L&Q Media Centre put spin on Silwood Under 5’s Playgroup

Meeting between community steering group members and L&Q staff, in which staff asked not to be filmed or photographed

Meeting between community steering group members and L&Q staff, chaired by Southwark Councillor Anood Al-Samerai (left). L&Q staff asked not to be filmed or photographed.

Major “Registered Social Landlord” of Silwood Estate (SE16), London & Quadrant’s ‘Media Centre’ have published a report on the re-launch of the Silwood Estate Under 5s playgroup, which omits many aspects of the story that we considered crucial to our report last week. L&Q’s alternative report portrays the company as having played a large part in saving the playgroup, neglecting to mention the eight month battle Silwood residents faced to secure the £11,500 of funding they have finally received, which is a one-off grant not expected to be renewed next year. Nor do L&Q mention that many believe the funding, and far more money, belong rightfully to the community, who were promised the Lewington Centre to replace their previous community building as a condition of the estates redevelopment, which began in the early 2000s.

At a meeting between L&Q staff and community steering group members last week, L&Q’s long-standing obligation to hand the building over to the community was reiterated by Southwark Councillor and leader of the Southwark Liberal Democrat group Anood Al-Samerai – who reminded those present that the centre should ultimately be run by a committee comprising predominantly local people working with a minority of L&Q representatives. Alarmingly, this was met with apparent confusion from L&Q staff, who, under their Section 106 obligations, are supposed to have been working towards this goal since the centre opened in 2009, if not before.

Among a slew of now-broken promises, Silwood residents were led to believe they would have at least priority access to the building, which in actuality was made unviable as a venue for many community events by apartments being built above the main hall. Large parts of the building are also regularly leased to a local college, making them unavailable to the community. As we reported, and L&Q failed to mention, money collected from the Lewington Centre flats each week was meant to be set aside for the community, to make up for the restrictions they impose on using the building. By the same logic, profit made on renting the space should be shared with the community, who are, after all, supposed to manage the building.

Instead of mentioning these things, L&Q appear to be trying to use the re-launch of the playgroup to promote themselves. They boast that, “Children and families in and around the Silwood Estate, Southwark, are celebrating the re-launch of their local playgroup thanks to the work of the Silwood Community Steering Group and an £11,500 grant from L&Q housing association.” They go on to describe themselves in favourable terms, as, “One of the largest housing associations in the capital,” owning “70,000 homes across London and the South East as well as being a leading residential developer of new and affordable homes.” The PR department seem oblivious to the fact that, given London property prices, £11,500 for a company that owns 70,000 houses doesn’t come across as an especially generous sum.

Karen Westbrook, Resident Services Manager for L&Q, concludes the ‘Media Centre’ article, saying, “Helping the Silwood Community Steering Group to re-launch a playgroup service was a great opportunity for us to step in and support the nearby community and L&Q residents of the Silwood estate.” This is an interesting take on what many would consider to be a story of community disempowerment, in which a resource has been effectively taken away from residents and then reluctantly lent back to them by L&Q after a long campaign and apparently in exchange for undeserved good PR.

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Silwood Estate community centre playgroup reopens

IMG_2465

The Silwood Estate Under 5s playgroup reopened today, eight months after it closed. The playgroup, which is held in the purpose-built Lewington Community Centre on the Silwood Estate in Rotherhithe, was shut down in November when Lewisham Council withdrew funding. Since then a number of community members have been fighting to save the playgroup and have finally secured £11,500 towards wages from London and Quadrant (L&Q), who own the building.

Although the playgroup reopening is extremely good news, securing the funding is a small victory for the Silwood Estate community in what is likely to be an ongoing battle with L&Q. Residents have been struggling to stake their claim on the Lewington building, and the profit it generates, since it opened five years ago. Before 2006 (when construction work began), L&Q said they would replace an existing, community managed building with a better, purpose built community centre in order to incentivise local support for their proposed redevelopment of the estate. Consequently, the Lewington Centre was built under a section 106 planning gain agreement, which gives a developer favourable terms (in this case free land) but stipulates that they must compensates the community in return.

Despite promises from L&Q, the community have struggled with both the suitability of the Lewington Centre and accessing the space – which is controlled by an L&Q manager, not the local community.

