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Feb 2005    
Radical new Housing policies  from the Fabian Society.
In recent years, council housing has disappeared from large areas of the country.  Council
after council has transferred its housing stock either to housing associations or arms length
management organisations (ALMOs).  At the moment, all the transfers are voluntary.  In his
recent Fabian pamphlet, “Transfer of Affections; housing policy in Labour’s third
term” housing policy expert, Jeff Zitron of HACAS Chapman Hendy argues that the next 
Labour government should end council housing completely by compelling all local authorities 
to transfer their remaining housing stock to third sector landlords.  He also argues for better 
regulation of the new independent sector to give greater power to the tenants.  Co-operative 
schemes like the Community Gateway Model are mentioned as possible role models.  
Why transfer at all?  On taking office the Labour government had found that, as a result of
years of Tory neglect, a lot of public housing was in a very dilapidated condition.  In April
2000, they published their Housing Green Paper entitled “Quality and Choice: a decent
home for all”.  It was decided that all social housing should reach the Decent Homes
Standard by 2010. Tenants would have modern kitchens and bathrooms like everyone else.
This was going to cost an enormous amount of money.  Not all of it could come from the public purse; some would have to 
come from the private sector.  The Green Paper offered councils three alternatives, stock transfer, arms length 
management organisations (ALMOs) or using PFI.  Though PFI has some advantages, many councils felt that it smacked 
of privatisation.   So they either went for the first two options or did nothing.   The advantage of stock transfer to the 
government was that housing associations could borrow money from the private sector.  This didn’t count against the 
Public Sector Borrowing Requirement (PSBR) i.e. it was not regarded as public expenditure so the Treasury were happy.  
To have a transfer the tenants have to ballot in favour. To date, 84% of tenants ballots have voted in favour.   But how fair 
are these ballots; is the choice loaded?
At the recent launch of his pamphlet Jeff Zitron said, “The current policy offers a false choice to residents who live in areas
of real investment need.  The danger is not just that some of the neediest estates will get left behind if their tenants vote
against transfer.  It also means that tenants lose the opportunity to use transfer to gain real power.  The implication of the
government’s position is that it wants all council housing stock to be transferred.  It would be better to admit this and then
to ensure that a new regulated independent sector puts resident empowerment at the heart of policy”.  In his pamphlet, he
argues that the transfers should be compulsory.  Tenants would choose their new landlord.
Zitron calls on the political Left to return to its co-operative roots by giving all social housing tenants a real say in the running
of their homes and neighbourhoods.  This should apply equally to existing housing associations and the new transfer ones.
Community empowerment should be at the heart of any transfer scheme.  Successful schemes like  the Community
Gateway project  in Preston show the way.  No landlord should be allowed to claim that empowering tenants was too 
difficult   All social housing tenants should have the ‘right to manage’ and the ‘right to buy’.
How practical are these proposals?  As co-operators, we should welcome this support for our co-operative values and
principles.  Practical experience has shown that co-operative housing management works to produce well run estates
where tenants feel ownership of their own homes and communities.  Independent surveys from Pricewaterhouse Coopers
and the Oxford Brookes University confirm this.  Zitron’s timescale is very short.  All the transfers would have to be done by
2007 if the Decent Homes Standard is to be met by 2010.  I am not convinced that compulsion would produce the desired
result.  Sustainable co-operative schemes can only be built from the ground up; they can’t be imposed from above.  That
takes time.  The result of the Preston ballot was not achieved overnight but was the result of much painstaking work over
several years by our colleagues from CCH.  A better way would be for the government to continue the present system of
voluntary transfer but to insist that all housing associations and stock transfer associations empower their tenants by
introducing co-operative methods of participation and management.  The local councils could make sure that they did. 
However, having said all that, I believe that we should all welcome the support of our co-operative principles from both the
author Jeff Zitron and the Fabian Society

Transfer of Affections; housing policy in Labour’s third term” 

By Jeff Zitron

Published by Fabian Society

     
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This article was first published in the Co-op News

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