Sunday, January 13, 2013

Housing Matters Update – a foredrawn conclusion?

So what was all that about?

No new information can be found listed in the Housing Matters section of the council's website, nor on the TPAS (Tenants Participation Advisory Service) webpage dedicated to the monitoring work it undertook in the Housing Matters consultation.

But a draft report of TPAS's findings can be found, as an appendix, in the agenda of the Housing Select Committee, 8th Jan 2013. To read TPAS's report in full, click here.

Were we listened to?

TPAS found that residents' preferred options were to either to stay with Lewisham Homes or return to Council management (Options 1 & 2). Mostly the latter.

It might have been that residents were only really comfortable commenting on the things they have experience of. Quite a low satisfaction rate with Lewisham Homes' management could be recorded, in a different questionnaire, ditto the Council, but perhaps it was a case of "better the devil you know" that resulted in the popularity of both Options 1 & 2.

More information was required – than the Council was able to provide – for consideration of Option 3 (stock transfer from the council to Lewisham Homes, which would become a 'Resident-led' / 'Gateway' / 'Mutual' organisation with the ability to borrow more money to build more housing). There was "little or no appetite" for Option 4 (stock transfer to a Housing Association).

Residents' legitimate fear of rises in rent and service charges made Option 4 objectionable, and for many, the 'resident-led' component of Option 3 didn't really alleviate those fears, despite the promises.

Perhaps people were wisely indicating their preference for a more cautious approach in a time of instability, spending cuts, benefit cuts and a triple dip recession.

The RSG (Resident Steering Group), who were the most closely involved in the consultation, ranked 'building new homes' joint seventh with 'maximising tenant control and influence' in order of importance when considering the factors involved. Top of their list was preserving tenants' rights. However, half of them came out in favour of Option 3.

The Key Findings of TPAS's monitoring of the consultation are listed at the bottom of this post. Meanwhile, in their financial analysis of the relative benefits of stock transfer (Option 3) versus retention (Options 1 & 2), TPAS "identified a significant number of issues to be resolved before robust figures on the financial benefits of transfer (or otherwise) can be established". They found "uncertainties" in the transfer business plan projections "that would require external validation and a degree of reworking, before the Council can safely assume that the additional resources projected are indeed available".

TPAS suggests the Council does this work before pursuing the stock transfer option. They also identified alternative and further, possibly better, ways to make the most of the money available should the Council choose to retain its stock.

Decisions, decisions...

On 16th January 2013, Mayor and Cabinet will be deciding what to do next (see the agenda). The Council's own report, Housing Matters Update, which includes specific recommendations, can found here.

In this report, Option 4 has been removed from the list of options (it should never have really been there in the first place and just confused and frightened people). Although the findings of the consultation indicated residents would prefer no change at all or have their homes come back under the care of the Council, this has been interpreted by the Council as overall approval for Lewisham Homes.

The Council now feels it has a mandate to pursue Option 3 – a stock transfer to Lewisham Homes.
6.1. The conversation with residents to date has shown a high level of satisfaction with Lewisham Homes and a preference for Lewisham Homes to continue to manage homes and for the Council to continue as landlord. However, residents do agree with the Council’s priorities and do think that it is right that the Council considers options which attract more investment for their homes and estates.
Discarding completely the idea of the Council taking its housing back in-house, they will now be discussing just two options:
1. Cease all further option appraisal activities, retain the ALMO as is, and work within the budgetary limits the Council faces as a landlord, or

2. Work alongside residents, Lewisham Homes and other bodies to better understand how, by retaining but evolving Lewisham Homes – with a view to a possible transfer of ownership to Lewisham Homes as a resident-led organisation – it might attract further investment, increase resident control, deliver residents’ aspirations and address their concerns.
The report recommends that the latter option (the new 'Option 2') is further pursued. This is also what Lewisham Homes itself wants. 

Get your ducks in a row...

If Mayor and Cabinet follow this recommendation, this will mean yet further consultation with us. According to the report, 1500 forms (out of a potential 17-18,000, about 8%) were returned in this last survey, but were apparently unrepresentative because not enough Black households responded and too many people over 60 did (draw your own conclusions). The Council officer's report advised that the Council would have to develop "a new Consultation Strategy" that ensured "its outcomes are reflective and representative of its community." 

TPAS's report records the vast range of techniques employed to engage people this last time round, most of which were met with disinterest. They are not so disingenous as to describe this as 'apathy', nor political enough to use the word 'disenfranchised' – they don't attempt to explain it at all. But, ironically, one of the main reasons why people do not respond to such consultations is that they think the Council will do what it wants to do, regardless of their opinion. 

