Residents of one of East London's major housing providers, Tower Hamlets Community Housing, have launched a campaign against service charge increases of up to 100%, reports Alistair Cartwright
Last Wednesday, 7 April, saw around 40 residents and supporters gather outside the housing association's HQ on Commercial Road, with banners saying 'Justice for THCH Residents', 'Kill the Service Charge' and – in a reference to THCH's Chief Executive – 'Philip Sullivan Bloodsucker'.
There was visible anger, with speakers denouncing the post-Covid 'gift' of £1000+ bills posted through residents' letterboxes, but also a real sense of a community pulling together. Families and children, young and old, were all out on the street to take a stand.
Police at one point tried to intimidate the residents, citing the pandemic as good reason to clear them off the street. But after retorts that the police were in no position to lecture a group of largely black and brown residents about the risks of Covid, and chants of 'No to Police Harrassment!', they quickly backed down.
Reverend Richard Springer offered solidarity from St George in the East to a majority Bangladeshi community already badly hit by Covid. While a speaker from Queen Mary University drew the parallels with students on rent strike in the neighbouring area.
Service charge hikes have caused exasperation among leaseholders up and down the country, even among relatively well-off flat owners, prompting scrutiny from the likes of the Financial Times. Contractor-developers such as Ballymore have been in the headlines for shoddy new-build flats passed off at high-end prices. In the rush to capitalise on the speculative boom in areas like Battersea's Nine Elms, these companies have cut corners only to be caught out by the Covid crisis of the city centre. It's hard to avoid the suspicion that service charge increases offer an easy source of revenue to make up for the astounding overconfidence of recent years.
This dovetails, of course, with the scandal of still other leaseholders, often less well-off, being asked to find an extra ten, twenty, thirty thousand or more to pay for the removal of dangerous cladding. We should be in no doubt that developers and property managers are in both cases trying to make residents pay for their own negligence and recklessness. And the government has largely gone along with it, having repeatedly failed to offer adequate compensation, let alone force the companies to take responsibility for their mistakes.
The grassroots campaign at THCH is a small but bold step forward because it brings together tenants and leaseholders, showing that tenure in itself matters far less than whether you're part of society's elite or not. Led by working class residents, the campaign shows how a community united can fight back against landlords of all varieties.
Interview with Rafique Ahmed, one of the residents
THCH tenants and leaseholders @justicethch are protesting service charge increases of up to 100%. We spoke to Rafique about how they’re fighting back to drop the increase (1/3) #thchdropthecharges @THCH_Ltd pic.twitter.com/jlPlBdUUQw— Tower Hamlets LRU (@TowerHamletsLRU) April 7, 2021
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Alistair Cartwright is an activist with the Stop the War Coalition and a member of Counterfire.
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