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Tenants and supporters protest outside the Southern Housing Office on 2 July 2024. Photo: Southern Housing Action Hastings

Damp, mould and disrepair: Southern Housing tenants stage protest

Southern Housing tenants staged a protest in Hastings on Tuesday, saying they’ve been ‘living in a complete nightmare’. Gabriel Carlyle reports.

The tenants gathered to protest outside the Southern Housing office in the Four Courts in Hastings on Tuesday morning (2 July) to voice their frustrations over ongoing problems with repairs and maintenance of their homes and poor communication and complaints handling.

One tenant, Carol, told the crowd: ‘I had a major flood in my flat. I have COPD, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis amongst many other things. Southern housing not once did they come out to help and if it wasn’t for my daughter I would still be walking on soggy wet carpets. But there’s many other issues as well. You send a repair in, they don’t even answer the phone.’

Tenants demand meeting with CEO

A flier from the protest. Image: Southern Housing Action Hastings

Another tenant, Andrea Cowhig, said: ‘I’m protesting today because first and foremost I would like Paul Hackett, the CEO of Southern Housing, to stand up and have a face to face meeting with tenants. Myself and my Mum were moved to our current property just over five years ago but due to damp, mould and disrepair that has been ignored and mishandled by Southern Housing for that time, we are living in a complete nightmare. On top of that myself and my Mum have disabilities, including my mum has COPD which had been made worse by the damp and mould. Southern Housing as a company needs to make a change and look after their tenants and not just let their homes go into disrepair and leave them to just ruin.’

Grace Lally, a member of Housing Rebellion which has been supporting tenants in their campaign Southern Housing Action, said she was offered an in-person meeting with Paul Hackett but was shocked when he then refused for the meeting to include Southern Housing tenants. ‘What justification is there for making time to meet a housing campaigner but refusing to meet tenants? It smacks of a real disrespect for tenants and a refusal to be accountable to the people directly affected by the completely dysfunctional mess he is presiding over.’

Signs at the protest showed the annual surplus of Southern Housing as well as the current yearly salary of Paul Hackett, which is £287,742.

Image: Southern Housing Action Hastings

‘They tell you to pay for it yourself’

According to Gemma, a tenant in one of the high rise blocks: ‘Bed bugs have been a common problem in all four blocks. You ring Southern Housing, they tell you to pay for it yourself. Why should we? It’s Southern Housing’s responsibility. It’s appalling how we have all been treated and we are paying service charges for what exactly?’

Local councillor Paul Barnett, who also addressed the residents’ protest, said: ‘They should have been sorting the bed bugs block by block. You can’t tackle bed bugs flat by flat. It’s direct action like you’ve taken today that’s going to make them sit up and take notice and I really applaud you all for doing it and we’ve got to do more of it. I’ve been around Hollington with Paul Hackett 2 years ago and he made all sorts of nice noises and promises but it’s got worse since.’

Another tenant Donna said ‘There has to be a level of standard kept. Just because someone is a social housing tenant doesn’t mean they deserve low standard housing. Landlords have a duty of care to their tenants.’

‘No cleaning will be done on this day’

Adding insult to injury, notices went up on the estate on Monday evening, saying that due to the protest ‘there will be no southern staff on site, this means no cleaning will be done on this day’.

Image: Southern Housing Action Hastings

Even scheme managers for blocks housing over 55’s with many vulnerable residents were told not to come onto the estate for the whole day.

Local councillor Phil Scott, who also attended the protest, said that he had urgently contacted Southern Housing, who agreed to remove the notices and reinstate cleaning staff. But for many residents this was just another example of Southern Housing refusing to listen or engage with tenants.

According to Councillor Scott: ‘the problem seems to be that as the organisation gets bigger they lose effective communication with their residents and it’s got worse since Southern Housing took over.’

Tenants are hoping to hear from Paul Hackett about when he is going to meet with them but are already planning to organise further protests if he doesn’t.

The protest finished with chants of ‘we want action’ and ‘we want respect’.

For more on Southern Housing Action, including videos from Tuesday’s protest see here.

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Posted 21:22 Wednesday, Jul 3, 2024 In: Campaigns

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