Talking Heads: The riots

Social landlords like to think they put tenants at the heart of everything they do, but is this really the case? 24housing puts that theory to the test by giving the tenants the chance to interview their chief executives on the issues that matter to them. In a Talking Heads special, sponsored by TPAS, Odu-Dua Housing Association tenant Nataline Kurubo (left) talks to chief executive Lara Oyedele about the recent riots that struck at the heart of their community and the reasons behind the violence.

Odu-Dua Housing Association was set up in 1985 by members of Camden Black Parents and Teachers Association and now manages properties across Camden, Barnet, Brent and Hillingdon.

Nataline Kurubo has been an active tenant for 16 years and lives with her six children. She is a member of the tenants’ steering group and safer neighbourhood panel and works voluntarily in her community.

Lara Oyedele has been the Chief Executive since 2006 and is also the chair of BMENational, the umbrella organisation for 65 BME housing providers in England.

NATALINE: The riots scared a lot of tenants and continue to do so with many fearing a repeat of the troubles. Do you think Odu-Dua offered enough advice and reassurance to customers?

LARA: We are very lucky in the sense that the areas where the majority of Odu-Dua’s properties are located were spared the violence of the recent riots. However, prior to the troubles we were already working with the local authority and Safer Neighbourhood Teams to address anti-social behaviour linked to possible gang or drug related activity. I am conscious of the demographics of our tenants’ households where we have a concentration of teenagers and young adults and the social issues associated with that age group. In retrospect I confess that we could probably have done more to reassure our tenants during the riots. We were probably rather complacent because there was no obvious violence near our properties. However, as a resident of Tottenham myself, I am fully aware of how nervous and scared the riots made everyone feel.

NATALINE: I think the riots have provided an opportunity to fundamentally rebuild communities, enhance citizenship and engage with more young people. Odu-Dua is in a prime position to do this so what steps are you taking to ensure this happens?

LARA: I am flattered that Nataline thinks Odu-Dua is in a prime position to rebuild communities. I would contend that because of our (small) size we are in a better position to engage young people more effectively than we could rebuild communities by ourselves. I agree that we can make our mark as a significant partner. We continue to work with Youth Workers and Community organisations to provide football coaching, apprenticeships, mentoring programmes, art projects and work experience opportunities, all aimed at young people. We also make concerted efforts to encourage younger residents to attend and participate in tenant meetings. It is important to keep young people engaged. I am convinced that lack of involvement and opportunity for young people was one of the major reasons for the riots. Odu-Dua will continue to work with the communities around us to provide opportunities and guidance for our younger generations.

NATALINE: I spoke to the family of Mark Duggan and the local community and it is clear there is a high level of mistrust towards the police with youngsters feeling they haven’t got a voice. Could Odu-Dua provide a forum for the police to actively communicate with young people; to discuss issues such as human rights and policing powers and hear complaints?

LARA: This is indeed a very exciting and relevant suggestion. It is certainly something we would enthusiastically investigate further. I have no idea if such forums already exist and would not want to duplicate what is already on offer. However, we would consider partnership with other housing providers, the local authority, the police and, most importantly, the young people themselves to provide something local to where our tenants are.

NATALINE: Regenerating properties will form  a key part of the recovery from the riots. The block of flats where I live has 186 units managed by four different landlords that are soon to come under your sole control. What measures are you going to put in place to handle this transition given there is a varying level of neglect?

LARA: The new arrangements you are referring to relate to the management of communal services only. The individual landlords will still retain responsibility for structure and maintenance of their properties. It is evident that there have been problems in the past with the quality of cleaning, gardening and communal repairs. The proposed Single Management arrangement will mean Odu-Dua will take on the task of providing a unified, high quality service to all tenants, irrespective of their individual landlords.

NATALINE: I have six children and live in a three- bedroom house. Traditionally BME families are large so there are genuine overcrowding problems in Odu-Dua properties. What are you doing to address this?

LARA: I am very much aware of Nataline’s circumstances. Today’s overcrowding within Odu-Dua’s properties is a legacy from our past. We were set up in the 1980s to house young single black men. To meet this need, studios, one and two bedroom properties were produced. Thirty or so years later they are not so young and now have families. Overcrowding is a nationwide problem which we will struggle to address on our own. Four (or more) bedroom properties, especially in the social housing sector are not very common. In my opinion, the current funding regime for building new homes, as well as the changes to benefit levels, will make such large properties even rarer. Odu- Dua has seven three-bedroom houses. These are like gold dust. I don’t see the current tenants opting to move out any time soon.

NATALINE: Domestic violence is an issue that I am particularly keen to see tackled. Last year the leading support organisation in the UK, Solace Women’s Aid, reported that 27 per cent of service users were from BME groups. I think you do a lot of things very well but I don’t think you manage domestic abuse well, especially as a specialist BME organisation. What are your thoughts on this?

LARA: I agree with Nataline that we may not be the best at handling domestic abuse. However, I must say I am not aware of any being reported to us in the last three years or so. We are not set up to provide this kind of specialist and sensitive support. If a situation came to our attention, we would liaise with the police, the local authority and most importantly, defer to specialist agencies such as Women’s Aid, to provide the required expertise, guidance and assistance. However, I do wonder what impact the swathe of cuts to the voluntary sector will have on this specialist sub-sector.

NATALINE: What are your views on social mobility in general and also specifically to Odu-Dua? I appreciate the association is growing and does not have a lot of stock but could you not partner with other BME organisations in say East London (e.g. Shian Housing) to offer options to customers who need to move?

LARA: The lack of social mobility is a significant issue faced by social housing as well as private sector tenants. The exorbitant cost of property, land and the difficulty in getting mortgages means the current housing market is stagnant. This coupled with overcrowding, the drop in new homes being built, the rising cost of living and increased level of unemployment result in a society with limited mobility. With specific regards to Odu-Dua we have informal agreements in place with a number of other small housing associations. We also promote various home swapping schemes and First Steps for hopeful first time buyers.

This article is sponsored by TPAS and reproduced courtesy of 24housing magazine.

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