Tower Hamlets Watch

Tower Hamlets Homes redefines the word ‘Local’ | June 8, 2010

Chrisp Street Local Housing Office is now officially closed. All 3000 homes which came under the umbrella of this local community housing office in Chrisp Street Market have still not officially been informed of the closure. Officially the Office closed on 27th April 2010, and now the site operates only as a one stop shop. Poplar’s Local Housing office is now no longer in Poplar, but is situated now in Bow at 542 Roman Road

Most Council residents in South Poplar are completly unaware of the closing of their local housing office. None were consulted for their opinion on whether they agreed with the proposed closure, which has now been in the pipeline for some months.

At a Tenants Federation Commitee Meeting earlier this year; Tower Hamlets Homes Board Members, Iain Lawson & Cllr Alex Heslop were dumbfounded to realise that members of the federation knew of the proposals to close Chrisp Street Housing Office at that time and were being pumped for answers by those present regarding consultation.

Jamie Carswell, Director of Strategy and Performance who also attended the Tenants Federation Meeting informed those present that there had been consultation by a resident questionaire that had been sent out.

One member attending asked the basic question of whether residents had been directly asked in the document;

“Would you like to see your local housing office closed?”

, which Jamie replied “No, we had come to that decision by summarising the answers from different questions”. When pushed again on whether any of these questions hinted at the proposed closure, again Jamie replied “No”

When pushed to reveal figures of returned/eligable questionaires, Jamie’s response prompted those present to calculate that at that time there was something like a 2% response from sent out questionaires. Jamie quite rightly hung his head in shame, and could not really face those asking these very simple questions.

To be fair, those present representing ‘Tower Hamlets Homes’ were not expecting this barrage of questions regarding ‘Chrisp Street Housing Office’. The fact is, most members of the meeting were only made aware of the fact that evening in Jan/Feb of this planned closure.

The response from ‘Tower Hamlets’ just recently, from queries regarding what the consultation involved was;

“Our consultation with residents, including through the development of our Customer Access Strategy, told us that it is important to residents that they are able to get in touch with us in person, on the phone and online and have their query dealt with quickly and successfully – these changes have been put in place to deliver that. “

Just as non-descript as Jamie’s answer at the Meeting in Jan/Feb.

I would go so far as to say that Residents had not been consulted in any way whatsoever. To quote that;

“it is important to residents that they are able to get in touch with us in person, on the phone and online and have their query dealt with quickly and successfully”

putting forward this as an official answer as to why you closed our housing offices, is completly out of touch of what what people really feel on the ground.

No worries though because one of the new strategies of our new ‘ALMO’ is that;

“In addition to opening a new office, we have also introduced a new service; guaranteeing residents a home visit from their local Neighbourhood Housing Officer within 10 days. – LBTH Communications Officer

If you take into account that most ‘Neighbourhood Housing Officers’ have on average ‘700 residential addresses’ on their own rounds, then
the maths looks something like this;

10 days X 8 hours = 80 hours (Assuming Officers work 8 hours a day)
80 hours X 60 minutes = 4,800 minutes
4,800 minutes divided by 700 residents = 7 minutes per resident

Thats right; 7 minutes allocated to each resident or around 68 residents per day. This has to include report writing, travelling time between homes, even travelling to and from the office nearly two miles away. I know this is a rather simplistic, over-stated and rather sarcastic version of the whole affair, but still these statistics offer a rather scary scenario. This promise by ‘Tower Hamlets Homes’ is impossible to really guarantee. I would urge readers that this proposed security hinted at within this promise, is entirely unobtainable in what most would deem an emergency. This is what happens when you let a private corporate mind-set conduct the affairs of what is essentially a social public service.

The local housing office system has been replaced by housing surgeries which only operate 2 days a week. Tuesday and Thursday seem to be the favoured day for most estates. This has been in the working by Tower Hamlets Homes since at least January, if not before, and has now been in effect since April 27th, and yet no residents have been made aware of this, in fact sign-posting for this has only been put up today June 7th over a month later;

Signposting to Housing Surgery in Robin Hood GardensNotice that no dates or times are shown for surgeries.

Taking place in what used to be community facilities, but now being taken over by other interested parties in most cases. As in the case of Robin Hood Gardens Training center;
Former Robin Hood Training Center
which used to be a Training Centre provided much needed skills to an already impoverished community, and homework clubs, has been taken over by the ‘Blackwall Reach Regeneration Team’ on Tuesdays and Thursdays (these guys are a whole different story), who have deemed to let THH in on the same days, to run housing surgeries.

The problem’s faced already and reiterated by those tenants who know about the surgeries, are that the computers at these surgeries do not connect to the Tower Hamlets Home network, and more importantly because these venues are already occupied by other organisations, time allocated to each venues computer usage is already a huge bone of contention, creating tension and arguments between teams, within each venue. Other problems already surfacing are that since there is usually only one ‘Neighbourhood Housing Officer’ allocated for each estate, the reality is that as these ‘officers’ already have a huge caseload of work to get on with (estate visits, home visits, anti-social behaviuor notices, evictions, and all manner of other official distractions), then what we’re finding is, is that unnofficially these surgeries are in fact closed, the majority of the time.

Case in point last Thursday 3rd June, THH had a Neighbourhood Action Day, on the St Matthias Estate behind Story House, Cottage Street E14;
Picture showing Marquee Tent on the Grass behind Story House
As you can see from the picture above, not many residents turned up, and was seen as;

“not worth the effort”

by those attending.

Why the low turn-out? Well maybe this had something to do with the fact that this was due to be held with another event on the grass within the Robin Hood Gardens Estate, and was advertised as much the week before. At the last minute for some unexplained reason, the day before, a small number of virtually invisible amount of posters were pasted up hurriedly around the estates changing the venue. Most residents who actually saw the posters got confused, the others only had their originally leaflet to go by and went to the original venue. This one was set up by the team of volunteers at SPLASH & Neighbours In Poplar, who have been looking after the people of Poplar and providing a support structure independently for over 40 years.

The event at Robin Hood went fine with dozens of people attending, face painting, games for kids etc, also attending were the local police force’s ‘Blackwalls Safer Neighbourhoods Team’, dealing with issues surrounding crime and handing out leaflets etc. The Police attending the event were also confused as to why ‘Tower Hamlets Homes – THH’ decided to pull out at the last minute and hold their own disastrous event at a different location down the road.

More to the point as I’ve already pointed out, the ‘THH’ event went on from 12:30 to 4:30, and as most Neighbourhood Housing Officers were present, then again the surgeries had to be closed for that event. Leaving those who knew about the surgeries, and the times, and not understanding that there may have been this ‘Action-Day’ were left again with no access to their services locally.

Residents and employees alike are complaining that the system since the Housing Office closures and centralising them at Roman Road at present is just not working. In fact Residents No:1 complaint so far is

“Why dont you bring back the Local Housing Offices?”

Hundreds of complaints are being dealt with by the ‘resident engagement team’ who are having trouble explaining to resident’s the new system, and how in a perfect world (well, maybe the old system) should actually be working.

Is anybody listening?…..

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