Tag Archives: independent tenants and leaseholders advisor

Moving Joe

We are all aware of sensationalist media reports depicting hoarders as freaks or health hazards but not many of us understand the extent of hoarding within the population or the complexity of this condition.  Working on rehousing projects in inner-London over the past 20 years has given me an insight into hoarding and the complex people who hoard. My experience indicates that 10-20% of people living in social housing have a hoarding issue –  they are primarily but not always single.

Joe was not my first hoarder or indeed the worst, but probably the most memorable  and certainly a “text book” example of the complexities of the compulsion. Joe was 80, born on a small Mediterranean island, he recalled traumatic childhood memories of WW2. How he ended up in social housing in London is unclear.   Joe lived quietly, until the day that regeneration arrived on his estate, resulting in the need for him to move to make way for demolition. Joe had no interest in improving his housing conditions, he believed that he was being systematically poisoned by the authorities, agents and persons unknown. He had created a makeshift bunker within his flat in which he felt safe, he was surrounded by his huge collection of useful things. Every ache and pain  he put down to substances to which he had been subjected; he believed he was being followed daily and photographed the people he believed were responsible sharing these photographs whenever we met. February 016

He traveled all over London to shake them off, he was forever on the move on some self-set assignment to get copies of documents and request that records held about him be destroyed. Joe was constantly surprising he visited book shops and knew all the latest titles, he spent afternoons at the cinema, he knew every bus route and public building in London He remembered the name of every council officer and had a clear view whether they were “part of it” – the conspiracy that is.

The day came when, supported by the excellent decant team at Hackney Council, a new home was identified for Joe and the long process of gaining his trust and relocating his bunker began. We started with single carrier bags, and odd things taken to charity shops; then boxes passed through the door; larger items too precious to be entrusted to strangers pushed on a makeshift trolley (sometimes under the cover of night); and occasionally via the boot of my car. Finally he trusted me enough to let me into his home and we could accelerate the process.

Almost two years later, having checked his new home daily  for “substances” and people getting in while he was not there; thanks to extremely patient council officers; the removal contractor who staged a phased removal; and repairs operatives –  the longest running decant move in the history of social housing was completed. Joe took me to breakfast to celebrate and paid me a touching compliment ” I have spent years running away from people because I had been in their home but couldn’t ask them into mine. Now you have been into my home – you are in my heart”.

Joe isolated himself from his brother and sister, he never married believing that contact with him would put others in danger. His delusions made him believe and say strange things, he lived a desperately lonely life and sadly died alone only six months after moving. Now he is in my heart too.

From my experience with Joe and many others like him – here are some tips for dealing with hoarders:

  • Most hoarders with them.
  • Hoarding is a compulsion not a lifestyle choice, professionals should not be judgemental, there are often other mental health issues at play.
  • Action should be person-centred, constant and at a pace comfortable for the hoarder, I recommend little steps daily.
  • Intervention should initially be limited to health and safety concerns
  • Be prepared for set-backs, major de-cluttering rarely works and generally results in compulsive re-collecting.
  • Follow-up regularly.

If you would like advice or practical support with a hoarder we are happy to help, we can agree strategies engage hoarders  and provide support workers to do face-to-face support.

It’s a mystery why most landlords are shopping less

In the early part of this century  even before the halcyon days when there was a Tenants Services Authority ( who remembers them?), the customer or tenant or leaseholder were King and Queen. Landlords were keen to find out what their service users thought of them!

I spent a lot of time training both residents and landlords in the fine art of Mystery Shopping and getting them to ask meaningful questions that would actually deliver real opinions. Fast forward to today and very few landlords are using this tool or even worse are using a version that is so antiseptic it tells them nothing.

Why is this happening? I have a few theories.

Too truthful

Good Mystery Shopping actually tells you.in real time, what your customers are experiencing. This can often at first be unpalatable. I spent many a feed back session, gently explaining that the written testimonies were what residents were actually getting when they phoned the call centre/used online services/visited the office. With support most landlords could learn to use this as a tool for improvement. Over time staff change and the skills atrophy so the strength and opportunity that ‘shopping’ offered got lost.

