Thursday 21 July 2016

Task Group: Brent needs to rethink its partnerships with housing associations

Top 10 providers by housing association

Last night's Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Commitee considered the Task Group on Brent Housing Association's Report LINK. The task group was led by Cllr Tom Miller.

Executive Summary and key recommendations:
The task group looked at the effects of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 in five key areas: Right to Buy, social housing supply, 1% social rent cut, a voluntary Pay to Stay, and partnerships with the council.

This task group supports increasing home ownership and is not opposed to the principle of giving tenants the opportunity to buy their own home; however, that can only work if homes sold under the Right to Buy are replaced at least one-for-one in Brent and that social and genuinely affordable housing still continues to be provided across all tenures in the borough.

Although the task group does not believe Right to Buy will be taken up in significant numbers, it could exacerbate the borough’s existing housing crisis by further reducing social housing stock. Even if social housing is replaced, there is uncertainty about the type of product that would replace it and there could be a time lag between loss and replacement. This will be made worse if already scarce housing stock is sold. Therefore, the local authority should insist on explicit exemptions of four-bedroom family-sized homes, supported housing and specially adapted housing which if it is sold under the extended Right to Buy will be extremely difficult to replace.

Brent Council also needs to consider other supply-side measures it can take such as joint development with registered providers which maximises the amount of social housing retained in the borough, and stimulating growth in other models of social housing in Brent such as housing co-operatives, community housing, self and custom build and community land trusts.

The demands of the legislation means Brent Council will also need to rethink its existing partnerships with housing associations, and the relationships between them. More of the knowledge and expertise which the local authority has could be shared as a way of building more effective partnerships. Similarly, the expertise which large housing associations have accumulated could be shared with the smaller registered providers in the borough.

The task group believes it may no longer be realistic for one local authority to be able to negotiate on equal terms with such large organisations. Therefore, the task group calls for far greater cross-London working as a counter-balance, and for a recognition of the important niche services that smaller housing associations offer to tenants and residents in Brent.

Finally, the importance of tenants’ voices and listening to their concerns needs to be remembered and this important perspective should be better integrated into partnership working.

Theme 1: Right to Buy 

1. Strategic Director Community Wellbeing convenes a working party dedicated to Right to Buy with registered providers which meets to monitor the impact of the policy in Brent and helps to mitigate any potential problems which are caused.
2. Cabinet Member for Housing sets out a common position to all registered providers operating in Brent that the local authority would like homes of four bedrooms or more, specially adapted housing, and older people’s housing exempted from the Right to Buy.
3. Strategic Director Community Wellbeing and Cabinet Member for Housing develop agreements with housing associations and the Greater London Authority which maximise the number homes replaced in Brent, including four-bedroom properties, as well as homes for social rent.
4. Strategic Director Community Wellbeing invites housing associations operating in Brent to fund jointly an anti-fraud investigator for a time-limited period to help housing associations’ investigations into Right to Buy fraud and offer free training for staff on fraud and speculative buying practices.
5. Director of Policy, Performance and Partnership to consider integrating Right to Buy into Brent’s financial inclusion strategy so that tenants are better informed about interest rates, mortgages, cost of major works, responsibility for repairs, and the operation of companies who encourage purchasing of homes under Right to Buy.
6. Cabinet Member for Housing requests that housing associations advise tenants of their financial options, and inform them of the wider responsibilities of becoming a leaseholder as part of the purchasing process for Right to Buy.
7. Cabinet Member for Housing ensures a working party of registered providers convened around the Right to Buy extension shares information and expertise about properties going into the private rented sector. 

Theme 2: Social housing supply
8. The Strategic Director Community Wellbeing and Lead Member for Housing to initiate further discussions with other London local authorities about collaborative arrangements for the provision of social housing in the future.
9. Brent’s Cabinet Member for Housing to consider setting up a forum for smaller housing associations to be able to gain expertise and knowledge in business planning and other areas from the larger registered providers operating in Brent.
10. Cabinet Member for Housing and Strategic Director Community Wellbeing put in place mechanisms to signpost residents to information about the Community Land Trust Network and Federation Confederation of Cooperative Housing and self and custom-build networks and organises a one-off event to stimulate interest in developing other social housing models.
11. The Strategic Director for Community Wellbeing commissions a feasibility study about developing affordable self-build on marginal areas of council owned-land which is not suitable for its own house building programme.
12. Brent Council to update its Housing Strategy 2014-19 to weight available council- owned land not intended for the council’s own house-building programme towards housing association or partnership developments which house social tenants and vulnerable people in line with the council’s political commitments. 

Theme 3: Social rent reduction
13. Brent Council to continue to work closely with social landlords in the borough to evaluate the effects of welfare reform, in particular the overall benefit cap, and to develop appropriate processes and procedures that facilitate the achievement of this. 

Theme 4: Pay to Stay
14. Cabinet Member for Housing to request that housing associations operating in Brent report regularly to the council outlining any progress they are considering in implementing Pay to Stay. 

Theme 5: Partnerships
15. Cabinet Member for Housing organises more frequent forums around specific issues such as rents, welfare reform and employment as well as linking with London- wide housing groups so there can be a useful exchange of information and expertise.
16. The Strategic Director of Community Wellbeing organises a housing summit each year to bring together all the registered providers in the borough in addition to the regular quarterly forum meetings.
17. In collaboration with housing associations, Brent Council develops mechanisms that will enable housing association tenants to share their concerns and service priorities.
18. Cabinet Member for Housing to write to housing associations to encourage tenants’ representation at the board level of housing associations by bottom-up elections.
19. Cabinet Member for Housing to develop a partnership model which is more weighted towards those providing in-demand tenures and housing.

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