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HOUSING: IMPROVING SERVICES THROUGH RESIDENT INVOLVEMENT

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Resident involvement can make a significant contribution to the business of running housing services, according to ...
Resident involvement can make a significant contribution to the business of running housing services, according to a report* published jointly today by the Audit Commission and the Housing Corporation.

But to reap the rewards, housing organisations should be more more honest about what their activities are designed to achieve. They also need to develop a better understanding of what they are spending.

Housing: improving services through resident involvement is the latest study in the joint Audit Commission/Housing Corporation research programme. The report and accompanying management handbook are launched at the Chartered Institute of Housing conference.

The report challenges housing organisations to be clear about the type of involvement activities are designed to achieve. It suggests that there are three main rationales:

-To improve services or housing stock

-To enhance accountability to users

-To build social capital and community capacity

The management handbook suggests some practical steps to assist landlords in this process.

There are many examples of housing associations which have developed successful approaches. Templar Housing Association, for example, involved residents in the design of their new homes by using a virtual reality suite to take them on a 'tour' of the mill that was being converted into housing. For a relatively small cost, expensive mistakes were avoided and residents also benefited in terms of improved community spirit.

Landlords can improve other areas of performance by involving residents. Some housing associations found that involving residents in refurbishing an estate helped to reduce tenancy turnover and the number of empty properties.

The study also considered the evidence on costs by comparing costs and benefits for a range of different activities. It concludes that:

-Involving residents to improve services does work and can provide value for money

-There are many good examples of housing associations positively affecting community capacity, but these gains are less obvious, tend to be over the longer term and usually involve a range of partner agencies

-Involving residents in governance is often challenging, especially if the organisation is not prepared for their involvement. In these circumstances the benefits may not easily translate into good value for money

Roy Irwin, chief inspector of housing at the Audit Commission, said: 'There are many benefits to be derived from involving residents, not least an impact on service quality and on performance indicators, but housing organisations need to be clear about what they are seeking to achieve. This can be difficult as people are often reluctant to challenge resident involvement because it has developed an untouchable quality. Landlords also need to offer residents a menu of ways to get involved as not everyone will want to turn up for an evening meeting. People will want to get involved in different ways and at different levels. Weneed to acknowledge that and tailor efforts accordingly.'

Bob Dinwiddy, assistant chief executive at the Housing Corporation, said: 'It has long been the Corporation's policy to encourage resident involvement. We recently published a revised policy which put emphasis on associations developing the involvement their residents want, rather than prescribing the form it should take. We believe that this makes good business sense. This report is the evidence to support this stance, and I am pleased to see that it details many examples where housing associations are making resident involvement work for them.'

* The report is available here

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