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INDEPENDENT HOUSING COMMISSION REPORT: 'BIRMINGHAM TENANTS KNOW WHAT WORKS IN THEIR COMMUNITIES'

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The independent report into the future of Birmingham's council housing has...
The independent report into the future of Birmingham's council housing has

called for a radical overhaul of housing services - with estates and local areas

given much more power to tackle local problems.

The report, One Size Doesn't Fit All - Community Housing And Flourishing

Neighbourhoods*, was commissioned following the 'No' vote in the stock transfer

referendum which it says left Birmingham 'in limbo'.

The commission recommends that all decisions about repairs, lettings and estate

maintenance would be made by local managers with residents - not by the 'top

heavy bureaucratic centre' at the town hall.

New Community Based Housing Organisations (CBHOs) would control 80% of the total

housing management budget and 100% of the entire repairs budget. The stock would

remain within council ownership. However where tenants support new forms of

ownership and their homes need so much investment that the only real alternative

is demolition, small scale local transfer to community-based housing

associations is a practical option.

Super-caretakers, neighbourhood wardens and 'man in a van' repair workers would

smarten up the environment and supervise common areas. On the spot management

and community involvement will produce better conditions at lower cost.

Tenants themselves should be helped to go a step further if they want -

controlling estate conditions through tenant management organisations. This

model has already proved a success on the Bloomsbury estate where residents

control the budget and make the decisions.

What community-based housing organisations offer residents:

- a local neighbourhood structure and service

- a local, dedicated, ring-fenced budget

- high quality senior staff in charge locally

- a local repairs service and locally controlled contracts

- super-caretaker wardens with repairs skills

- on site supervision and care covering all stock types

- local lettings and transfers with proper checks on eligibility

- clear rules of open access, based on advertising available property

- date order access with a clear target for emergencies

- all agreed rent within the local budget

- all savings on voids, arrears and repairs used to improve stock

- local determined renewal using major repairs allowance

- local social provision and community support

- residents forming half of board members

- an independent chair agreed by all members

- many more local jobs

- full training for residents and other board members in governance skills

- neighbourhood partnership regeneration plans

- option for small scale transfer to community based housing associations

- higher quality neighbourhood housing, social and environmental services

Anne Power, chair of the independent commission, says: 'We recognise the central,

over-riding urgency of change. Birmingham needs to sort out its landlord service

with the utmost speed if it is to remain solvent and viable as a housing

service. Becoming a 'can-do organisation with highly motivated, high performing

staffis a real challenge. We are proposing a very different approach, more

community-based, more varied and more flexible.'

Our Headline Recommendations

A. Directions - Create around 35 community-based housing organisations to

deliver local housing management with strong community participation, and the

option to evolve down different pathways depending on repair and investment

needs, community strengths and tenants' choices. These local management

organisations will be nurtured and supported by area offices which, in turn,

will be linked to the central housing strategy.

B. Timing and phasing - Establish two pathfinder areas within three months to pilot

the development of community-based housing organisations in those areas; and

encourage all other areas to initiate community consultation in any

neighbourhood interested in developing a community-based housing organisation.

C. Creating capacity for change - Create a new, central change team and a

resident support team to facilitate and drive area pathfinders and community

level pilots; provide intensive training, communication and feed-back mechanisms

to all levels of staff and residents' representatives; openly recruit to all new

senior positions.

D. Changing the landlord service - identify across-the-board problems that can

be tackled immediately to help the pathfinder areas and new community-based

housing associations eg lettings, repairs, tenancy enforcement, and

neighbourhood communal environments.

E. Funding - Maximise income (eg rents, major repair allowance, capital

receipts), minimise losses (eg voids, arrears), and develop innovative

approaches to generate additional income with the support and involvement of

residents.

F. Integrating Council Housing Within Neighbourhoods - Tackle Council housing

problems as part of the wider 'flourishing neighbourhoods' agenda with a focus

on community organisations and partnerships, transport links, and neighbourhood

facilities; ensure representation on community-based housing associations of

local owner occupiers, registered social landlord tenants, young people and

ethnic minority communities.