To start with, Tower Homes, the commercial wing of L&Q, built “affordable” flats for “key workers” (e.g. nurses, teachers, police officers) on top of the centre, making the building unsuitable for evening social events, even after expensive sound-proofing work. To soften this blow, Tower Homes promised tenants that £25 would be collected from each flat each week to put towards community activities. When this money didn’t materialise, L&Q claimed they had put it aside, ring-fenced for community development, before forgetting about it.

L&Q have also made the building largely inaccessible to residents by renting almost the entire centre to the Bede Education Trust, a subsidiary of Morley College, and have not donated the money from this to the community either. L&Q’s accounts suggest that they are making a yearly profit of between £30,000 and £60,000 from the building. When this is considered, securing space and funding for the playgroup seems like little more than prising a single finger loose from the vice-like grip L&Q have on the centre and its profits.

Silwood’s residents are delighted to have a place to go with their children again, which is outside their homes and provides an opportunity to meet other parents. But many still hope that L&Q will go further towards honouring the spirit of their original promise, to provide a better replacement for a centre that was entirely community run, and from which only the community profited.

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L&Q, the Lewington Centre & community dis-empowerment

Back in 1999-2006 residents of the Silwood Estate, Rotherhithe, were repeatedly promised by Lewisham Council and London & Quadrant (L&Q) that when the estate was “regenerated” their existing and community managed community centre and other facilities would be replaced with a better, purpose built, community centre- later called the Lewington Centre.

The Lewington Centre was built under a section 106 planning gain agreement whereby a developer who is given very favourable terms ( in this case free land ) “compensates” the community. This was already a form of double dipping as Section 106 implies the community is getting something new- not replacing what they have lost.

About 4 years ago, the Lewington Centre opened. From the outset the building was clearly not fit for purpose. The “owner” Tower Homes ( the commercial wing of London & Quadrant ) had insisted on building “affordable” flats for “key workers” (e,g, nurses, teachers) on top of the centre. Which, even after expensive re-working of the acoustics and sound proofing, still make the hall unusable for evening social events. Many key workers work night shifts too. Tower Homes sweetened the greedy inclusion of 25 flats by promising tenants that £25.00 per flat per week would go towards funding the community activities.

This has not happened. Under the Section 106 agreement L&Q must submit publicly available full accounts for the centre every September- they have not done this and we have only been able to access them via a Freedom of Information request. Three years ago L&Q’s own accounts were showing the Lewington Centre was generating a carry forward profit of £120,000. A few years back at what turned out to be the last Community Forum convened by L&Q  Paul Nehra, L&Q’s “Community Investment Manager” promised that the money was ring fenced for investment into the centre.

When pushed on why this never happened L&Q claimed though they did collect the £25 p.w. from their hard pressed tenants they “forgot” to pass it on it to the community. Now the profit has “disappeared” completely.

Take a look at the attached files to compare the ‘delayed’ Income and Expenditure accounts. (2008-9 to 2011-12 is the most recent one we received after the Freedom of Information request, pretty different from one another.)

Accounts September 2009

Accounts 2008-9 to 2011-12

Christine Oettinger, chair of PACT (Parents and Children Together), says:

”L&Q needs to explain where the profit is coming from. Because in regards to the community centre alone, the profit from only the residential flats (which is 25 flats above this building) are meant to be used for the running and management of the centre. The building was put together only four years ago. How could it be that within a short period of time the financial model has failed? There is no translucency between how the money  is spent and where the money is going. The Community Centre is supposed to be self – sufficient The financial model explains that the income generated from the residential units is to fund the running of the community areas a 100%. Plus – Surplus. So: where has the money gone and how is the money being spent? And: where is the surplus? In some of the agreements that L&Q agreed to, when they accepted the [Section 106] funds, they were there for the community to provide the facilities, to provide a place for children, to provide a place for vulnerable families to go to. That’s not exactly what’s happening now.”

One of the services was a playgroup for parents to bring their under 5s. As opposed to  sitting at home this was the place to go take their kids and meet other people .

