Tag Archives: residents

Social housing should not be viewed as ‘second class’ or an experiment

I was at a workshop on building new homes and we got to a contentious point about what was being planned.  I asked the room  (mainly architects and regenerators) if they would take the same action / design they were planning if this was not social housing. There was silence in response because most recognised the likely answer was no. I then asked if they personally would live next door to or above the facility they were planning and again the answer was silence.

Why oh why do Councils and Housing providers still persist in designing things into new social housing and estates that they would not dream of placing on a ‘private’ estates? The answer clearly comes down the fact that this would result in  a reduction in sale price whereas it is not seen as an issue in social housing. All too often there is still this unconscious perception that it does not matter with social housing because ‘they’ don’t own the property.

I grew up on a council estate and am all too familiar with the snobbery and patronising behaviour that can be directed at social housing. Anybody who knows me will be aware of my complete antipathy for murals and mosaics which were the universal panacea for all ‘deprivation’ ills between the 1970’s and 1990’s. ‘These poor people are deprived, lets give them a mural (and let them eat cake too)’. Don’t get me wrong I am big supporter of public art, but I’m talking quality and well thought out work, not something  bad that marks you out as a ‘deprived’ area. How many murals and mosaics do you see on new ‘private’ estates …mmm… none! I like graffiti and a nice Gaudi mosaic but not as a marker  and I mean you too Banksy.

All too often on mixed new build estates I hear the term ‘tenure blind’ but it never is, the quality of the work surfaces, tiles and finishes is always just that bit cheaper in the social units.

A few things to consider:

  • Rent covers all costs in the same way as a mortgage does so stop treating different tenures differently
  • If it is not alright where you live why do you think it will be alright in ‘social housing’
  • By putting a different financial value on social housing you are also putting a lower social value

Community so much more than a Centre

Last Saturday a small enthusiastic group of resident volunteers from Kings Crescent Estate in Hackney, their newly re-elected ward councillors and some of their children  made the short journey to the Redmond Community Centre at Woodberry Down. This was intended as fact-finding mission as we seek to inspire residents to look at ways in which the proposed community centre to be built in the final stages of the regeneration might bring a new vibrant social and community life to the area. The Redmond Centre is managed by the Manor House Development Trust (MDHT) which has operated for almost 11 years at Woodberry Down.

The lovely temporary Vince Murrain Centre is under-used which is a shame and a cause for concern for the Council who have committed to reprovide the facility. It will be removed to make way  for the construction of the next phase and replaced in the ground floor of one of the new buildings.

We had struggled to get volunteers to attend but were grateful that a few people showed interest and gave up their morning. The first thing you notice about the Redmond Centre when you enter is the high ceiling, the next is the mass of activities taking place and  being advertised.  The map on the floor reminds you that you are just less than ten minutes walk away from Kings Crescent, not in another world. The children quickly realised that the more interesting feature of the Centre is not the building but the linked yet separate play area. The parents quickly realised that they could relax and absorb the presentation and tour feeling their children were occupied and safe.

As ever, Simon Donovan (CEO of the Trust) spoke passionately about the model he has established to ensure that the Centre is viable and how the business relies not just on a paid team; but draws volunteers from corporate and student organisations. The things that impressed residents in the tour were the small and simple things: the community fridge which has  given away 300kg of food; the recycled wood used for the ceiling and shelving;  the communal growing area; and the open design of the entrance.

Lessons learnt from the visit are:

  • Community is more complex than just an Estate
  • Linking indoor and outdoor community space works really well
  • Running a centre has to be treated like running a business
  • The building is just a platform for developing and implementing ideas

We hope to develop more ideas through visiting other centres and talking to more social enterprises over the coming months . Although Kings Crescent’s  Community Centre won’t have the back-drop of the reservoirs to frame their environment, there is already a playable street to which will be added high quality landscaping. Just add Community.

 

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

 

New Homes Nightmares…..

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.

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.

 

Community Researcher / Intern Opportunity

We are looking to appoint a Hackney based intern to assist our consultancy team to carry out a skills and training audit as part of a large regeneration project in London N4. This will be a paid position and could lead to permanent employment as a project worker for the right candidate.

The work will involve outreach and surveying up to 275 households via face to face interviewing, on-line and self-completion.  There will be an opportunity for involvement in analysing the data and referring applicants to work based experience and training and employment providers.