Deregulation

As the housing sector has become increasingly deregulated then there has been an associated reduction in the time and money dedicated to seeking resident’s views. Good Mystery shopping which resulted in change  was real plus point for audit and could lead to better satisfaction ratings. Neither of these two carry anything like the importance they used to.

Cuts

Almost always the first thing to go with cuts (or the rent reduction which is the same) is any form of resident involvement. Unfortunately, Mystery Shopping  was seen all too often as an involvement tool. In reality, Mystery Shopping is cheap and effective quality assurance and service improvement.

Landlords, don’t be shy find out what your customers  think by testing your service! With the increasing move into new sectors Mystery shopping offers real feedback. Some of the targeted ‘shops’ we have developed include:

  • The experience of new home owners, share owners and tenants when they move into new homes
  • How was the regeneration for you – learning lessons for new developments
  • Channel Changing – our experience of moving it all online

Any Mystery Shopping needs to be bespoke to the landlord and residents and will tell you how it really is!

 

Applicants wanted to work in Regeneration and Social Housing

 

Last year, for  almost 6 months we tried to appoint a young person based in Hackney as a paid intern to gain experience of housing regeneration and community work. As we love our work,  we naïvely thought that this position would attract plenty of school leavers or graduates keen to get some practical skills to add to their CV.

Careers in housing seem to be reached almost entirely by accident, yet the range of skills that can be acquired and the diversity of areas you can work in means that there are very, very few boring jobs in the sector. The sector needs to do more to attract bright compassionate people to want to work in housing and community work.

Eventually we recruited Lydia through word of mouth and it was a successful six month internship on both sides. Lydia enjoyed the wide range of tasks we gave her and the chance to follow her own interests too. We appreciated having an extra pair of hands. She has gone on to be successfully accepted onto a masters degree in Urban Regeneration and follow her dream to work abroad.  Read her blog of December 2017 to learn more about how she felt.

This year we are busier than ever and hope to give another enthusiastic graduate or school leaver the chance to find out how fascinating working with a community as they face major changes to their homes and community can be. Our advertisement is on the Graduate Talent Poll website and www.indeed.com. We also will accept CVs via e-mail to rob@sourcepartnership.com or carol@sourcepartnership.com

 

When a Test of Opinion is Too Close to Call

We recently completed a Test of Opinion for a large housing association to gauge support from tenants for a full estate redevelopment versus a refurbishment scheme. This consultation came at the end of a full options appraisal which had engaged tenants of the estate in workshop events and two exhibitions over 12 months.

A Tenants Steering Group has led on selecting us as their independent advisors, selecting architects and commenting on each and every option are they were presented. As it often the case, a number of tenants volunteered hours of their time, using up precious leave from work, sacrificing family time and calling in child-care favours to ensure that proposals were the best they possibly could be. The estate blocks are  mainly heated by electrical night storage heaters and tenants report extremely high energy bills and lack of warmth and hot water. between 20 and 30 families are living in overcrowded conditions.

In the shadow of the Grenfell Tower fire, the refurbishment option excluded cladding as many tenants  were fearful of this and similarly installing gas in the taller blocks was dismissed. However gas central central heating is possible for the lower rise blocks and  this solution has already been applied to the ten town houses. There was proposed some small scale new build and garage conversions to create larger family homes.

The more radical and expensive option of complete redevelopment involved phased decanting of homes with 26 tenants required to move off the estate with a right to return. Tenants interrogated the architects about the extent of the disruption for those who would be living on a building site for several years so that tenants could realistically anticipate  the pain.

The test of opinion took place over two weeks following the final design exhibition.  There was a late campaign led by the tenants of the town houses to reject redevelopment and some misrepresentation of the facts were evident in this. However, in the main tenants participated with an 82% turnout being achieved by the deadline. We believe that this was because the test of opinion returns were confidential either on-line or by post.

The votes cast were split 50% / 50% for each option and only by analysing the results by household (very few joint tenancies) was identifying a marginal preference possible – our very own Brexit.

The landlord has decided to explore further the refurbishment option and to enhance the refurbishment “offer”  in an attempt to win over those who expressed a preference for redevelopment. The outcome of the findings regarding cladding at Grenfell Tower and  the outcome of the pilot renewal of an electrical storage system  over the coming cold months will be pivotal.

