One of the things we hear from residents who are facing the demolition of their existing social housing is the fear that a new build home will not are not as well built as their old home. It takes a lot to allay this fear including and many visits to new build schemes.
I was saddened to read the article by John Harris in the Guardian on 11th April about Housing Associations facing a storm of complaints about new homes. There has been a lot of articles both in the press and on the news about the Orchard Village scheme, which has got to the point where the housing association (Clarion) is buying back new build properties. I was also aware about the problems with Solomons Passage as one of my friends (a tenant) has been decanted so they can knock down the building that is 7 years old. This article implies that the problem may be wider.
So what is going wrong?
Working on large schemes I always say to residents and officers that a contractor will only be as good as the contract management applied to them. Lets be clear, developers and builders are in this to make money, whilst they do think about their reputations their primary focus is to make a profit. It requires good contract management by the client i.e. the housing provider to ensure that corners are not cut and that specifications are kept to. Quality control, checking, checking and independent testing are key.
We have seen an increase in building by social housing providers and this has not been matched by an increase in the right staff within Housing Associations and Councils who oversee new build from cradle to grave. At least one association I have worked with has seen their new build properties increase from just over 100 units in 5 years to nearer 5000 over the next 5 years. Whilst the teams overseeing the work have increased, its not proportionate and more crucially emphasis has had to be placed on slowly developing skill in house which is a very steep learning curve. All too often the focus is on design rather than good structural quality. Nice pretty apartments with lovely work surfaces may sell but are they liveable and sustainable, apparently not in some cases.
It is crucial that good technical advice is sourced BUT over reliance on external technical consultants is part of the problem. On the schemes mentioned where were the Clerk of Works and the Employers Agent?
Going forward there are a few options for social housing providers to think about balancing:
- Building up internal technical expertise not just project management and design
- Earlier involvement by those teams that pick up problems – the repairs and major works teams
- Accepting you don’t have the skills and passing the risk on to someone who specialises in building and will ensure they don’t carry a large defects cost
- Stop trying to be everything you do not necessarily have the skills to build on a large scale and manage social housing- something may have to give
- A good clerk of works is worth their weight in copper piping but the spec they inspect against must be right in the first place
Above all else, learn from your mistakes! A lot of landlords would not get away with this if they were working in the open market.
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.
Just before Christmas the Mayor of London issued a draft Good Practice Guide for Estate Regeneration (Homes for Londoners). Whilst the guide contained nothing earth shattering, it was an attempt to place residents back at the centre of regeneration.
In a previous blog, I spoke about the long term nature of regeneration programmes meaning that the community changes over time. However, there are a really stalwart group who will soldier on and who are involved from start to finish. They also tend to be the most forgotten and overlooked group.
The residents who want to exercise their right to return can easily be forgotten or become a list of names that ‘have to be consulted’. People, and by people I mean officers, often tend to forget that these are the original residents that are giving up their homes to make way for the bright and shiny new homes for sale and it is they that are helping housing providers meet their new build targets.
Here is a special plea to go with the Guide. These residents should be cherished and treated with the utmost respect. All too often they are the older residents who never wanted to move in the first place, they are more vulnerable and it is them hold the history of an area. These residents are often living in half empty buildings that are no longer being kept up or they have been moved off to a decant property where they know no-one. Those who hold their fate in your hands, because things are being ‘done’ to them, should think about making some simple pledges and checking how well you are working against them:
- Don’t let buildings and communal areas become run down and ensure occupied properties, often in half empty buildings, are in the same state of good repair as you would for any tenant
- Work to support a community who has been dispersed and don’t just check box consult with decanted residents, they are still the residents of the future estate
- Recognise how hard this is for some people who are losing their homes , they will be resistant, they may be curmudgeonly and they are upset. You have no project without them.
Remember, regeneration is first and foremost about people.
My name is Jess Newcombe and I attend Kingsdale Foundation School. I decided to apply to do a week’s work experience as a housing consultant for Source Partnership in Hackney. Monday morning I didn’t have a clue of what to expect. I wasn’t sure whether I should be feeling optimistic or pessimistic about the upcoming week. I’d never before been given the opportunity to have such a detailed in-sight into the work of a housing consultant and into regenerating an area.
I wasn’t sure about the time frame in which regeneration projects took place (I was extremely surprised at how long and on going it is). I didn’t have a clue about the variety of tasks people working in this field would have to take on as a daily routine. They had all kinds of jobs to do, some correlated and others were completely different from the rest. The tasks allocated to me involved: designing publicity; scanning documents; observing meetings; Attending the building site and sales office; observing interviews to select architects to design the new homes and landscape, and even door to door, hand-delivery of leaflets on the estates. I also helped at a community coffee afternoon hearing residents describe their experience and problems. On the last day I attended a disused office which is to be turned into a new community facility and saw how the design of the conversion and future management was being developed.
These projects don’t only involve Hackney but there are also projects all over London boroughs like Tower Hamlets and Southwark. Not only are councils demolishing and then re-building social housing but they also re-vamp them and allow tenants to make improvements such as designing community gardens.
I wasn’t expecting the refurbished blocks to look just as good as the completely brand new housing blocks, but they did. This experience has allowed me to learn about the steps and guidelines that must be followed in order for these huge projects to run fairly smoothly.
My experience this week will unquestionably have an impact on the way I look at social housing and the kind of personal comments I might think of when viewing certain blocks and estates. I have learnt some of the adjustments which can bring improvements to social housing.
Maybe I’ve been around the block a few too many times (including refurbing it, knocking it down, rebuilding it and making it green). When I saw reports from the LSE being trailed as ‘RESIDENTS HAPPY’. Anyone who has worked on long term regen projects immediately asks which residents? With some projects taking over 10 years you are very often talking about completely different communities at the start and at the finish. I often work with community groups to help them become a ‘critical friend’ so here goes! The LSE report is very focussed on a particular estate and what they define as a specific model. I am sceptical about some of the interpretation of the findings and real wider application. As someone who has regularly worked with residents on 100% door knocks and making sure that we have met with all households I do question that the study is based on 50 independent surveys. However, I am a massive fan of the LSE and its studies of regeneration and in particular Anne Power and I think there are some clear messages to be taken from this report.
Anne Power is quoted as saying ‘(the scheme) shows that it is possible to rebuild a former council estate with most of the existing tenants in place. By providing local management and community resources, the landlord can help the community flourish’
In just one sentence a few key points have been identified:
- The landlord has to have as one of its aims of regeneration that the community flourishes. All too often little time or space is given to considering what this means. Who is the community now, what will happen to them and who will the community be when we are finished? Are not questions that are really formally addressed. Too much emphasis is placed on building costs and ASB stats as the drivers. These are just numbers!
- The need for well thought out community resources. All too often it’s a case of there was a community centre so we will just re-provide a bright new one it will be fab and have a mezzanine! So little thought is given to how it will run and survive, too much reliance on assumption of a ‘community trust’ in Business Plans or PDAs. The community changes over the life of a regeneration project so must the community offer. Please! No more white elephant centres, S106 get outs and small community groups scrabbling for survival. If you have a new estate, where is your new community resource model!
- One of the recurring things you hear from residents on estates that ‘need regenerating’ is it feels like things are being done to them. If you really want to regenerate an area how about regenerating the power balance. So much time is taken to involve resident’s in the planning and getting ‘sign off’ this needs to be developed into a longer term model of greater community control
So 3 things:
Have a worked vision for the community and demographics in regeneration.
Have your short/medium and longer term community resource model and methods for continually testing its validity.
Build in your plan for greater control, the community may change but you can still build the structures (ever heard of a TMO or EMB?).