Protest planned for CEO Q&A on association accountability

Protest cites “serious failures” in association policy with top CEOs due to be questioned by London Assembly Housing Committee.

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Resident activists plan a protest outside London City Hall on Thursday (Oct 4) as housing association CEOs are questioned over accountability.

The protest cites “serious failures” in the policies of housing associations, including continued sales of social-rent housing, refusal to disclose Fire Risk Assessments (FRAs), and lack of resident representation at board and governance level.

Today (Oct 2), Peabody Family Voice said it would be backing the demonstration, urging associations away from commercial policy priorities and back to “traditional values”.

Chief executives from four of London’s housing associations – David Montague, L&Q; Ruth Cooke, then at Clarion; Geeta Nanda OBE, Metropolitan; and Rod Cahill, Catalyst – were invited to the public Q&A session this Thursday hosted by the GLA housing committee.

The Committee is investigating how social housing residents are involved in the management of their homes across London.

Organised by Housing association Residents Action (HARA), the protest cites NHF figures that show housing associations completed 41,556 homes in 2017/2018 of which only 4,502 were social rent. It also cites an estimate by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) that associations will have effectively dumped some 71,000 social rent homes by 2020.

A HARA spokesperson said: “While the government is obviously to blame for the failing national housing policies, housing associations’ policies have worsened the situation.

“They should stop selling social rent homes and start building more with their profits.”

HARA brands any refusal to disclose FRAs as “astonishing” post Grenfell.

“For example, before the merger with Notting Hill, Genesis Housing Association admitted that they had 2,493 blocks requiring a FRA in 2017 – not one FRA has been disclosed.

“Also, residents have no idea if any of the undisclosed recommendations have been carried out or not,” the spokesperson said.

HARA says it is not aware of any large housing association that has directly elected residents on any of their committees of governance or the Board.

Although acknowledging residents appointed as ‘shareholders’, HARA maintains they are not elected.

“The only residents’ representatives are chosen, and paid, by Boards and Executive teams. Most resident representatives have no report back meetings and residents have no way of contacting their so-called resident reps,” the spokesperson said.

HARA also wants its protest to highlight housing associations borrowing substantial funds from banks, commercial lenders or the bond markets for building homes which are not for social rent.

“To pay the interest repayments on these loans, associations have to put huge financial pressure on their residents.

“This means harsh rises in service and other charges, particularly for shared owners and leaseholders, and increased rents to tenants. Residents have no way of making their concerns known or raising alternative policies without a democratic voice in governance,” the spokesperson said.

Thursday’s protest takes further impetus from the government’s £2bn pledge to housing associations announced at NHF – of which LGA Chair Lord Porter said failed to provide the “funding certainty” councils also needed to play their part in solving the housing crisis.

In London, housing associations are by far the biggest developers of affordable homes and City Hall sees the largest of them as key partners to Mayor Sadiq Khan if he is to come close to delivering his housing targets. In recent years, many housing associations have merged to form much bigger organisations.

Post Grenfell, the GLA housing committee has been addressing issues around resident involvement in association decision-making, with Khan having already announced his intention to introduce estate ballots that give residents a say in estate regeneration.

Last month, the committee focused on council delivery vehicles as many of London’s local authorities consider setting up wholly owned housing companies to build new homes serving a range of people and needs in their boroughs.

Then, the committee considered the opportunities and risks surrounding these new companies, the contribution they might make to meeting London’s housing needs and how the Mayor might help.

In announcing its support for the protest, Peabody Family Voice (PFV) want more commitment from associations to abolishing fixed term tenancies in favour of a secure alternative with registered fair rents?

Other PFV priorities are:

  • A moratorium on the amalgamation of Housing Associations
  • Ending the contracting out of maintenance and repairs and taking these activities in-house through Direct Labour Organisations
  • Associations ensuring  at least 50% of new properties built are for genuine social rent, not so-called ‘affordable rent’

Peabody tenant Sharon Rose said: “I’m sick of Housing Associations being just another part of the machine of gentrification and social cleansing.

“Londoners need social housing more than ever now. – i’s time for the big Housing Associations to serve the people they were set up to help.”

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