Give tenants greater say in running their own housing

In the two years since the Grenfell Tower fire killed 72 people, there have been many discussions about how to ensure social housing tenants are heard.

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With 14 families still living in temporary accommodation, it’s clear some could do with a recap of why it is important to seek out and listen to the views of tenants.

First, tenants and leaseholders know what is happening in our homes and neighbourhoods better than anyone else.

Second: we pay the wages.

Landlords exist to serve their tenants and should be keen to know what we think of their service.

Finally, social housing tenants are rarely able to “vote with their feet” and leave if there is a problem with their landlord or building.

Housing associations and councils are increasingly using focus groups and mystery shoppers to get tenant’s views, but these are of limited use when it comes to curbing existing institutional complacency.

The best landlords have an active ear close to the ground and take complaints seriously.

How can others follow their example?

We actually don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Five mechanisms already exist which landlords and government could make better use of:

1. Tenants and Residents Associations (TRAs)

Social housing tenants amplify their voices by forming local TRAs.

It is harder to dismiss what’s said by an elected committee at an open annual meeting.

For housing managers, it can also be a mutually beneficial relationship: TRA committees are worth their weight in gold, when many have to split their time across estates.

Some councils and housing associations provide resources and grants to support their TRAs, which should be standard practice.

2. The Right to Manage and the Right to Transfer

These two little-known rights give council tenants the ability to take matters into their own hands when things are going awry with their landlord.

The former allows tenants to jointly take on estate management by forming a Tenant Management Organisation (TMO); the latter pushes this further by allowing tenants to form a community-led housing association or Community Land Trust (CLT) to take full ownership of their homes.

When in charge of the budget and other decisions, tenants can put their needs first.

Taking ownership can also help protect residents from imprudent demolition, or loss of community areas to profit-making ventures.

Both rights should be extended to housing associations too.

3. Ballots and full community involvement in regeneration and large scale development areas

Living on public land, social housing tenants are disproportionately vulnerable to losing their homes in regeneration schemes.

Estate regeneration should be resident-led and demolition should be a last resort. The Mayor has made progress on this, but more needs to be done.

Tenant representatives should also be more involved in developing borough-wide planning and housing policies, particularly scrutinising planning applications of large-scale developments.

This could become standard practice with borough support and if the Mayor drew up a Statement of Community Involvement for his Opportunity Areas.

4. The Local Authority Committee System

More councils should use this system which allows them to delegate decision-making on areas like housing to committees or subcommittees comprised of elected councillors, opening the process up to greater accountability and scrutiny.

5. Tenants’ Federations

These bring together elected tenant representatives of individual social landlords to share information and collectively hold them to account.

These bodies are also more able to engage with the wider sector. More landlords should set aside funds to support them.

More could be done.

There has been much discussion of a national body to represent tenants.

Tenants’ Federations, fed by a thriving network of local TRAs, TMOs and co-ops, could provide the strong foundations and grassroots accountability that would give such a body the legitimacy it needs to succeed.

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