. The council will not recognise us as a tenants’ and residents’ association, citing the housing revenue account as a reason; they communicate with us, however, as a community association, and we still have good relations with council employees and can get things done. Multi landlord estates have been created, but the implications for tenant organisation have not properly been recognised. I can’t help suspecting that the whole idea was to split tenants up, which naturally weakens their ability to stand up for themselves.
We also know that many of the housing association homes that used to be social rented are now let at so-called ‘affordable’ rent – up to 80 per cent of London market rents. We wrote to all the landlords to ask how many but they never replied.
Among our achievements include: getting the flimsy doors to the flats replaced by strong metal ones; getting wheely bins when neither the council nor the housing associations wanted to provide them; getting the council to build the replacement community hall when they did not want to; before the pandemic, getting twice weekly sports activities for children and teenagers in the hall, though we had to apply for funding from a local charity and volunteer to open the hall and help out with the organisation which ran the sessions. We have solved many problems for many tenants despite the difficulties. Maybe our biggest achievement is simply that, until Covid 19 hit us all, we were an active tenants’ and residents’ association which had met regularly for over twenty years.