SILWplayground

However, the playgroup for under 5s has now closed, because suddenly Lewisham Council were going to stop funding the workers. The playgroup was there before the regeneration and it was used by people of the community. It is something that has always been funded by Lewisham Council. Residents feel it was just another thing being taken away from them.

Doreen Dower, Secretary of the local Tenants and Residents Association, who is already involved for a long time knows the reason for this:

‘When you have regeneration, the community dies. It was a 40 year old community with people coming and going, but it had still people in there from the beginning. But once that’s gone, you kind of just have to start again. And that is the biggest problem. Now we finally got this letter coming in that says: we need a management committee. But there are no volunteers. We’re still trying to get that off the ground with L&Q. They are supposed to be a non-profit organisation, but it doesn’t seem to work this way.’

This is an ongoing problem for the tenants association as well, trying to get people involved, they cannot afford to pay the rent being charged by L&Q for the room that was purpose built to accommodate them.

“There’s no nursery for the community, it’s all gone. All the things we were promised at the beginning, we would have it in one building. But then the goal post kept shifting and in the end, when I wanted to pull it down, they still hadn’t built it. They also pulled everything else down and then we had nothing.”

Allegedly in breach of their Section 106 agreement L&Q has now sub-let almost the entire centre to the Bede Education Trust, a subsidiary of Morley College.

“The college in the Community Centre also takes up a lot of time and a lot of space. It was built as a Community Centre, not as a college. Therefore some of the things the College are doing, doesn’t fit in. They closed off half of the hall.” adds Doreen.

Recently there have been meetings with residents, centre users and L&Q to discuss the problems but this has been pushed along by Southwark council and tenacious individuals like Christine Oettinger. L&Q say there is going to be a revamp on the finances, so the whole Lewington Centre is not necessarily going to close. There is still hope to get the Under5s Playgroup open again as well. But so far the L&Q response has been to drag its feet and, as ever, offer empty promises.

On the Silwood Estate local residents have lost a vital community life through the physical regeneration of the estate. A community that used to run and manage their own facilities has, in Spectacle’s opinion, been systematically dis-empowered.

We wonder how things are at other L&Q run community facilities. Anyone know?

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Richard Southall; Assistant Director, South East Neighbourhood L & Q replies

Residents visiting the building site of their promised Community Centre

Dear Richard Southall,

I am writing on behalf of residents and Lewington Centre users.

Re your letter 20th Sept 2012 distributed to Silwood residents:

1- Was this letter circulated to all Silwood residents? If not why not?

2- Can you outline the process and mechanisms by which you ” regularly consult with residents” ?

3- How did the residents identify the priorities you cite and how many responded?

4- How and when are you going to “make available opportunities for local people to give us their views about our services”?

5- Does the new use of the Lewington Centre comply with the funding agreements between L&Q and Lewisham Council?

6- Does the new use of the Lewington Centre comply with the funding agreements between L&Q and Southwark Council?

7- Please can you forward Lewington Centre business plan and accounts for years 2010/11 and 2011/12

8- The SIlwood Community Centre Business Plan April 09-Aug 09 shows profits of £65,244 ( 08/09) 47,366 (09/10). Where do these profits go?

9- The income from the 25 flats above the Lewington Centre is meant to go towards community use of the centre. Is this the case?

10- When did L&Q agree with BEC re use of the Lewington Centre? Please can we see a contract.

We would appreciate a written response to these questions.

I thank you in advance for your prompt response.

Thanks

Mark

Dear Mr Saunders

Re: The Lewington Centre, 9 Eugenia Road SE16 2RU

I write in response to the issues raised in your email of 7 November 2012 the contents of which are noted.  I have structured my response to address each of the ten separate issues raised.

