|Mutuo's new Community Gateway Model home|
|Community empowerment in social housing.|
||All over the country, thousands of tenants are voting to transfer their homes|
|away from the control of their local council: usually to housing associations.|
|Within a few years, there will be virtually no public housing left in the country|
|Who can blame the tenants for voting this way given the benefits it brings|
|them? Repairs and improvements promised by councils for years can be|
|right away. Theoretical issues like governance and democratic control seem|
|less important if you are living in a draughty, damp and badly heated flat on a|
|run-down sink estate. But having your say in how your estate is important.|
|So how does one promote tenant democracy whilst retaining the financial|
|benefits of stock transfer? The Community Gateway Model of management|
|recently proposed by the mutuality think tank Mutuo points the way. Here,|
|tenant involvement is tailored both to the tenants' own wishes and their|
|capacity to participate.|
|So does Stock
Transfer present an opportunity for the development of Housing Co-ops? This article will
examine whether the Model proposed by Mutuo is the way to do it. In last year’s Green Paper ‘Quality
and Choice; A decent home for all’, the government said that
it would like to see at least 200,000 homes transferred out of the public
sector every year. So
far, most of the Large Scale Voluntary Transfers have taken place with small
or medium sized councils. To date, none of
the big local authorities have transferred their entire stock but
ballots on these are imminent.
Green Paper also recommended that councils should set up Arms-Length
Housing Com- -panies.
Until recently, these were not popular because of the tight Best
Value compliance requirements
and the restrictions on funding. These
have been relaxed recently, so many local authorities
are having a second look at this type of arrangement.
The effect of this may be to slow
down Large Scale Voluntary Transfers but to the increase overall the
number of properties that
are no longer directly run by the councils. One mustn’t forget that all the transfers have to be voluntary. The tenants have to agree first.
So why should they? If
they stay with the local council, their repairs and improvements are likely to take years.
Housing associations can borrow money on the open market. So
refurbishments can be done quickly.
Not so with cash- strapped local authorities. They are kept on a tight rein by the Treasury because its obsession with the PSBR. But what do the tenants lose when they transfer? Mainly any form of democratic redress. Though councils will remain responsible for the housing strategy in their areas, the day-to-day running of the properties is taken out of their hands. So, there is not much point in going to see your councillor if you have a problem. Tenants also lose the Right to Manage i.e. the right to take over the management of their own estates. Though rarely exercised, it is a very useful back-stop if things go wrong.
|Ideally, the best people to run social housing estates are the people who
live on them. They know the
problems and what needs to be done.
But co-operatively run housing cannot be achieved overnight.
Not everyone wishes to take on the responsibility of running
their own estate. Not
everyone is capable of doing so even if they want to.
Training and capacity-building are essential.
That takes time; many years.
Where well established tenant management organisations or tenants
management co-operatives exist, the transfer from local government
control to tenant co-operative ownership can be done without too much
difficulty. If these are not
present, then it would be unrealistic to propose that estates could be
transferred to co-operatives overnight.
It would be a recipe for disaster.T
he Mutuo proposal is that a special kind of housing association is set up which would be committed to carry out a community empowerment strategy. This would be written into its constitution. At a suitable time after the initial transfer, the association would start to handover power to the tenants. Mutuo has called this arrangement the Community Gateway Model. It recognizes that the Model would have to be flexible because it would need to take account of the changes that take place inside the association from time to time. In voluntary organizations, there are often personnel changes. People come and go, some retire and others lose interest. That is why the Model has an in-built ‘stair-casing’ arrangement whereby the degree of devolution can be varied depending on the prevailing circumstances at any given time.
Housing Green Paper
|But the Mutuo model, as currently proposed, does not take sufficient
account of the long term public interest in the properties being
transferred. The estates
were built with public money. The
land on which they stand was also paid for by the taxpayer.
For this reason, it would be better if the local authorities
retained the freehold of any land transferred to Community Gateway
associations. By using
covenants the Council could restrict their use to social housing.
However the Right to Buy legislation does means that
gentrification could still take place.
That applies equally to council housing. The first pilot projects of the Community Gateway Model are likely to be in
new Model is strongly supported by the National Assembly for
‘This model promoted by the Co-operative movement, develops the concept of mutuality. It offers a real opportunity to create a structure for
hope that these pilot schemes will be a success.
Whilst the housing needs in
Transferring Ownership;- Community empowerment in social housing
Nic Bliss, Cliff Mills and others
77 Weston Street London SE1 3SD (£5)
This article was first published in the Chartist March 2000