The Breakthrough - Taking Over Their Homes

By the middle of 1988 the Council's policies had taken their toll on the estates. One third of the Walterton Estate was empty and blocked up with steel doors. Hermes and Chantry Points were heavily squatted and out of control. The future of the estates looked bleak Residents would need to turn the tables on the Council if they were to have any hope at all of saving their homes.

Unexpectedly the tenants found what they were looking for in a piece of legislation introduced by the Thatcher Government. The 'Tenants' Choice' provision in the 1988 Housing Act was intended to encourage the sale of council housing to private landlords. However, there was a clause which said that prospective buyers had to seek approval from the Housing Corporation and, through a ballot from the tenants.

The Action Group approached Paddington Churches Housing Association (PCHA) for advice and was encouraged, after consultations with the Housing Corporation, to form Walterton and Elgin Community Homes (WECH).

This body could then apply for 'approved landlord' status and claim the right to acquire the estates from Westminster Council in April 1989, when 'Tenants' Choice' came into effect. PCHA agreed to act as WECH's agents in running the estates should WECH succeed. A committee was elected which was controlled by residents and included professionals in housing finance and management.

WECH signed up three quarters of the residents as members and in March 1989 became the first landlord to be approved by the Housing Corporation under 'Tenants' Choice’ and the first to lodge an application to take over Council property.

"When WECH went for Tenants' Choice there was gossip that the then Secretary of State, Nicholas Ridley, said, "This was not supposed to happen!" It was very much a triumph over adversity by ordinary people who wanted to live in decent homes."

Malcolm Levi, PCHA.

Ben Wilson, Director of Operations. PCHA, said:

"PCHA brought experience in running housing, and resources to match WECH's commitment and determination. Our involvement reinforced PCHA's founding ideal of responsibility to local communities. Personally I found it very exciting. It was what I came into housing for."

Dirty Tricks

As soon as it heard of WECH’s plans the Council made every effort to try to stop them. Publicly it claimed it was neutral about WECH and in favour of Tenants' Choice. However, an unpublished investigation by Westminster Council revealed:

"It is clear that there was a difference between the ostensible support offered to 'Residents' Choice' as a Majority Party and Council policy and what, in practice, was a continuation of the war with WEAG/WECH by Councilors assisted by others who were members of the Majority Party (the Conservatives). ---"People holding formal office in, and exercising de facto control of the Council's organisation, appear to have been involved as well as some of their political associates."

 

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Updated January 23, 2011