Sunday, January 14, 2007

Roof and stock transfer - two contrasting perspectives

The Jan-Feb issue of Shelter’s magazine Roof carries a couple of interesting and constrasting articles on stock transfer.

Frank Dobson reviews Defend Council Housing’s new "The Case for council housing in 21st Century Britain" (pdf available). He makes a number of arguments against stock transfer. He complains about the very term – “millions of homes and the people in them are looked on as ‘stock’”. I don’t think that is so – but if anyone has a better name for describing tenants of councils becoming tenants of housing associations, answers on a postcard.

Dobson more seriously argues that where council’s have opted for retention, this is because tenants want “democracy” and “whatever their doubts about council landlords, [tenants] want to be able to influence rents, tenancy agreements and management standards”. Do council tenants really have that influence? Do council tenants exercise control through the ballot box? Maybe when about half of all voters were also council tenants. Arguably, ex-council tenants have more influence on housing associations boards where typically one-third of board members are tenants. (Ex-council tenants have even more clout in the tenant-controlled community gateway associations – set-up in Preston and being considered in Braintree and elsewhere. I know I have mentioned these development before but I see them as significant and exciting applications of co-operative principles to social housing.)

Generally housing associations are increasingly focused on responding to their tenants – their customers – with the Housing Corporation and Audit Commission requiring evidence of tenant involvement.

Two academics from Cardiff University, Kevin Morgan and Bob Smith, give a very different perspective on stock transfer from Wales. They see stock transfer and the associate funding for a major improvement programme to be a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a triple dividend – to improve the lot of tenants, create new employment opportunities and enhance the quality of the built environment”.

The recent “yes” votes in Monmouthshire and Rhondda Cynon Taf suggest that tenants want to seize the opportunity. Its now for the new housing associations – created as community housing mutuals - to deliver.

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