The successful intern will be expected to work on their own initiative alongside a small consultant team and full induction training will be provided. The project take place between February and July 2017 with the possibility of leading to other work.  This opportunity  is ideal for somebody wanting to gain experience of community work and research techniques.  We will be happy to provide references to other employers on completion of this short term contract.

The post will be sponsored by the regeneration developer Higgins Construction and you will be supported on site by Source Partnership Consulting Limited both companies  are committed to the London living wage. Please send a CV or personal statement to carol@sourcepartnership.com

 

Happy New Year for Regeneration Residents

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.

Inpicture2 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.

 

 

View from the front line – 3 years of pain (and why it’s worth it)

Three years of pain (and why it’s worth it)

Zoë Kennedy, Styles House TMO, styleshouse.org.uk, @styleshouse

After suffering the trauma of council organised major works, we finally decided we’d had enough and we were becoming a TMO. We’d thought about it for years, but it seemed such a big step and a lot of work, so we had always put it off for another day. Finally though, we realised the amount of effort required to get a good service from the council could be put to something positive.

There is no getting around it, becoming a TMO is long. You might think you can do it quick, but you can’t. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though as there is a lot to learn. You won’t just be running the estate, you’ll be an employer running a small business with things like payments to the HMRC. That’s pretty big and scary and you need to be trained in how to do it. What we found though, was that there wasn’t anything we couldn’t do and as a group we always had someone who had skills in that area.

img_1108It’s important to keep focused on why you are becoming a TMO and what you want to achieve. We had decided that it would be easier to be a TMO than fight with the council to get anything done and luckily the council kept reminding us of this every time a repair was needed. The most useful experience, however, was visiting other TMOs. We met people, just like us, who were successfully running their TMOs.  We realised that it didn’t take any particular skill, just committed people and a good manager.

We also spent time picturing what our TMO would look like. We knew we wanted an onsite manager and a regular cleaner. Once we made the decision it was easy to come up with a structure and budget. We over estimated everything, which I think was the right approach as it meant we were cautious when spending money and managed to make savings which we have invested back in the estate.

It’s also important to write as many policies and procedures as possible wile you are setting up the TMO. Yes it’s boring, but you’ll be thankful later when you are busy running the TMO that you don’t have to write them. I am currently rewriting our disciplinary policy and really wish we had done it properly the first time around.

Finally, don’t worry about conflict in your group. We had a lot of conflict and were (and still are) a very argumentative group. I would rather that we weren’t but it doesn’t cause any major problems and it’s the reality of being democratic, you just won’t all agree.

Resident Consultation isn’t a New Thing

Consulting residents, service users and communities is second nature to us, we do it daily in our work. Yet increasingly the landlord organisations, architects and developers we come across seem to be reticent in engaging with the recipients of housing and regeneration services. It’s not rocket science, people are much more able to accept and support decisions (however difficult) if they have been party to the discussions leading to them.

Recent proposed landlord mergers appeared to have been led by the business case or a corporate vision with very little regard for the impact upon residents who ultimately pay for the service. As Carl Brown observes in Inside Housing, the National Housing Federation’s voluntary merger code failed to refer to a role for tenants. Following the collapse of the high profile mergers, twelve landlords are exploring an alternative code which we await with interest.

Statutory ballots always carry the risk that residents will reject a strong and coherent proposal, however with this as a true test of opinion landlords were diligent about involving residents in the details of the decision and providing reassurances. How else were so many voluntary stock transfers and regeneration schemes achieved in relatively short timescales?  Residents have much to  offer when developing options for saving money or improving service delivery.

On a smaller scale,  several times over the past year we have been asked to mediate where a resident has raised a serious and formal  complaint with their landlord regarding a decision that has been taken which affects their home. Without exception, these complaints have arisen because residents have felt dis-empowered by a seemingly high-handed attitude from their landlord. In each case, consultation has been one-way; telling and not listening, imposing a solution without a discussion regarding the alternatives. Housing staff were well-meaning and  professional but had failed to take the residents along as they developed proposals. Once a meaningful discussion was imperative, compromise and consensus was achieved – a successful outcome.

Sadly,  consultation techniques are not taught to project managers, housing officers, architects and employers agents when clearly the people demonstrating excellence have these skills in spades. The traditional consultation meeting is now only one tool in the kit to engage people, when people are time poor, less formal events, capturing views through conversation and social media provide an opportunity to hear what residents say.  three things:

  1. Resident consultation is not a new thing and it works.
  2. Listen as well as talk.
  3. Top-down approaches or imposed solutions are fraught with difficulty and often fail.