1.    The letter dated 20 September 2012 was hand delivered to all residents (irrespective of Landlord or tenure) living on the estate.  In addition to this the letter was also delivered to those Southwark homes located in St Helena Road adjacent to the centre.
2.    L&Q undertakes, through an independent market research company monthly resident satisfaction surveys designed to test satisfaction with existing services and opportunities for residents to express their personal priorities.  This information helps to inform our forward strategies.  These randomly selected candidates can number up to 570 surveys each month.
3.    Through the independent surveys described in two above.
4.    In addition to the process previously described we undertake localised surveys at L&Q organised events and projects.  Those engaging in these activities are given an opportunity to complete a feedback form that also asks them to identify their individual priorities.  This information also helps to shape our future strategies.
5.    Lewisham are satisfied with arrangements at the centre.
6.    There are no outstanding financial agreements between L&Q and Southwark in relation to the centre.
7.    These will be made available, on request from London Borough of Lewisham.
8.    All generated income supports the operational upkeep of the centre and on-going service delivery.
9.     As above
10.  BEC have rented space at the centre since October 2011.  It is not appropriate to disclose contractual details to a third party.

I hope the above is of assistance to you and I appreciate your concerns surrounding the running and use of the Lewington Centre, however I can assure you that this centre is run completely in line with our policies and procedures and any agreements we have with third parties.

Kind Regards

Richard Southall

Please leave a comment if you have any remarks, further questions or suggestions regarding this issue.

We have put some of the issues these documents raise to Richard Southall Assistant Director, South East Neighbourhood of London and Quadrant see the following blogs.
Click Silwood Video Group for more blogs
Or visit PlanA our general blog on urbanism, planning and architecture.
See our Silwood Video Group project pages for more information and videos.
Support our work by ordering Silwood related books, maps, dvds and prints from Spectacle’s shop.
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Lewington Community Centre Silwood Estate- Freedom of Information Request

Residents of the Silwood Estate, Rotherhithe, were promised that when the estate was “regenerated” their existing and community managed community centre and other facilities would be replaced with a better purpose community centre- later called the Lewington Centre.

London and Quadrant received grant of £3,334,653.00 of Section 106 money, of which £1,964,728 was to build the community centre- it also included £2,240,000 SRB money to build new flats above the main hall that would provide the community with a constant rent revenue stream of £32,500 p.a. that was to go towards community capacity building.

However since it opened in April 2009 local residents have struggled to get access. The rents are too high for the Tenants and Residents groups to use it for office space. The hall is either inappropriate or unaffordable for most community uses.

Now the “owners” London and Quadrant, without any meaningful consultation with residents, have let out the centre to Bede Educational College and the residents are almost complete excluded. There appears to be no L&Q staff based there.

In order to find out what is going on it has been necessary to make a Freedom of Information request to Lewisham Council see below.

Lewisham Borough Council have now responded, late, to our freedom of information request. Here are details of the original request and their reply:

From: Mark Saunders

2 October 2012

Dear Lewisham Borough Council,

Re Lewington Centre 9 Eugenia Road
Rotherhithe London SE16 2RU

Regarding the Lewington Centre and the flats above please can you
provide the following information and documents:

Documents relating to Section 106 agreements with L&Q

Documents relating to L&Q’s commitments to funding and services
provided for the community centre

Details of any funding from Lewisham council to the centre and the
terms and conditions of this funding.

L&Qs financial reports and business plans for the use of the
Lewington Centre since it was opened.

Yours faithfully,

Mark Saunders
c/o
Spectacle
Studio 25
99-109 Lavender Hill
London
SW11 5QL

From: Foi
Lewisham Borough Council

7 November 2012


Attachment Silwood Update Report September 2009.pdf
423K Download View as HTML

Attachment grant agreement community fac silwood 3b.pdf
682K Download View as HTML

Attachment grant agreement phase3b.pdf
744K Download View as HTML

Attachment community fac 3b silwood estate.pdf
2.1M Download View as HTML

Attachment Lewington centre Buiness plan Update 300909.xls
37K Download View as HTML


Dear Mr Saunders

Re: Freedom of Information Act 2000
Reference No: 197880

Thank you for your recent request. We apologise for the delay responding.
We enclose the following information.

Regarding the Lewington Centre and the flats above please can you provide
the following information and documents:

Documents relating to Section 106 agreements with L&Q
Section 106 Agreements once signed are public documents and can be viewed
either at the Council offices or via the Council’s website.
Below is a link to the Section 106 Agreement we believe you are interested
in. That agreement relates to Silwood Phase I and was signed on the 23
October 2001.

[1]http://acolnet.lewisham.gov.uk/ACOLLATED…

Documents relating to L&Q’s commitments to funding and services provided
for the community centre
Please see attached report.

