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028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Involving Tenants in Social Housing Conference Report

A packed conference held on 12 December in the Mac, Belfast, allowed delegates from tenants groups, social landlords and other agencies to discuss how housing provision can benefit from effective tenant involvement and empowerment.

In her opening remarks, Housing Rights Service Director, Janet Hunter, set the scene by asserting that tenants should be at the heart of government plans to reform social housing in NI. This was followed by a landlord’s perspective on the benefits of tenant involvement when, in an inspirational address, Steve Stride, Chief Executive of Poplar Harca Housing Association, described the ground breaking approach his organisation has adopted in regenerating the community in the East End of London.

From the tenants’ perspective, Lesley Baird, Chief Executive of TPAS Scotland, outlined the extensive role social tenants play in Scottish housing policy development and management. The approach of arm's length management organisations (ALMOs) to tenant involvement was then presented by Robin Lawler, Chief Executive of Manchester-based Northwards, when he emphasised the need for tenants to be properly represented on the boards of social housing providers and involved in all strategic management decisions.

The above speakers took part in a question and answer session following presentations from Gerry Flynn from the Housing Executive; Caroline McCrory, Oaklee Housing Association; and tenant representatives from Oaklee and Ulidia Housing Associations who talked about their experiences in promoting tenant involvement within their respective organisations.

The afternoon session was chaired by the BBC Radio Ulster “On Your Behalf” presenter of Linda McAuley. Delegates heard from Deirdre Ward, DSD Deputy Director of Housing, who outlined the Minister’s proposals for social housing reform and highlighted his reasons for change:

  • To develop social housing structures fit for the future
  • To create a financially sustainable and tenant-focused model
  • To lever in additional funds
  • To increase capacity to deliver new homes and services
  • To support and help communities.

The DSD has already begun its consultation process and Deirdre gave an insight into some emerging themes

Greater Tenant Involvement Long term funding
Specific housing services to tackle issues such as homeslessness Reduce reliance on public sector funding
Deliver more housing plus Effective regulation
Affordable & sustainable rents Support for housing-led regeneration
Joined-up goverment approach Build new homes

In particular, Deirdre highlighted priority issues for tenants to include:

  • Involvement in the development of design requirements and policies for new social housing model
  • Encouraging a wide range of tenants (and residents) to get involved
  • Increased tenant representation in new structures
  • Open lines of communication between housing providers and tenant
  • Good governance and accountability.

Mags Lightbody, the newly appointed Director of Transformation, then spoke about her background in Glasgow Housing Association and how lessons can be learned from this experience. She said the best tenant engagement is to listen to all, engage with all and use all available channels to do so – including making the most of social media. Then, design the services and engagement to suit tenants. Mags ended her presentation stressing that there is no blue print in the “bottom drawer” and that “Your views will impact on the final shape and outcomes”.

From overseas came two speakers who shared their experiences of regulation and stock transfer. Phil Morgan spoke about developments in housing regulation. Phil, who was former Chief Executive of TPAS and involved in developing various regulation systems, is convinced that the culture of a landlord is crucial to placing tenants at the heart of what they do. “That culture needs to start with the regulator, wherever it is placed, and inform its own culture and practice.” Phil is a strong believer in tenant scrutiny which he feels promotes service improvement and support accountability.

Finally, Paul McNeill gave his presentation. Paul is a leading consultant in stock transfers having lead in 27 for Scottish Council/ Scottish Homes Transfers. During this process the key principles underlying the transfers were:

  • Tenant Involvement
  • Value for money
  • Competition
  • Level of service
  • Opportunities for staff
  • Homes retained for social renting.

Paul said that tenant involvement in the process must be a top priority. He recommended that consultation should start soon with opening up lines of communication via:

  • Focus Groups
  • Newsletters
  • Drop in surgeries
  • Social media
  • Internet
  • Ballots.

all of which must be appropriately funded.

The event ended with a Question and Answer session where Social Development Committee Chairman, Alex Maskey MLA, joined the speakers. Alex stated that Committee had not yet formed a view on what social housing reform might look like but stressed that tenant involvement was a priority. He said Sinn Fein was not in favour of transferring Housing Executive stock out of public ownership, that they would like to see alternatives to stock transfers to housing associations and that he did not rule out the issue of a tenant ballot.

Speaker presentations

Steve Stride

Lesley Baird

Robin Lawler

Paul McNeil

Phil Morgan

Deirdre Ward

Mags Lightbody


Tagged In

Social Tenancies, Policy, Landlord