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.
Ben Wilson, Director of Operations. PCHA, said:
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 However, an unpublished investigation by Westminster Council revealed: