I need to qualify that statement. I don’t like most Housing Associations (HAs), most of the time, but this isn’t a reflection on most of the people who work for them, of which I used to be one. But as agents of creeping privatisation, mixed with self-righteious paternalism, Housing Assocations have a special place in my bile.
I was reminded of this at a meeting earlier this week. Through its insidious ‘Localism’ agenda, the Con/Dem government has introduced fixed term tenancies for residents of social housing – another crass policy that will further destabilise working class communities while pandering to private property interests. Sadly, the latter now includes most housing associations. While promoting an image of benevolence, HAs – who now refer to themselves, tellingly, as ‘Registered Providers’ (RPs) – have become progressively more commercially oriented since being promoted by the Thatcher government as a palatable alternative to council housing. In the biggest privatisation since the dissolution of the monasteries, HA/RPs have hoovered-up thousands of council homes and the public land they stand on through ‘stock transfer’, thus boosting their asset bases and the salaries of their executives. It was, therefore, no surprise to hear at the meeting that some of the biggest HA/RPs in London are embracing fixed term tenancies, while blinking back crocodile tears. At the meeting, a representative from one HA/RP described fixed term tenancies as ‘inevitable’, a false statement that was immediately contradicted by someone from another, smaller organisation who are taking a more principled and enlightened position. What was most annoying was to hear an HA/RP middle-manager describe social housing as ‘a hand up, not a hand down’ and fixed term tenancies as an opportunity to undo ‘generations of worklessness’ through the application of ‘goals and targets’. New tenants will be expected to demonstrate that they are ‘workers not shirkers’ and want to become home owners, in order to keep their tenancy. Quite how they will do this and why HA/RPs think they are the proper people to make the judgment is unclear, but the carefully rehearsed corporate script could have been written by Iain Duncan-Smith. It represents a fundamental denial of why we need non-market housing, particularly in inner-city areas where property speculators run rife, poverty and inequality are rising and even if you’re able to find a job, it’s unlikely to pay the £75,000 you need to get a mortgage.
HA/RPs, many of whom sit on susbstantial cash reserves and land holdings, will embrace fixed term tenancies because it’s in their commercial interests to do so. They will provide another mechanism for increasing rents, getting rid of troublesome tenants and reenforcing a sense of conditionality around the right to housing. They will attempt to justify this by saying the government has turned off the funding tap, which is true, but I would have more sympathy with this argument if HA/RPs had done more to build the homes we need when the tap was on. With slick PR and platitudes, that even some on the left are seduced by, HA/RPs present themselves as part of the solution to the housing crisis, when in fact, they’re part of the problem.