Housing

'The land is worth more than the people': East London residents unite to fight 'slum landlord'

Tower Hamlets residents say their service charges have gone up by £1000 since the start of the pandemic

Nasima Begum, secretary of Justice for THCH Residents

Residents in east London have united to fight “unaffordable” costs and rising charges imposed by a social housing “slum landlord“.

Gathered outside the office of Tower Hamlets Community Housing (THCH), a housing association and registered charity, leaseholders said their service charges have increased by £1,000 since the start of the pandemic.

Nasima Begum has lived in Tower Hamlets for 30 years. She said the charges have reached the point where she is simply unable to pay.

“Last year I didn’t pay my service charge at all and I’m not the kind of person to not pay. This year I don’t think I will be able to pay again,” she told The Big Issue.

“It actually drains me out. It’s drained the living daylights out of us.”

Residents gathered to share stories and demand a reduction in charges

Anita Khan, chief executive of Tower Hamlets Community Housing, told The Big Issue the increases were “in line with government guidance” and the organisation is working with the community to improve services.

Begum speaks of poor maintenance in her social housing, saying her block is plagued by vermin and flies, and adds that part of her service charge goes towards a concierge – despite her block not having one.

Members of the group, Justice for TCHC Residents, brand the company a “slum landlord”, raising prices but providing fewer services.

“You’d think that now we’re coming out of such a dark tunnel that we would see some light, but no,” Begum added.

“They’ve just shoved us back into the dark again.”

In the shadow of the city’s skyscrapers, Tower Hamlets is a part of London where gentrification goes beyond parmesan fries and small-plate restaurants.

Communities formed over decades now feel they are being split up and pushed out so that lucrative commercial properties can replace their homes.

“Why on earth are they pushing entire families out of Tower Hamlets?” one speaker at the protest, Said Osmani, told The Big Issue.

“Suddenly the land is worth more than the people. It’s ridiculous.”

Muhit Miah grew up in Tower Hamlets, and said his charges have doubled in the past two years.

“Ever since THCH have taken over our estate the service has been appalling,” he said.

“The last couple of years it’s gone up just way beyond our capabilities.”

Passing motorists and pedestrians made their support for the protesters heard

Tower Hamlets is his home, but it is starting to feel unsustainable.

“I’ve grown up in this borough for 35 years, the last thing I want to do is move out,” he said.

“I don’t want to move out, but I’ve seen other boroughs that look after people.”

Anita Khan, chief executive of Tower Hamlets Community Housing, told The Big Issue: “We recognise that some of our residents feel let down, and we’re working with them to understand how we can improve our services.

“Our rents have increased in line with government guidelines and the money we collect is invested back into improving our homes and communities; we do not profit from service charges. We’ve made every effort to limit the increase to service charges, including capping the increase for those who rent their homes.

“We understand it has been a difficult time, especially with the cost of living crisis. We’re encouraging any resident who may struggle to pay their new rent to get in touch so that we can help.”

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