[Ben is turning over a new leaf today – gone is the sneering cynic, now all he wants to do is spread sweetness and light. Trouble is he can’t find any in the private sector news … ]
After last week’s newsround I got into a forum chat and fessed up about how unhappy I was at becoming a sneering 6th former, poking fun at easy targets, like politicians, through this regular feature. Which was never my intention when I started.
Today I dropped by Waterstones to buy a book and found myself buying Kate Atkinson’s When Will There Be Good News?, the title of which is a telling choice, it was obviously on my mind.
I also just filled in a survey for Guardian online, as a council worker and where I see the role of the public sector going. I was given choices like “To hell and not quite back”, “Desperationsville Alabama” or “Down the toilet, round the bend and half way to the coast” Ok I made the categories up……but I did fill in a survey, and expect the spam anytime soon!
So this week I deliberately set out to find something positive. Trouble is I couldn’t find it in any private rental sector news this week and I don’t want to keep banging on about housing benefit and other disasters.
But with the notional idea of when there will actually be good news, I began my search. I found it in numerous projects running in public sector housing
The Big Society again
Housing Associations have long had financial and legislative restrictions placed on how they work, but as a result they have had to be even more creative to get around the limitations imposed upon them.
This means that they don’t just see housing as an issue to do with buildings and tenants. Instead they have raised their sights into housing and it’s role in the wider community of humanity, seeing their role as enabling and empowering rather than simply service providers.
The big society might be a vague, ill defined concept but it is slowly coming into focus. As far as I understand it, it basically seems to mean “We hope that you all have some great concepts because we haven’t a clue ourselves apart from the idea that if you come up with a local project and it doesn’t work, you can’t blame us”. I think I get that!……steady lad….I think I’m slipping from my self imposed positive stance.
So who is currently out there doing great things?
I read this week about Knowsley Housing Trust, who are behind a venture for 16-20 year olds called NEET TV. They produce video clips on a variety of topics with the overall aim of getting youth into employment. They have already set up 10 apprenticeships and 52 training places for young people in the area. Go Knowsley.
Hats off also to, to Whitefriars Housing Association in Coventry who invested in a course of citizenship improvement programmes to raise awareness of neighbourliness and reduce anti social behaviour.
Now before you get the hump with public money being used for what seems like loony left type initiatives, bear in mind they won an award for this initiative for reducing incidents of anti social behaviour, the social housing equivalent of piles, in a single year by 94%. That is a phenomenal result.
Fly tipping reduced by 74%, graffiti by 94% and the youngsters even formed a group called the Mossdale Rangers Neighbourhood Group, to help locals with gardening and community clean ups [You Tube video here Ed].
Where would you rather live? In an area where you can’t walk to the shops without some chippy teenager drinking White Lightening at a bus stop giving you lip? (I got called ‘Baldy’ the other day) [ahem, there may be a reason for that Ben – Ed]. Or one where that same teenager knows how to prune your Azaleas, before performing a neat little break dancing move on your patio?
This news put me in mind of Leicester Housing Association who, under the innovative David Seviour adopted a brilliant angle on housing in relation to wider community concerns.
They had an estate that had the highest number of requests to transfer out. The place was really run down. Bus shelters smashed to bits, vandalism, graffiti everywhere, the Azaleas had been neglected and were in a hell of a state……truly awful
Most of the residents were unemployed and a survey showed them that most of the unemployed were normally in the building trade. So they used European Social Fund (ESF) money to start a maintenance company. Employed everyone from the estate and gave them the contract for managing the area.
Result? Unemployment gone, graffiti and vandalism, gone and the transfer list changed to having the highest number of requests to transfer in.
On a similar tip, the Guardian this week reports of Sovereign Vale, a housing provider based in Oxford, who stumped up £60,000 for the best, community led innovation in a Dragon’s Den style pitch. The result was for projects including improved litter facilities, allotments and communal lighting. You see it isn’t about having to guess what people would need but just asking them. Housing managers take note.
I think part of what drives such initiatives is that all us old agitating Trotsky-ites from the late 80s (I used to be in militant myself) have now become managers, homeowners and even parents of break dancing, Azalea pruning youths. We aren’t so interested in revolution anymore, and are happy if we can just cover our standing orders and manage to afford 10 days in Turkey each year. But our sense of social injustice is still in place, it has just morphed into more realistic aims, like those listed above.
And if you still think these approaches are irrelevant side issues, think on the work done by Sedgemoor District Council in Somerset. I know, from a very brief spell working there myself, and from friends who followed me, that they work closely with the local YMCA to provide training for young people in basic living skills like paying bills. As they progress they get banded in Bronze, Silver and Gold.
Participants who end up in the gold band can demonstrate that the know what it means to be a good tenant and can show a proven track record in budgeting. The result is that local private landlords are happy to let to young people.
Back to this week’s news, and kind of following from last week’s rant about fraud, the National Federation of ALMOs (Arms Length Management Organisations……basically council housing under a different name) Have announced a crackdown on illegal subletting, which is rife.
City-west homes (used to be Westminster council) carried out a random tenancy check over 3 days. They took the decision to start photographing their tenants (as we have had to do, also mentioned last week) because some of their tenants weren’t actually their tenants…..if you get my drift.
I see that Barnet Homes have had to take on 2 designated fraud officers to tackle the widespread problem of unlawful sub-tenancies because of the same problem.
Alison Inman, chair of the National Federation of ALMOs, said: “It is important that those residents who are in genuine need of social housing are able to receive it and that the system is not exploited by dishonest individuals looking to misuse properties for their own personal gain.
Yesterday I got a call from a distressed elderly lady complaining that our ALMO was evicting her for non occupation. She said she was staying elsewhere because she was being harassed by a neighbour but was too embarrassed to tell the landlord organisation.
Filled with compassion and righteous anger I phoned her housing officer to ask what they were thinking in evicting this little old lady, only to have the housing officer sigh and read out the names on the tenancy agreement that my caller was happily making £1,000 a month profit from.
Ya see????? I knew I wouldn’t get to the end being all positive