Turn empty properties to homes. Support Co-ops over property guardian companies.
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Let us tell you what happened here.
In Britain there is at least 600,000 empty properties. Imagine that majority of them could be turned into affordable temporary accommodation. And not to for profit big corporations, I am not talking about property guardians. They could be turned into short-life co-ops run by the local community members.
What’s the trick? Landlords will see more value in working with local groups than big corporations. We think the example should come from local authorities first. As Ms Berry said: ‘Councils should look at more creative uses for public buildings. Community and cultural organisations are crying out for short term spaces for their projects, and would happily take care of these buildings at no cost’.(1)
By signing this petition you can support creating a housing co-operative in Purley, Croydon. Twelve people already live in a Croydon Council owned property and they formed ‘Plum Tree Housing Co-operative’. They looked after this property for 4 years and all they ask is for the Croydon Council to stop favouring working with a guardian companies over their own local residents.
Imagine if this project is successful, how many more projects like this can benefit other local communities? Perhaps even your local community!
Especially now, in these unprecedented times we need new measures to meet forthcoming challenges. The society that emerges from the current crisis will need new, alternative ways to achieve recovery. With the economy as we knew it crumbling, the following quote from ‘Bringing Democracy Home’ sounds more relevant than ever. ‘Meeting the challenges of globalisation requires strong local communities, strong local leadership and strong local solutions’(2)
Read the full petition below:
Dear Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London,
We ask you to work with Croydon Council to authorise use of the building at 49 Russell Hill Road directly to the newly created ‘Plum Tree Housing Co-operative’, and allow us to create a short-life co-operative at this address to provide community led affordable housing to it’s members.
Furthermore we ask that the relation between Croydon Council and Watchtower Security Solutions to be seriously and publicly scrutinised.
We do realise there is a restricting covenant attached to this property allowing only temporary use e.g. ‘property guardians’ and we believe short-life coop will be able to provide better services, on much more effective level.
We were happy to learn that ‘The Mayor wants Londoners to have the opportunity to play a leading role in building their own communities’ (3).
Reading the ‘London Community Housing Fund Funding Prospectus’(4) (published by Mayor of London in January 2019), we also found out that the Mayor wants ‘to see council, housing associations, and Londoners themselves playing a much bigger role in building the social rented and other genuinely affordable homes that our city needs. (…) Mayor is particularly interested in supporting community led groups to deliver forms of affordable housing’.
This is exactly what we are trying to achieve but received a surprising amount of push back and lack of cooperation from the Croydon Council.
Residents of this building have occupied this address since November 2016 as Camelot Property Management Ltd. (Camelot) “Guardians”: these are renters who occupy living spaces in disused building managed by guardianship companies, often in sub-standard conditions. Camelot has since been liquidated following it’s guilty plea on 15 offences in Colchester Magistrates Court(5) in March 2019 and has now reopened as Watchtower Security Solutions. The company left the twelve residents of Cabrini House without support or repairs in the unlicensed HMO (6) building for over six months.
‘Property guardianship may have worked well for some people, we now see the evidence piling up that others are being put at considerable risk from unsafe conditions, without the legal rights to protect themselves.’ (7)
Karen Buck MP
With so many empty properties in the UK and London especially, and a high demand for affordable accommodation, the guardship business is booming. According to the Property Guardian Providers Association review from 2019 (8); over 60,000 people applied to become property guardians in one of the 600,000 buildings that lie empty. Property guardianship is advertised as the perfect solution to address both these demands. However with a number of well-documented cases in Bristol (9), Colchester (10) and London (11) it is becoming obvious that guardians often pay a hidden price for the “bargain” spaces. Overcrowding, unheated buildings, lack of fire safety and lack of security are a few of the worst examples.
In 2018 the London Assembly concluded that the relationship between property guardians and the companies controlling their homes is currently unbalanced. (12)
The reality is that guardians often sign a license agreement limiting their rights to even complain about their living conditions. Their choice is to be silent and comply or get evicted.
The usual model of a guardian company is very much profit orientated. But there is a ready alternative model that promotes communities, cooperation, diversity, responsibility and democracy. Housing cooperatives have been functioning in UK since 1861 (13).
‘A cooperative is an enterprise that is jointly-owned and democratically governed by a group of people for the purpose of meeting their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations’. (14)
A special kind of ‘short-life’ co-op can essentially provide the same services as guardian companies but on a completely different level. This already happened in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets where ‘Phoenix Housing’ looked after the empty properties for the council providing short-term affordable accommodation for its members.
The great thing about living in a co-op is that you are your own landlord. This might be a new responsibility but also it means that members are in charge of their living conditions. All the rent goes towards the maintenance of the building and the bills. There is no extra fee added to generate profit. Co-op housing also offers many community benefits including leadership and skills development, long term investment and civic participation. (15)
During the four years the current residents have lived at Cabrini House they have conducted major repairs and improvement works in the house and the land surrounding it. Clearing heavy mold off walls, painting and decorating, installing security lights, reglazing blacked out windows, regularly cutting the grass and clearing the grounds. They have also created an organic edible communal garden.
During those challenging times despite their diverse backgrounds, views and origins the residents have managed to create a supportive, creative and open community. Since forming a co-op they have started reaching out to the local community offering free Spanish Classes on Zoom, promoting food growing though sharing plants from their garden and reaching out to their more vulnerable neighbours.
Plum Tree Co-op would like to promote the idea of setting up short-life co-operatives in temporary empty buildings on a wider scale. This idea should be particularly viable for council owned property. But to do this Plum Tree Co-op needs help to successfully set up the first co-op run property in Purley. They have already gained the support of a number of Croydon councillors, London Assembly Members, their local MP and a members of House of Lords.
Plum Tree Co-op in conjunction with former Camelot guardians in other parts of the country who, following poor performance by the agency, are looking for alternative affordable housing arrangements.
So far at least eight other properties have been identified but so many more people could be seriously affected by this crisis. (16)
Following the above we cannot see why Croydon Council would side with a company with a doubtful reputation over it’s own local residents.
We urge you to use your powers as the Mayor of London to influence Croydon Council to work with Plum Tree Housing Co-operative and to release the building directly to this co-op.
1. Camden council revealed to be second highest user of property guardians
Bringing Democracy Home by The Commission on Co-operative and Mutual Housing
4. ‘London Community Housing Fund’ Funding Prospectus, published by Mayor of London in January 2019. https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/london_chf_prospectus_0.pdf
5. ‘I know it gives a person pause’ by Giles Peaker
7. Exclusive: The hidden housing crisis: Low-income workers are living in unsafe and unsanitary buildings by Vicky Spratt
8. Property Guardian Providers Association review of the year 2019
9. Scandal of Bristol City Council’s empty nursing homes being rented our ‘illegally’’ by Tristan Cork
Police investigate 'modern day slavery' after claims that FORTY Romanian bus drivers were living in a former council care home
10. Property guardian company prosecuted over former care home where more than 30 guardians lived with one kitchen by Vicky Spratt
12. ‘Protecting London’s property guardians’ by London Assembly
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