Housing association tenants in Bow have blasted landlord Circle’s “disturbing” plans to dissolve a community-led board meant to scrutinise the company’s performance and hold its bosses locally to account.
Circle Housing, part of the G15 group of landlords representing London’s largest housing associations, is currently consulting with residents on a merger that would bring together nine of its branches, including Old Ford Housing Association (OFHA), under one roof.
It says the proposals will improve efficiency while maintaining residents’ involvement.
But Old Ford tenants called the move “worrying” and want Circle to hand back control to locals.
Local councillor Marc Francis is even pressuring Tower Hamlets Council to start legal proceedings against Circle for “breaches of promises” to tenants.
In a blog post, Cllr Francis wrote: “Old Ford was born in the late ’90s out of the Housing Action Trust in Bow and in its early years it was one of the best housing associations in Tower Hamlets.
“Technically, it was a subsidiary of Circle 33 Housing Trust, but it had wide-ranging autonomy.
“With residents at the heart of decision-making, it transformed three of the borough’s most neglected estates into fantastic neighbourhoods.”
This success led the Town Hall to sign off a transfer of more council homes to OFHA, with Circle reportedly giving assurances that it would allow Old Ford to continue being run in the same way as before.
Chris Toms, 53, is a former residents’ board member who is now campaigning against Circle’s proposals.
He said: “Old Ford was supposed to be a resident-led, locally controlled body. Circle was meant to be hands-off, but it has broken the promises it made at the start by slowly whittling away at local powers.
“Something’s got to be done. Ideally, we want Circle out of Old Ford completely, but at the very least we want a housing association for Bow as it was meant to be.”
Over 700 people signed a petition, opposing the landlord’s plans, which was submitted to Tower Hamlets’ mayor John Biggs and local MP Rushanara Ali earlier this year. Another recently launched petition will be delivered to Downing Street.
One major complaint for residents concerns Circle’s running of services.
Last year the Homes and Communities Agency downgraded the group for what it described as “exceptionally poor provision of a repairs and maintenance service extending over a long period of time”.
Toms said: “The quality of services has gone down and down. But Circle’s solution is to take more control. I’ve heard of people with repairs that haven’t been done for over a year, and some having nervous breakdowns because they can’t get Circle to do anything.
“We want to go back to what we had before – a locally based, locally controlled housing association for Bow.
“With residents at the forefront, it was easy to grab hold of people and get things done. Now all the housing officers who know the area will be gone.”
Circle’s proposals include having a community panel which will consist of a mix of residents and other interested parties.
According to the landlord, the panel will take on many of the same responsibilities as the Circle Housing Old Ford board and will “ensure that local people continue to have a say”.
But Cllr Francis, who has been helping residents with their campaign, said: “Over the past five years, Circle’s meddling and mismanagement has turned Old Ford from one of the best housing associations in London to one of the worst.
“These latest plans offer tenants even less opportunity to hold Circle to account for its failings.
“Tower Hamlets Council must now initiate legal proceedings against Circle for its breaches of the promises made to Old Ford’s tenants before they transferred.”
Residents will present their original petition at a council meeting on 21 September, with Circle’s formal consultation ending a week later.
A Circle Housing spokesperson said: “We have contacted every resident in Old Ford to ask them what they think of our proposals and will be fully considering the outcome of this consultation before making a final decision.
“Many of the things that matter to our residents will stay the same, such as a local office which will remain in Bow and Havering, and local residents will continue to have a say in the way we are run, our performance and how we invest in the local area.
“Our residents’ views are extremely important to us so encourage as many as possible to send us their feedback.”