G. Racial equality and inter-ethnic understanding - Take action to ensure

greater fairness and equality and to prevent the development of separate and

segregated communities, by working with white, black, Asian and other

communities to tackle social, economic and poverty problems, and to build

cohesion around shared city spaces.

H. Government support In exchange for radical reform of the landlord service

through devolved community-based housing associations, government should release

more resources through a higher share of capital receipts, and additional

borrowing, as CBHOs develop higher performance and partial debt relief for small

scale transfers.

Birmingham Independent Housing Commission - Final Report

Statement from the leader of Birmingham City Council, Albert Bore:

'The commission's report highlights a number of weaknesses in the current council

housing service, at both the strategic and operational levels. The council was

well aware of the need to improve the service, and commissioned this report to

help us achieve the fundamental step change that we acknowledge is both

necessary and pressing.

We are grateful to have had the benefit of advice from such acknowledged experts

in the field of social housing, and express our sincere thanks to Anne Power and

the other commissioners for the energetic and inclusive way they have gone about

their task.

The report itself will be very useful to us in helping to map a way forward,

following the rejection of whole scale stock transfer. Indeed, the way the

commission has approached the work has helped us move forward already, by

allowing time and space for reflection following the tenants ballot, and

assisting the process of rebuilding relationships with tenants and other

stakeholders.

The broad thrust of the recommendations towards a more tenant led, localised

landlord service chimes very well with the council's wider commitment to the

devolution of governance and service delivery arrangements; although naturally

there are issues of timing and detail to be worked through with staff and

tenants; and the interface with other council services will need to be carefully

co-ordinated.

The council will certainly be looking to explore the breadth of options set out

in the report to maximise income and resources for investment; and will do so in

close consultation with tenants and partner organisations.

There are also clear messages for national government, which are particularly

timely as the ODPM reflects on the feedback to

its consultation exercise on the future of housing finance which concludes in

January next year.

We acknowledge the failures of the past and, indeed, have already started on the

road to address these. The commission report endorses and will give an added

impetus to work already begun to:

- develop a new strategic approach through the proposed nine housing market

renewal areas

- implement service improvement plans following a number of significant best

value reviews covering the majority of the housing service

- separate out the strategic and landlord functions

- deliver against the six key priorities set out by the leader of the city

council in April 2002:

- using resources more effectively

- making savings in management costs

- rebuilding relationships with tenants

- developing a strong strategic role

- devolving housing services

- developing a new investment strategy

Our task in the council is now to swiftly consider the recommendations and act

decisively to deliver improvements in the service, in the context of our flourishing

neighbourhoods and localisation agendas.'

NOTES

The Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Future of Council Housing in

Birmingham was set up in May 2002 following the 'No' vote in the stock transfer.

The commission is chaired by Prof. Anne Power, Department of Social Policy at

the London School of Economics. The full membership is:

Lord Richard Best Director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Joseph

Rowntree Housing Trust

Ms Lynne Britton Director of the National Tenants' Resource Centre;

Council and private tenant

Mr John Cunningham Regional Organiser - Union of Construction, Allied Trades

and Technicians (not co-signatory to the report)

Mr Aman Dalvi Chief Executive of the Thames Gateway and former Chief

Executive of the Ujima Housing Association

Ms Yvonne Hutchinson Member of Housing Corporation; former RSL tenant

(nominated by Neighbourhood Renewal Unit)

Professor Duncan MacLennan Adviser to Ministers of Scottish Executive;

Professor of Economics and Finance University of Glasgow

Mr Jesper Nygard Chair of the Danish Urban Renewal Company and National

Building Foundation, Chief Executive of KAB (non-profit

Housing Association)

Professor Anne Power (Chair) Professor of Social Policy and Director of MSc

in Housing - London School of Economics; Founding

Director of National Tenants Resource Centre

Mr Douglas Smallwood Managing Director, Corporate Banking, Bank of

Scotland

Ms Sarah Webb Head of ODPM Community Housing Task Force

(Advisor - not co-signatory to the report)

* Both the full report and a summary are available here.

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