A Long Time Coming

In the blink of an eye (well to be honest 20 odd years since the demolition of the original tower blocks Barkway  and Sandridge Courts) a new housing development has risen on the western horizon of Clissold Park. Known locally as Kings Crescent Estate and to recent incomers as Clissold Quarter, this marks the half-way stage of the regeneration first proposed by Hackney Council back in the 1990s.

My first involvement at Kings Crescent was as the consultant helping the residents association to set up a tenant management organisation in 1998. Quite quickly, once the regeneration began, the core of dedicated activists found themselves drawn into a process to improve homes on their estate. Resident Representatives selected a developer RSL partner thinking that it would all be sorted by the new millennium but it was not to be. Further demolitions (Westmill Court and Codicott Terrace, part of Weston Court and Lemsford Court) followed and the tenants from these homes were decanted into the retained blocks with a right to return to a new-build home. One tenant was unlucky enough to be decanted three times and several moved twice as proposals changed.

There were various incarnations of the regeneration, with the first phase being the delivery of new homes on the Barkway Court site in 2002. The Decent Homes programme was delivered to the retained blocks between 2009 and 2012.  Around  this time, the Council decided to become  the lead developer for its regeneration programme and in 2013 a masterplan for the new-build and enhanced refurbishment works was agreed.

Hence, what has happened since 2013 seems – to residents – to be incredibly quick, compared to what went before. As the Council welcomes new residents into the community,  Resident Representatives remind the landlord that it’s only halfway through!

The tenants management organisation was put on hold in 2009 despite an overwhelming Yes Vote from the community, as the core of Representatives took on more of the tasks relating to regeneration and for a while I observed from a distance before returning as independent tenants and leaseholders advisor alongside HRS consultants in 2013 . When the lead advisor retired in 2015 Source Partnership was appointed to carry the baton.

When I started in the Estate in 1998, I stated that this was my last project I would finish before starting a family, a good job I didn’t wait. My son has now started sixth form and the remaining activists from 1998 feel like my family.

Regenerating with Community Support – possible?

This week, I have been procrastinating over our response to the Mayor of London’s Draft Homes for Londoners consultation. We love regeneration, not just for its own sake but because done well it can genuinely improve lives. But so many landlords seem to be hungry to realise land values at the expense of carrying local communities along with their plans. That is my major problem with the Guidance – that it stop shorts of giving existing communities a genuine say in the future of their homes and estates. In fact it even shies away from a test of  opinion in case some conscientious independent tenants and leaseholders advisor interprets that as a ballot. It’s extremely short-sighted to believe that gentrification can continue at the current rate and surely nobody believes that there is not a price to pay for clearing working class residents from high land value areas.

Affordable homes can be built with  the approval of residents, it’s not easy but infinitely doable.  What is required is for landlords and their consultants to listen as well as speak. To develop business plans and programmes which protect or enhance the lifestyle of existing residents and place value on protecting affordable low cost renting options in the Capital.

Recently, I have heard planners talk about existing estates not being “dense enough”; landlords contemplating demolition of perfectly good social housing to maximise land use; and  architects report that the requirement to make play provision is challenging. No wonder residents are angry.  With thousands of families in temporary accommodation, nobody can argue with the need for more housing, indeed I have never heard a council tenant dispute the need for more housing they are the sector’s strongest champions.  But turkeys will never vote for Christmas and tenants and leaseholders will never vote for redevelopment unless they can see something in it for them and the next generation.

So landlords must present proposals which protect secure tenancy rights, do not disadvantage leaseholders and create  great places for people to live in. There will still be painful choices but surely we can get residents to agree that:

  • Some blocks are beyond the end of their useful life (if they are)
  • Garages and car-parking are less important than new homes and open space
  • Community centres don’t have to be single storey standalone buildings

Certainly a compromise can be reached, and tenants will (and have in Hackney) vote in a ballot for good regeneration.

Failure to provide appropriately priced  rented housing for the families of bus drivers (Sadiq Khan please note) or shared ownership options to which teachers can aspire will have a catastrophic on London’s economy and therefore the UK.