Details of any funding from Lewisham council to the centre and the terms
and conditions of this funding.
Please see attached.

L&Qs financial reports and business plans for the use of the Lewington
Centre since it was opened.
Please see attached report.

We hope you find this information helpful.

You have a right of appeal against this response. If you wish to appeal
you must do so in writing to the Corporate Information Manager at the
following address:
Corporate Information Team
London Borough of Lewisham
1^st Flr, Town Hall Chambers,
London, SE6 4RY
or
[2][email address]

Yours sincerely

Maria Kaminski
Corporate Information Team
Tel: 020 8314 6848

We have put some of the issues these documents raise to Richard Southall Assistant Director, South East Neighbourhood of London and Quadrant see the following blogs.
Click Silwood Video Group for more blogs
Or visit PlanA our general blog on urbanism, planning and architecture.
See our Silwood Video Group project pages for more information and videos.
Support our work by ordering Silwood related books, maps, dvds and prints from Spectacle’s shop.
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Lewington Centre Funding

Dear Lewisham Borough Council,

Re Lewington Centre 9 Eugenia Road
Rotherhithe London SE16 2RU

Regarding the Lewington Centre and the flats above please can you
provide the following information and documents:

Documents relating to Section 106 agreements with L&Q

Documents relating to L&Q’s commitments to funding and services
provided for the community centre

Details of any funding from Lewisham council to the centre and the
terms and conditions of this funding.

L&Qs financial reports and business plans for the use of the
Lewington Centre since it was opened.

Yours faithfully,

Mark Saunders
c/o
Spectacle
Studio 25
99-109 Lavender Hill
London
SW11 5QL

Link to this

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Low Cost Housing excluded from new Battersea Power Station Redevlopment

Celebrated local muralist Brian Barnes MBE is appalled that the latest plans for redeveloping Battersea Power Station may go ahead without any provision for low-cost affordable housing for local residents and key workers.

Treasury Holdings UK (THUK) are maintaining that their proposed development would be in deficit to the tune of £313.50 million even before construction began and before there could be any contribution to Section 106 obligations.

Section 106 agreements are binding on developers undertaking a major building project to compensate for the adverse impact that this might have on the area by providing additional benefits in either cash or kind. These might be in the form of affordable housing, educational facilities or new open green spaces, for example.

Barnes suggests that the reason for the deficit lies in the drastic drop in land valuation since the original deal was made and also because the developer’s Internal Rate of Return (IRR), ie profitability margin, has been set at 25%, compared with other developers’ IRR margins of 20%.

Barnes, who is a campaigning member of the Battersea Power Station Community Group, asks: “Why are THUK doing it at all, if it is not financially viable? Theirs is surely an argument to subvert GLA housing policy that requires up to 50% of affordable housing in all large developments.

“It is incredible that a £5 billion redevelopment will all hinge on affordable housing, causing the financial viability to be harmed and for there to be a  £313.50 million deficit, even if no affordable housing is provided.”

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Waiting for Godot: The Silwood Diaries

P5050414.JPG

At this month’s Residents Meeting (5th May), the rolling issue of the Pocket Park was raised. The park (sans grass) has been opened, and then closed, on and off for the last 6 to 12 months, and as it is the only source of outside space provided for young people on the Silwood as part of one of London & Quadrant’s Section 106 contracts, there is rising concern by parents.

‘Health and Safety’ issues were cited as the primary reason by L & Q officials at the meeting, however the nature of these health and safety issues were unable to be clarified when enquiries were made. Silwood Video Group members were told simply that there are ‘more repairs that need to be done to the park. This has been passed back to the contractor. As soon as these repairs are done, the park will be opened.’ It is unlikely that L &Q would be unaware of specific problems (if there were any), and seeing as children climbing over the gates in order to access the park (as they habitually do) presents greater health and safety risks, such an answer has not assuaged the residents’ questions, or annoyance.

Let’s hope that Godot, in the form of the golden key to the Pocket Park, decides to turn up soon…

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Scant evidence for destruction of Battersea Pumping Station

The future of Battersea Pumping Station, located next to the Battersea Power Station, is in serious doubt. If the current planning application to redevelop Battersea Power Station and the surrounding land by REO / Treasury Holdings is accepted without alteration by Wandsworth Council in July, the Grade II listed building would be demolished under assertions by the developers that the scheme would not be economically viable with its continued existence.