The Council called this last consultation 'a conversation', perhaps knowing that it would be ill-prepared and poorly executed, and intending it as a (rather expensive) rehearsal. Consultation with secure tenants is a requirement of Section 105 of the Housing Act 1985, but if the new 'Option 2' is ratified on 16 January, the future 'conversations' may well be more a case of educating us on a foregone conclusion so that it won't be such a shock when it happens, or selling us the idea until we finally buy it.

Buying into the new Option 2

What should be clear from this recent 'conversation' is that unless people like TPAS are around all the time knocking on doors and trying to explain complicated housing matters to people who're busy trying to survive a recession, they can expect considerably less than 8% of 'resident involvement' in any 'resident-led' initiative such as the new Option 2.

Just as happens now, rents and service charges will have to include a fee to pay an army of staff to 'get people involved', to result in a possible 1% of residents involved in the running of the organisation. In many of the recent consultation events, there were more staff than residents.  

Where are the figures on present resident involvement? What are the levels of satisfaction of those taking part? How does the information 'trickle down' to non-participants? Answer: it doesn't. Why does Lewisham Homes think it has a convincing model for successful resident participation? 

According to the report, whilst this new consultation strategy is being designed, the Council and Lewisham Homes would work with various government agencies (and probably overpaid consultants) to determine the benefits and implications of transferring its stock to Lewisham Homes, since "there are presently unquantifiable variables that have the potential to impact on the precise level of funding available to a transfer organisation". (VAT exemption is just one of the many things that hasn't been thought through). TPAS have said they should work all this out before they come back to us with further options.

If the new Option 2 gets the go...

No one can really object to the noble aims of building more affordable housing, and you might want to support the Council's objectives despite the inevitable expenditure occurred in scoping such a huge ambition. But you may still be wondering where, in this already crowded borough (especially in Deptford), they will find the space to build it. The Council's report states that they employed the services of PTEa architects and real estate consultants Drivers Jonas Deloitte* to identify suitable sites "details of which are provided in Part Two of this report". Some of the land options available are said to be time limited and require decisions to be made very soon. However, Part Two of this report does not appear to be publicly available (draw your own conclusions).


TPAS Key Findings
There are real concerns about security of tenure and maintaining existing tenancy rights.
The majority of the residents that we spoke to expressed the desire to remain with Lewisham Homes or return to the Council.
Many of the residents that we spoke to expressed concern about the short time frame of the project.
Residents that we spoke to often felt that they had insufficient information to give an informed opinion.
Our financial analysis shows Lewisham to be in a more favourable position than many councils find themselves, and one which enables an “unpressurised” choice between the proposed options.
Careful consideration needs to be given to ensure appropriate consultation when dealing with residents living in Sheltered Housing Schemes. Any consultation must be well planned and timely due to the vulnerable nature of many of the residents living in these schemes.
The Resident Steering Group were evenly split in terms of preferred options, between retention (both options 1 & 2) and transfer (Option 3)
There was little or no appetite from the Resident Steering Group for Option 4
Lewisham Homes have stated that their preferred option is to become a 'Mutual' Organisation
TPAS also noted that a number of tenants had observed during the consultation process that it seemed odd for the council to be considering transfer, when the main shortfall in funding was caused by their desire to build new council homes, which after transfer would no longer be council homes.

*(Drivers Jonas Deloitte are now fully incorporated into Deloitte plc – you know, the guys that charge £500 to open an envelope, the guys who administrate a bankrupt company and take all its remaining assets to pay themselves, leaving workers, creditors and customers with nothing...Comet and Jessops spring to mind...)

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Meanwhile, here's more sobering reading about the Council's spending commitments in other areas: see Alternative SE4's latest post "Lewisham PFI Contract Liabilities of £1.2bn set to blow hole in future budgets".


5 comments:

  1. I was actually surprised to see, in table 3 of the council report, that almost three times as many people supported their housing going back into Lewisham Council control as supported their housing being run by a resident-led housing organisation. But council officers are arguing that this is only because few people fully understand the implications of the latter.

    That's as maybe, however assuming that if these people DID fully understand the implications they would vote for this option, without actually testing it out in practice, surely makes a total mockery of the consultation process?

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    1. Thanks for spotting that, Dame!

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  2. And now HMV....Deloitte, kiss of death...

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    1. No! Yes, like betting shops. Making a mint out of the recession. Let's see what happens to the much loved HMV. Apparently the administrators are working to keep at least some shops open because of the publicity about having a record shops selling REAL RECORDS. I predict there will be CLOSURES all round because Deloitte will take all the money.

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    2. I can only predict fluff on my clothes after I've worn my wooly scarf, but I'd put a tenner on HMV going down and Deloitte taking it all...

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