Tag Archives: Tenant

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.

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.