Resident’s lives ‘reduced to survival.’ Regeneration in Southend?

‘Genesis’ in the dictionary is defined as ‘the origin of something’: But this is not the Genesis we know.  This housing association has the distinction of introducing the ‘beginning of the end of Social Housing’ as we know it.

Sunny Southend,  the second lowest paid city after Hull, a coastal town with some of the worst levels of economic and social deprivation, has been targeted by Genesis, in an attempt to ‘gentrify’ the area.

Genesis took over ‘The Queen’s Estate’ originally built and managed by Springboard Housing Association in the 1980’s.

During the time in which Genesis has ‘managed’ the estate, there has been a systematic decline in maintenance and safety.

Staff are inaccessible; there has been very poor response to requests for repairs (requests having to be made repeatedly); erratic and in some instances misinformation; prevarication and a liberal sprinkling of incompetence.

The tower block on the Queen’s Estate is Elizabeth Tower, a relatively low tower block of 10 stories.  Tower blocks and their tenants have become the ‘demons’ so loved by the media.  But like all tower blocks and estates, there is a thriving mixed community here.

However, over many months, the lives  and the safety of those residing in the tower block had been reduced to ‘survival’.   Genesis, the manager of the block, with consummate ‘buck passing skills’, enabled the invasion of the block by homeless people and drug addicts over a period of about six months.  The addicts had a known contact in the building which meant there was ‘free-flow’ for dealing and a fairly sheltered ‘shooting gallery’ for those in dire need of a fix.

These  visitors reduced the stairwells and landings into ‘public toilet’ facilities and although Genesis maintain that a ‘deep clean’ has now taken place, urine/other bodily fluid stains are clearly visible.

Added to which, people were sleeping on landings/ in corridors.  Given Genesis’ fairly recent inspections regarding ‘Fire Regulations’,  the hazards involved in these ‘sleeping arrangements’ were clear for all to see.  Smoking on the landings, meant there was always a danger of fire breaking out.  Had fire broken out there would have been the issues of trip hazards, perhaps in darkness, over discarded or abandoned bedding and clothing.   So, it is unclear how the fire regulations could have been met in these circumstances.

Food being consumed on the landings and in stairwells encourage vermin (which the Tower Block has a history of) with the danger of Weil’s disease ever present.   Then there was the drugs paraphernalia and people openly using drugs.

Some residents were intimidated by the people involved, which made day to day living stressful.  Working people were disturbed by the ‘free flow’ of unwanted visitors and the ensuing noise – the door entry system was broken,  (in February or March) so there was lots of shouting up to their associates to let them in.

There was too, the issue of residents not able to receive post, shopping, or prescriptions  (the lower floor of the tower block being inhabited by elderly, vulnerable people.)

Genesis argued that, the difficulty with the eviction of  homeless people, lies with the law.  The name of the homeless person has to be known – so you have to ask the person their name before a writ can be served.  Mr. Bumble (Charles Dickens’, Oliver Twist) said ‘the Law is a ass’ (sic).  Was there ever a truer word spoken?  Residents who felt intimated, are very unlikely to approach interlopers.

Genesis is quick to point out that they provided 24 hour security on the block, but only after their hand had been forced, when  the residents contacted the local newspaper.  There was very little regard given to the residents of Elizabeth Tower by Genesis or its employees although a new intercom system for the from door was finally put in and things have improved.

But was there another agenda? Genesis has now designated ‘The Queens’ Estate’ as an ‘opportunity’ site (guess whose opportunity?) in the SCAAP (Southend Central Area Action Plan).

The plan is  to ‘regenerate’ (demolish) the estate, moving people out either temporarily or permanently.

The site is in the centre of Southend and dovetails nicely with the other development that Genesis is involved in. Their current investment is in  52 ‘luxury flats’ and shared ownership units – no mention of social housing at all. The ‘gentrifying’ of this particular area, comes as something of a shock as, the ‘luxury flats’ et al, were once derelict office blocks which had been empty and festering for 15 years: They were inhabited at the time by? You’ve guessed it: homeless people. This site backs directly on to Baxter Avenue which houses the ‘Queens’ Estate’.  So Genesis are making a ‘land grab’ which will make them richer and displace the residents.

Genesis’ poor maintenance of this estate appears to feed directly into their plans to regenerate the area.  It benefits Genesis to have the development demonised within the local and wider community. With the social problems there, it would be beneficial and a ‘good opportunity’ to regenerate;  the implication being that the residents are somehow part of the degeneration.  It would fulfil the media stereotype, so public sympathy would be lost, at which point there would be a clamouring to have us ‘decanted’.

Yet the Queens’  Estate houses a combination of some very vulnerable people, such as sheltered accommodation with about 50 elderly residents – as well as ordinary working people.

And don’t forget the politicians  – or should we  say Government –  who sit back making cuts which worsens the situation for the homeless, drug addicts and those in poverty.

There has been much publicity regarding the pay of corporate directors. Yet when people earning much less, ask for something which would help their mental health/day to day living they are told ‘there is no money’.

Whilst Theresa May announces that there is no magic money tree.  She does not mention the ‘magic sofa’ that the Government has: you know the one, where when they are short of money, they can put their hands down the back of and fish out, (not the 50p or one pound coin that some parents need for dinner money on a weekly basis) but £47 million pounds for a Garden Bridge that did materialise.

As the CEO of Genesis has stated publicly ‘that housing the poor’ is no longer his concern, it is clear to see that residents in social housing are not on his agenda.  But whose agenda are we on?

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