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Organising tenants in temporary housing to improve life for families in Newham

Author: Dan Barron, Housing Organiser, PEACH

The People’s Empowerment Alliance for Custom House (PEACH) is a grassroots community organisation in Newham. We take a community organising approach to our work, which means we make change by building the power of the community to make or influence the decisions which affect us.

PEACH was set up through the Big Lottery Fund’s Big Local scheme five years ago. At our Founding Assembly, local people voted on their four key areas for PEACH to work on: Jobs & Education, Housing & Regeneration, Safety and Health. 

In the past five years we have made a big difference locally. We have organised at schools to run parents education workshops, set up a workers co-operative to provide living wage work, set up a community land trust as well as campaigned for and won well over £1million worth of investment into local estates suffering from disrepair and damp. We have also organised with lots of families in temporary housing in the area. Trust for London has agreed to fund the expansion of this project to go Newham-wide in the coming three years.

Beginning in 2015, PEACH has used community organising to help set up the Mears Cats, a group which has become a strong voice for temporary tenants in Newham. This group represents hundreds of local families living in temporary accommodation in Custom House’s regeneration area, managed by Mears, one of a number of temporary accommodation landlords in Newham. Families in these properties have consistently complained of disrepair, much higher rents than their neighbours with Council tenancies, and a terrible service.

Samantha has been living in a property here for over five years and is fed up

“We get treated like animals. We get rashes because of the mould. We get told we’re in rent arrears, some of us have had to take out loans, but still, nothing gets done. Enough is enough, we want Mears out of our lives!”

Samantha, temporary housing tenant

In August 2018, a coach-load of PEACH’s Mears Cats travelled to the offices of Mears Housing Management to call on Newham Council to end the contract with the company. The Mears Cats have taken action before, but this time there was a big difference.  On a rainy Thursday morning, the families were joined by the newly elected Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz and her Cabinet member for Housing, Cllr John Gray.

Mayor Fiaz was previously a ward Councillor in Custom House, and has supported the Mears Cats for a number of years. She attended the action to show her support. 

“I’ve come down here to demonstrate my solidarity and support to the efforts they have been undertaking for the past few years. These are residents, children and families that are living in properties that are really not fit for purpose.”

Rokhsana Fiaz, Mayor of Newham

Mears has been the focus of discontent on this estate for years, and while residents have fought for improvements, the problems persist. But the problems cannot be put down to one temporary housing provider. The housing system itself is broken to the point where temporary housing is now anything but temporary. Funding from Trust for London will allow PEACH to expand our work on temporary housing, so we can focus on the bigger picture as well as tackling those who, in tenants’ view, profit unfairly from those in temporary housing.

Ivorine, another temporary tenant sums up why this work is so important:

“In these properties ... they just collect the money and leave it in [disrepair] because they think ... you have no say .... We all come together as residents with PEACH behind us to make a stand”

Ivorine, temporary housing tenant

Following media coverage of the issue Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz committed to BBC London that Newham will not be offering Mears any further properties and are reviewing the current situation. We hope that this success can be a springboard to change temporary housing in the borough for the better, across all providers.