HQN blog: Tenant votes don’t matter

Stop the stigma. That’s what tenants told the ex-minister in his roadshows. We will see what comes out of this. But here is one example of how bad things are. Brexit means Brexit, but tenant ballots mean whatever you want them to mean.

Dominic Raab keeps going on about Brexit. It’s his mission in life. Though I suppose being a part time housing minister helps make the rent. That referendum result is set in stone. There’s no going back. Why does he not take the same stand on stock transfer ballots? That’s stigma right there.

Do you remember these votes? I do as I worked on plenty of them. The offer document said that the local council and local tenants would always have a big say in what goes on. That’s why tenants voted for transfer. It was a safe option with some benefits too. Of course, the homes were fixed. That’s great. But if the tenants had not said yes to it the NHF and RSH today could work out of one phone box with room to spare. Some people should remember where they came from. You’re not a business you’re a gift from the council and the tenants who gave you a start in life. Try and say thanks from time to time.

Just as we haven’t got a bonanza for the NHS from Brexit the transfer promises waned too. Local control went by the wayside through merger. Then the self-styled governance experts booted out the tenants. And finally we got a new law to stop council golden shares and cull their board members. So much for respecting ballots! Now you might think some of these steps are the right way to go and, in some places, I would agree with you. But it does turn the original promises into lies. That’s the top and bottom of it. OK the lawyers can find some small print to make it all legal. But it’s not good as it kills trust stone dead.

And it really matters. If you want to regenerate an estate, you must win the support of local people. Why will they trust you if there is a track record of broken promises? I do think some estates need to be re-built. But I can see why people resist this too. The only way to break the impasse is if the landlord offers the right deal to the tenants. They don’t ask for much do they? All they will want is the right to move back in on the same terms as quickly as possible. But in every scheme there will be thorny problems. Is the mix of home sizes still right? Do you need to ask a few people to move somewhere else? Will they agree? What do you do about leaseholders? Their home as is might be worth £150k. But in the New Jerusalem the same size home could zoom up to £500k. How do you deal with that fairly? They didn’t ask for this to happen. Do they move somewhere cheaper or do they stay put albeit with a smaller stake? Then there are the day to day stresses about living on a building site. If there is no trust, there can be no deal.

Dominic Raab says ballot results must stand. He needs to be clear that this applies to housing. That would be one small step away from stigma. And there must be firm action taken against those that cook the books to get a deal through. That NHS bus lives long in the memory.

By Alistair McIntosh, HQN Chief Executive