The founder of PCHA in 2015: “A compliant Genesis, which simply conforms to government policy, will have nothing to offer people in need and will command no respect”

Shortly before Genesis shareholders are to vote on whether to merge with Notting Hill Housing, details have surfaced of a speech made in 2015 by the Rev Ken Bartlett, founder of Paddington Churches Housing Association (which became Genesis) on the 50th anniversary of its founding. (full text below)

We doubt that it pleased the Genesis grandees or those in Notting Hill Housing.

Read it and you will understand what the fight against the merger is all about.

It is about values.

On the one hand you have the values of Kate Davies, Neil Hadden, Elizabeth Froude and the rest of the senior management of both housing associations. The exploitation of, and obvious contempt for residents. The construction of out-of-reach housing for sale or market rent as directed by the government, and self interest allied with a refusal to even think of addressing the housing crisis.

On the other hand you have the values residents are fighting for, as so eloquently espoused by Ken Bartlett. Respect for residents, an honest policy of opposition to government policy when necessary and a profound determination to fight to end the housing crisis.

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Genesis 50th Anniversary.

It started with a group of six people, a grant of £900, and a determination to provide for families in intolerable conditions.  We were campaigners as well as providers. We were a voice for people whose lives were being wrecked. We believed in rented housing as a genuine alternative to ownership.  We tried to provide homes enabling the people needed to service London to live there, without being priced out simply because land prices had risen. The finance we organised made our homes genuinely affordable in perpetuity. We had a shared vision of the city and the kind of country we wanted to live in.

Today we celebrate the phenomenal growth of that tiny enterprise. The £900 has led to stock which if vacant would be worth £36 billion. In its various manifestations, the Genesis Group has been blessed by many able committed people, both staff and volunteers. Their imagination and compassion has transformed lives. The development was almost too successful, revealing the capital potential hidden in derelict houses and property, so that we were gradually priced out of our original areas. Nevertheless, Genesis now has 31,000 homes for rent – an extraordinary achievement.

Bu now, London’ housing crisis has spun out of control. This is the analysis of the right-wing Bow Group:

‘A global super-rich elite, some of them criminal, are snapping up property in Britain, pushing the poor to the edge of the cities. Rampant landlordism is dividing Britain into a nation of housing-haves and have-nots. Tenants are in despair. Many young people will never be able buy their own home”.   (Collinson, Guardian 21 Nov 2015).

A second  report from Habitat for Humanity, on the pan- European housing crisis, records that the London housing crisis is the most acute.

In this context, the announcement that Genesis intended to build no more social housing for rent, was devastating: Polly Toynbee wrote this in the Guardian two weeks ago:

“A third of housing associations plan to build no more affordable homes. Genesis, one of the largest, was founded in the 1960’s as the benign Paddington Churches Housing Association, but will now only be building homes for sale, selling off any vacant property”.  She continued:

“Its Chief Executive says housing those on low incomes ‘won’t be my problem’. (Toynbee, Guardian Nov 10 2015).

This seems to be a rejection of the founding purpose of the Group.

In default of any correction of this report, I have to assume that this is the policy of the Genesis Board. It has since been reinforced by the chief executive saying: “We really think that the affordable rent element has gone….I also happen to believe that this government is not particularly interested in us providing affordable rented accommodation”.

The government indeed confirmed yesterday that it is not interested in providing affordable rented homes. However, but how is that relevant to the policy of Genesis?  Housing associations – and Genesis above all – have a duty to hundreds of thousands of people in London and the south-east who can neither buy nor rent.  A compliant Genesis, which simply conforms to government policy, will have nothing to offer people in need and will command no respect.

But, do we really intend to abandon those in the greatest need? Does the Group actually seek to use the charitable resources, built up by PCHA and the other charities which joined the group, to promote home ownership, for people who are not remotely proper beneficiaries of charitable funds, while ignoring the needs of people on low incomes?

Current government policy abandons people in great housing need. Owner occupation has been falling for years, as income falls. A policy which only promotes ownership helps a minority, but mocks most people with an unachievable aspiration. Genesis should have nothing to do with that dishonest policy. Over 50 years Genesis has told the truth about housing and fought for the interests of people in ‘necessitous circumstances’, often at the expense of its own short-term organisational advantage. What will the Board do now to fight for those people and to ensure that the resources of Genesis are committed to help them?

Ken Bartlett

November 2015.

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