Campaigners challenge housing association’s social cleansing policy

picture credit: @balfronsocial

picture credit: @balfronsocial

Around 20 housing campaigners and local residents marched through Poplar today in protest over housing association Poplar Harca’s business strategy of evicting social tenants and replacing their homes with properties for private sale and ‘affordable’ rent, which of course we know is unaffordable to most.

Tower Hamlets Renters and Action East End organised the demo as Harca prepares to submit a planning application to refurbish and privatise Erno Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower.

If permitted, around £20m will be spent on refurbishing the 1960s block before the majority of its 146 properties are sold off to bankers and investors with no chance of its original and intended residents to return.

Poplar Harca, which the tenants of Balfron Tower voted in to manage the block, claims it can’t afford to refurbish the block and rent properties at social rents. However, if full, Balfron brings in around £1.5m a year in rents, which would be enough to pay the necessary loan off over 20-years. And what has happened to all the rent Poplar Harca took since it began managing Balfron in 2007? According to residents it’s not gone on maintenance.

The wholesale transfer of hundreds of residents on low-incomes out of Balfron to other parts of the borough, London and the country in favour of people who can afford £500,000 to £1m mortgages is social cleansing by any standards.

We call on Poplar Harca to stop this unethical policy and focus on spending its income on properly maintaining its properties and using its surplus income to build homes for social let.

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And it’s not just activists making these demands. The response from people we met today: outside Balfron, in Chrisp Street market and outside Poplar Harca’s offices, suggests people are extremely unhappy with the housing association despite it claiming to have 80% customer satisfaction.

It seems there is a groundswell of anger towards Poplar Harca and its treatment of tenants, so no doubt today’s action was the first of many as housing campaigners and local residents unite to challenge Harca’s unethical policies.

A Tower Hamlets Renters spokesperson said: “People bang on about the architectural importance of Balfron Tower, but frankly its legacy will be more ironic than iconic. Goldfinger designed Balfron to house the East End’s working classes yet the housing association entrusted to manage the estate has kicked them out and selling their homes to bankers and investors.”

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Balfron Tower had 146 1, 2, 3 and 4-bed flats and maisonettes. From 2010 Poplar Harca began moving out existing tenants and paying DotDotDot to replace them with property guardians (to prevent squatters moving in), who pay a reduced rent but can evicted with a few weeks’ notice.

Poplar Harca also struck a deal with Bow Arts which also acts as a property guardian but aimed at artists who need a live/work space and in return for a reduced rent must contribute to the community in some way.

Both of these deals meant Poplar Harca prematurely forced out Balfron’s original tenants while losing huge sums in rent yet it pleads poverty when it comes to refurbishing the block and allowing the original tenants to return.

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Poplar Harca has a history of replacing socially rented properties for affordable rents and homes for private sale.

On the Aberfeldy Estate (page 1 & 9) it replaced 297 units (86 bought through Right-to-Buy and 211 socially let) with 170 at affordable rents (55-to-65% of market rates), 20 at intermediate rents (80% of market rates) and 986 properties for private sale.

On Phase 2 of the Leopold Estate (see page 3 – Estate Renewal) Poplar Harca demolished 152 residential units (17 privately owned through RTB and 135 socially let) and replaced them with 367 properties: 19 at social rents, 52 at affordable rents (50-to-65% of market rates), 36 for shared ownership and 256 for private sale.

So it’s only too clear where Poplar Harca’s loyalties lie, but I think it’s about to become clear how its residents feel.

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