Temporary accommodation tenants in Custom House hold protest against Newham Council amid legal negotiations
PUBLISHED: 12:33 23 May 2019 | UPDATED: 14:39 29 May 2019
Frustrated residents of temporary housing in Custom House have held a protest against Newham Council amid legal negotiations over management of their properties.
Tenants of properties managed by Mears staged a mock trial at Newham Dockside calling on the council to urgently follow through with transferring properties to housing co-operatives, which they say the council had committed to doing by January.
Mears, which manages about 280 properties leased from Newham Council, says it has been "assisting the council with plans for the smooth return of the properties" and remains committed to providing "good quality accommodation and services" in the interim.
At the protest, about 35 adults and children led by tenants group The Mears Cats, who are part of community organisation People's Empowerment Alliance for Custom House (PEACH), demanded a resolution by June 30.
Protester Samantha Napa said tenants - who are unhappy with Mears' management of their properties - have "waited long enough" for the matter to be resolved.
"We keep getting told the delay is (for legal reasons)... but it's something they can just tick off and give us what we need: better housing, better landlords, a better environment for our kids," she said.
Mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz, deputy mayor John Gray - who spoke with tenants at the protest - and council officers will meet with them on May 30 to discuss the situation and provide information on the next steps.
In a statement councillor Gray, who is cabinet member for housing services, said: "I appreciate the desperate situation of the residents living in these properties and apologise for the delay and not keeping them updated.
"We are actively working on a solution, which will allow alternative management of empty properties in Custom House.
"As part of a pilot project, we are currently looking into lease agreements with community housing organisations for a small number of houses.
"We are proceeding with this as quickly as possible but we are looking to provide a new and innovative solution, which is legally complex and requires negotiation with all parties and due diligence to ensure finite public resources are spent wisely."
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The council has long been aware of issues and concerns raised by Mears tenants, whose claims include rising rent, dodgy repairs and failure to address problems such as cockroach infestations.
A Mears tenant of seven years, Margaret Agyapong, said: "We're tired, we just want to have a better life and a better place for our children.
"We don't want to live with this stress. We can't do anything and we're always complaining - we don't want that."
In late 2017, the council voted to establish a taskforce to examine the temporary housing problems.
A Mears spokesman said: "The council informed Mears in late-2018 that it required the properties to be returned to the council so that they could be managed by housing cooperatives.
"Mears has been assisting the council with plans for the smooth return of the properties, but the council has experienced some delays to the future operating models for the management of the properties."
The properties are ear-marked for demolition but, since 2011, have been used to provide much-needed temporary housing.
The Mears spokesman said: "Mears carried out the initial refurbishment of the properties to bring them to a lettable standard and has continued to conduct reactive repairs.
"Due to the age of the buildings, the fabric and main components are coming to the end of their life and are therefore in need of regular repair or replacement.
"We are committed to providing good quality accommodation and services for the residents and work very closely with Newham Council.
"All properties are signed-off by Newham Council before being let on this scheme and we also carry out routine property visits that are audited by Newham.
"Regular contract meetings are held between Mears and Newham where any operational challenges are addressed.
"We look forward to hearing the outcome of the meeting the Mayor has with tenants and hope this includes measures which will provide for the long term future of the Custom House estate."