By Julian Hall
Members of self-reliant, registered housing co-ops of four decades standing are being threatened with eviction by Lambeth's co-operative council.
The process of “shortlife recall” threatens some of Lambeth’s longest-term residents and opponents of the evictions, who include councillors, housing action groups, Lambeth Save Our Services and local residents, say that it seriously threatens the credibility of the council’s collaborative aspirations.
Over the forty year period that the "shortlife" co-ops have operated they have essentially been autonomous, a status punctuated only by a number of abortive attempts by the council to give permanent status to the co-ops. After all this time the label of "shortlife" has become a misnomer, something that the council itself has admitted.
Residents of these communities are now asking why, after being denied permanent status, they are being threatened by evictions, and they claim that a purge is being forced on them.
In the process of "shortlife" recall Lambeth Council is paying out large amounts of money to lawyers, vacant property managers, contractors and auctioneers and misgivings about this state of affairs have come from Lambeth’s own Co-operative Council Commissioners who helped the council set up its co-operative vision.
“I do certainly sympathise with your position” said one Commissioner to a "shortlife" resident, adding, “and view that it would be in the spirit of the 2011 Housing commission report, for Lambeth to work with you more collaboratively.”
Another commissioner told the campaigning group Lambeth United Housing Co-operative: “I think it is important that they [Lambeth Council] understand how to deal with legitimate challenges such as the ones you have raised. If they do not understand how to do this, there will be no hope for the development of a Cooperative Council.”
And, finally, one more Co-op Commissioner who commented before Steve Reed's departure as leader of the council: “Next time I see Steve, I am going to encourage him to get a grip on matters before the project loses its credibility.”
Meanwhile, in previous election leaflets a number of Lambeth’s own ruling group councillors, Cllrs Wellbelove, Haselden and O'Malley, said: “We have reminded colleagues and officers that some of these homes would not be standing if it was not for the work of the people living in them.”
They also remarked that: “It would be senseless as well as expensive to evict people only to have to re-house them again.”
Meanwhile, Lambeth Assembly Member for Lambeth & Southwark, Val Shawcross told some if the residents affected: "This shouldn't be happening."
It seems that even the people who come to buy vacated homes at auction are not impressed by how the properties have reached the market.
"Why don't they just give you tenancies?" one said during an auction viewing.
"It's ridiculous isn't it, after 25-30 years or more?" said another at the same viewing, adding "I'd rather be dealing with Westminster, at least they are honest about being nasty."
"Shortlife" campaigners say they want the chance to continue living along co-operative lines, and the action group Lambeth United Housing Co-op said at a recent council meeting: "We are not asking the council to repair our homes, we want to continue to do this within a co-op - at no cost to the borough - and apply our experience to empty homes."
"Rather than the council funding reserves and services through evictions they should engage with the ‘Super Co-op’ solution that will both guarantee and extend social housing in the borough."
Negotiations between "shortlifers" and the council are ongoing, with residents asking for the legal action against them to stop so that a solution can be reached.