As your local Councillors we are contacted by lots of people who want to raise issues they are concerned about or other problems they have. This can range from broken paving stones to speeding on roads, from bad repairs in Lambeth Housing properties to anti-social behaviour or concerns about policing. Whilst we can’t always change long-standing structural inequalities, we can influence services that the Council delivers. We can also seek to influence the work of the Council’s partner organisations, such as the local health services and the police. Last month we were contacted by a number of local residents about rent rises in a housing association block that had been built for key workers on Brixton Water Lane – a story that also featured in some of the press.
Whilst we regularly work with housing associations about individual operational issues such as repairs, it is often difficult to get traction with them on wider issues such as how they set rents as they are not managed or owned by councils. On the St Martin’s Estate we have been working with the residents association on their campaign against the damp that blights many of the properties – securing an independent audit of the Estate by the Council and the possibility of formal enforcement action should the housing associations there fail to take action. But on Brixton Water Lane, the case was about rent rises for a number of key workers. At the request of Tulse Hill Ward councillors, the Deputy Leader of Lambeth Council and Cabinet member for housing, Cllr Brathwaite, formally took action to demand the housing association explain the reason behind rent rises at such a difficult time for all tenants, but particularly for those key workers who have been delivering frontline services during the coronavirus pandemic.
The housing association recognised the strength of feeling locally and responded to the Council’s formal intervention by pausing the planned rent increases for 3 months whilst they review the circumstances. This gives some breathing space for the tenants affected – but in the absence of greater powers for councils/the Mayor of London over rents there is no guarantee that the increases will not go ahead in the future. Earlier this year Lambeth councillors agreed a Lambeth Living Rent motion calling for the power to establish and enforce local rent controls to be devolved to local councils. This comes on the back of our decision to expand resources dedicated to the private rental sector and a consultation earlier this year on what actions should be taken to improve the standards of properties available – including whether a licensing scheme is an option.
We are extremely grateful for the support of Cllr Brathwaite in taking timely action and has written about this and the broader problems on her blog here.