Leeds Tenants Federation

The Hidden History of Tenants

A short history of the tenants movement

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19th century
Tenants organisations protest against high rents imposed by private landlords. A rent strike in London's East End helps win the Dockers Strike of 1891. Mining and agricultural trade unions campaign around housing issues. Socialist and labour movement groups organise tenant action against high rent and rates and in favour of municipal housing. Private landlords and charitable trusts were the target of tenant action.

1912 - 1915
Tenants organise a wave of rent strikes across the country against high rents. The Labour Party leads the protests in a campaign for public housing.The protests end in the ferocious Glasgow rent strike of 1915 which forces the government for the first time to introduce rent controls for the private sector.

After 1918
Legislation is passed to enable subsidised council house building. New estates are built and tenants associations form immediately, often campaigning against high rents and calling for representation for tenants in housing issues.

1920 - 1930
Tenants associations form city-wide Federations and lobby Councils for representation and involvement in rent setting. A National Tenants Federation is formed. Tenants associations campaign for community facilities and organise community activities.

1934
Leeds tenants federation leads a rent strike against the divisive first rent rebate scheme.

Late 1930s
Unemployed workers' organisations campaign on housing issues, with rent strikes and action against evictions. Private tenants wage a prolonged rent strike in the East End of London against high rents.

1945 - 1946

Over 40,000 families occupy former army camps and empty homes from Yorkshire to the South Coast in a wave of squatting. Squatters groups form federations, calling for more affordable housing. A major council house building programme is launched.

Late 1940s

Tenants associations develop on the new council estates and new towns. National Association of Tenants & Residents formed (NATR) in 1948.

1950s

Glasgow tenants campaign against rent increases and sell-offs. The Association of London Estates is formed in 1957.


1960

Councils plan to raise rents to market levels and introduce rebate schemes. In the London borough of St Pancras, 35 tenants associations join to form the United Tenants Association and 1400 tenants go on rent strike. Evictions led to protests outside the Town Hall in which 50 people were arrested and the Home Secretary banned marches in the area for three months. Other London tenants groups go on rent strike against private "Rachmanite" landlords.

1968/1969

The new Conservative GLC brings in market rents and new tenants federations are set up across London with a United Tenants Action Committee formed. A national demonstration of tenants is held in Trafalgar Square against rent increases. In Tower Hamlets, 2000 tenants lobby the council meeting. By November, 11,000 London households were withholding rent. A demonstration of 3000 tenants outside the Housing Minister's home in Hampstead is held. An Anti-Eviction Committee organises a 700-strong flying squad to act on threats of eviction. In the face of this action, in November 1969, the government passes legislation limiting rent rises.


1968 - 1973

A wave of tenant activity takes place across the country in response to new market rents, with rent strikes and new organisations set up from Exeter to Glasgow. In Liverpool a rent strike lasts six months and wins a small reduction in the rent. The Conservative government passes the 1972 Housing Finance Act with its "fair" rents and rebates, to build on action already taken by local councils. The National Association of Tenants & Residents organises protests against it. Over 80 rent strikes and tenant protests take place across the country. Three Labour councils refuse to implement the act and are surcharged.

1975 - 1976

Estimates of 10,000 to 50,000 organised squatters living in abandoned private and public housing. Housing is a major issue for the "underground press". Housing co-operatives formed. Homeless Persons Act (1977) passed after long campaigns about homelessness.

Late 1970s

The National Tenants Organisations (NTO) is formed along with tenants organisations in Scotland and Wales, federations in the North East and South Wales. Security of tenure for council tenants is included in the Labour Housing Bill. Community workers from Community Development Projects support the development of radical tenants groups. Tenants Charters are negotiated in some areas. Anti-damp campaigns and other tenant protest around high-rise and system-built housing.

1980

Rent strikes in Walsall and Kirklees against large rent increases. A Conservative government brings in the secure tenancy and the Right to Buy. Tenants organisations go into decline and a national march and rally in Wassail draws only 2000 people.

1988

Flood of tenant protests against Tenants Choice legislation. Anti-sell off and anti-Housing Action Trust protests lead to formation of new tenants organisations. Strong tenants federations (e.g. Sandwell and Kirklees) and tenant management organisations (e.g. Belle Isle North in Leeds) developed. Tenants in Walterton & Elgin use the Tenants Choice legislation to prevent Conservative Westminster council from demolishing and privatising their estate.

1989

National Tenants & Residents Federation (NTRF) set up.

1992

Mass tenant rallies against compulsory competitive tendering of housing management.

1997

Tenant demonstrations against Conservative plans to speed up transfers.

1998

Tenants & Residents Organisation of England (TAROE) formed from merger of NTRF and NTO. The new organisation wins a place on a government sounding board.

1999

TAROE links with the trade union-led Defend Council Housing group to campaign against large scale voluntary transfers. It also launches the Daylight Robbery campaign against subsidy claw-back.

2000

Tenant Participation Compacts come into force regulating tenant involvement in council housing. A Housing Inspectorate is set up and acts to ensure compliance with minimum standards of tenant participation across social housing. The numbers of tenants associations rise, although many landlords favour market research methods to consult their "customers". At the same time, the housing transfer programme speeds up under government incentives.

2000 - 2006

Tenants organisations and the trade union-backed Defend Council Housing win some high profile anti-transfer battles. New Labour launches Arms Length Management Organisations as an alternative to transfer. These win the support of many tenants federations but transfers also continue to win tenant backing. By 2006, the amount of housing managed by Registered Social Landlords, including transfer organisations, out-numbers council homes for the first time. Some major tenants federations lose their funding as landlords switch to the less problematic option of involving customers through market research. Regional tenants federations are set up to mirror the government's new regional structure of housing strategy and investment. TAROE begins work on a National Tenants Assembly to unite tenants organisations.

2007 - 2009

Social housing comes under increasing pressure as the supply continues to fall and government housing policy aims to encourage home ownership and asset-based welfare on the back of economic growth. Regeneration programmes adopt gentrification as a strategy to create mixed communities. Half of all social housing grants goes to build low cost home ownership, while housing associations have to cross-subsidise new social rented housing by selling homes on the private market. A report by Prof. John Hills questions the current aims of social housing, while the increased rationing caused by shortage of supply leads to concentrations of poverty on estates. The housing market crash reaffirms the role of social housing as a safety net for home ownership and as a Keynesian supply side subsidy but the attack continues and the inequalities of home ownership go unscrutinised. The Tenants Services Authority is set up as the new regulator for social housing and profit-making companies are allowed to access government grant and become regulated landlords. In keeping with this drive towards greater market involvement, the tenant as consumer becomes central to regulation, and a National Tenants Voice to champion tenant interests is set up.

 
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