Councillor Creasy reflects on the differences Green Party Councillors have made to Housing in Central Ward.
27th January 2013
The two (formerly three) Green Councillors in Sheffield represent Central ward which includes two big council estates consisting of tower blocks and maisonettes. From around 2004, when the first of us was elected, these were undergoing Decent Homes work. It rapidly became apparent that the council’s ALMO (Arms Length Management Organisation), Sheffield Homes, was busy putting new kitchens, bathrooms and central heating into properties that didn’t have adequate roofs or walls. We began complaining to officers, then to the board (chaired by one of the Labour administration, of course), then to Cabinet Member for housing. At one point I took a roll of asphalt that had blown off one of the flat roofs and retrieved by an irate tenant, into Full Council, unfurled it and handed it over to the Cabinet Member. All to no avail, as far as the administration was concerned the Labour-funded Decent Homes programme was motherhood and apple pie, tenants were delighted with it, we were stirring up discontent.
What to do? We decided to collect evidence. Over a couple of weekends half a dozen of Green Party members knocked on doors. At first people didn’t want to talk, but when we said, “do you suffer from damp or leaks?” they quickly asked us in, let us take photos of the dripping ceilings, mould and buckets of water. So we documented the problem and found that all but one of the blocks of maisonettes had seive-like rooves. I then took our spread sheets to another meeting of the chair, chief exec and head of investment of Sheffield Homes. And within 6 months, they found the money to re-roof these homes. Getting the walls replaced took longer and that’s an ongoing saga …
More recently, I had a similar problem on a housing estate run by the social housing association, Places for People. I was getting lots of complaints about poor repairs, leaking window frames, draughty doors etc etc. The heads of households were mostly Somali women, some with little English and most finding it very difficult to navigate the repair reporting and complaints system. We organised some public meetings with interpreters and then worked with members of the community (a Christian group, not Green Party members) and young Somali women kicking their heels because they couldn’t find work despite their university degrees, to do a survey. Once again we documented the findings in a spread sheet and with an illustrated report. And then we arranged a meeting where local people presented the findings to the managers of the housing association. Places for People did a survey themselves and were clearly shocked by what they found. I kept up the pressure, phoning and meeting the managers and this year, they have announced that they are spending £400k on double glazing for the worst affected homes on the estate. They have also improved the repairs reporting system. One spin off has been lots of networking within and around the community. And lots of recognition for the Green Councillors. Not long ago, I passed an elderly Somali woman on the pedestrian crossing. I didn’t actually recognise her and she didn’t say anything, just gave me a big smile and thumbs-up sign. I felt happy all day.
Cllr Jillian Creasy