However, evidence to support this claim is less than accurate. Neither in the private nor public domain have the developers or Wandsworth Council revealed the percentage split of affordable and luxury housing. Without knowing what percentage of the planned housing developments will be “luxury” or affordable apartments it is not possible for REO, let alone English Heritage, to know how much profit the developers will make, therefore arguments over the economic viability of the scheme are spurious. Assuming the developer calculated the minimum amount of “affordable” flats would be needed the issue is not the economic viability of the scheme but the size of REO/Treasury Holdings profit margin.

REO argue that the Pumping Station should be demolished for the “Community benefit” but what they mean is their profit. It is becoming depressingly common for developers to present their economic interests as a community benefit. In this case what is actually meant is that if the developer does not get its way and make a substantial profit then the scheme will not go ahead and the community will suffer decades more planning blight.

Despite formally submitting their application in November 2009 in which they declared that flattening the pumping station would be critical, in February the only definitive number of houses of the 3856 dwellings of the master plan given any ‘status’ whatsoever are the 245 build-to-let houses – classified as non-affordable. As recent as March this year, in a Q & A session with the Planning Director Jeremy Castle, the percentage of affordable housing against non-affordable had still yet to be decided.

English Heritage, an organisation whose official remit is to promote and protect Britain’s historical environment, have effectively given their blessing to REO by deferring any decision-making responsibility to the Local Planning Authority.

In a letter to the Local Planning Authority, Nick Collins stated that although the proposed plans “risk causing harm to the setting”, the decision ultimately rests on assessing whether or not the ‘substantial community benefit’ (community benefit in this case being  private gain) outweighs the loss of the building and whether or not the building could be bought up by another party and reused (you can see the new legislation PPS5 here).

Under this new legislation the council must establish no other organisations are interested in buying the building or that no alternative community use can be found. Battersea Power Station Community Group has registered its interest and is supported by  a number of  local and special interest groups.

The Victorian Society is one of a number of expert groups who are against demolishing  the Pumping Station, yet they have been ignored (see the interview with Alex Baldwin from The Victorian Society here).

Jeremy Castle plans to reveal the official percentage of affordable housing on June 15th – less than a month before Wandsworth Council make their final decision on the application. Aside from the absurdity of demanding a 150 year-old building be torn down because ‘it might be handy’, the relinquishing of accountability by organisations like English Heritage  demonstrates an alarming and depressing deference to private business when they are funded to enforce and support preservation.

The exhausting planning process and massive application documentation helps developers like REO / Treasury Holdings to wear down any resistance and bury the fact that they intend to destroy historically and culturally significant sites without open discussion. As English Heritage have in recent years funded the restoration of Cross Ness Pumping Station, their dereliction of duty and unfounded support for the vandalism of Battersea Pumping Station is curious.

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Sufficient affordable housing in Battersea Power Station plans?

The comments below are from Chelsea Bridge Wharf resident Mike O’Driscoll, who is one of a  significant number of residents to have lodged formal objections against the Battersea Power Station plans.

The issues mentioned in your post concerning formal objections by residents of Chelsea Bridge Wharf to the current development plans for Battersea Power Station are worrying for residents but what is more worrying for the area, and for London as a whole, is that Wandsworth Council and the developers are clearly trying to fudge the issue of how much affordable housing would be included in the development. When so many people cannot afford a home it would be obscene for this development to go ahead without insisting on 50% of homes being affordable.

The Council is however refusing to say how many affordable homes would be included and claims that it is unable to say how many there would be because it is not clear what the demand is! I suggest you write to Mr Bob Leuty at Wandsworth Council (planningapplications@wandsworth.gov.uk) and make it clear that you do not support any development unless it includes 50% affordable housing. You can also contact your Wandsworth Councillor, or your local MP, and ask them what their view is on this before deciding how to vote.

If we allow this development to continue without clarification on the issue of affordable housing then we are simply allowing the developers to make themselves even richer and making this area even less diverse socially.

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