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Decant Happy
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Regeneration has become opportunity to access loans and fund- and in a number of cases in recent the word of the moment. 

 

Last weekend, David Cameron announced plans to jump-start the regeneration of 100 “sink estates” across England. The next day, a Savills report commissioned by government estimated that in the capital alone, as many as 360,000 homes could be added by redeveloping 1,750 hectares of London’s council estates. This follows swiftly on the heels of November’s Spending Review, when the chancellor promised £2.3bn in loans would “help regenerate large council estates”. On the other side of the political fence, Lord Adonis, chair of the government’s infrastructure commission, has previously called for the creation of “city villages”, which would be funded by councils leveraging their land ownership – “particularly their ownership of existing council estates”. Regeneration is a bread and butter issue for many social landlords, and this new emphasis presents obvious opportunity to access loans and funding in order to improve estates. But there are difficult questions to consider, too. With the number of regeneration schemes set to grow, is there any accepted good practice out there that social landlords can follow? How have recent attempts at regeneration. “Any modifications, following a tenant’s move, have to be reassessed.” been received, and is any learning emerging that can help councils and housing associations moving forward? And is there some justification for existing tenants’ complaints on some schemes that they have not benefited from the outcomes? Regeneration schemes where social housing estates are demolished – in part or whole – and rebuilt raise tricky political and social questions, and in a number of cases in recent years have caused controversy. This was one spark for protests targeting social landlords in London last year, and previously prompted concern in some parts of the north and Midlands over the previous government’s housing market renewal programme. The objections have tended to centre either on reductions in social housing on rebuilt estates, or the outcome for existing residents. Large-scale plans The Sutton Estate in Chelsea, Lon- don, is one high-profile current scheme that provides an insight into a number of issues social landlords need to consider. The 57,000-home housing association Affinity Sutton plans to redevelop the estate. Affinity Sutton has been consulting on detailed proposals to redevelop the estate since May 2014 and the plans date back years before that, with some homes previously deemed unfit to live in. It says the current properties aren’t up to standard and that large-scale refurbishment would not be cost-effective. It says its “simple” aim for the development is “to provide well designed, good- quality homes, that secure the future of social rented housing on the estate”. A spokesperson for the landlord says that “there were baths inside the kitchens of many of the [current] flats and very bad drainage throughout the building”. As the plans took shape, a number of residents were decanted from their homes with the promise of a package of support to help with the move and retention of their tenancy agreements. Some tenants are happy with the way things have panned out, but others feel the decants could have been handled better. In 2011, 77-year-old resident Dafni Richards was moved to a two-bed- room flat elsewhere on the estate that she says is smaller than the one she had been living in previously. She says she wasn’t happy with the move but felt pressured to accept because she was told that, if she didn’t, there might not be a similar sized flat available. She also says that the landlord had originally sought to change her tenancy when she moved. “They tried to get me to sign for an assured tenancy – but I said I’m not going to sign because I’m a secure tenant.” She says she retained her existing tenancy rights after raising the issue with the landlord. Ms Richards – who suffers from arthritis – says she also had to pay for a shower to be installed. “Any modifications, following a tenant’s move, have to be reassessed and recommended by the occupational therapist,” an Affinity Sutton spokesperson states. “The local authority is then responsible for the delivery and funding of any works. “Tenants that are considered more vulnerable would be given help to decorate their flats as opposed to just being handed a decoration voucher.” Secure tenancies Housing solicitor Anthony Owen, from TV Edwards, says landlords should think carefully about their procedures for transferring tenants. Any transfer forms signed on the spot – without tenants having time to think about the implications – may be open to legal challenge, he states. The law requires social housing providers to provide suitable accommodation for residents to move to – not necessarily ‘like-for-like’ accommodation. OAP Jean Keals has also been decanted. She received a full refurbishment for her new flat – but still has complaints: “I lost a bedroom by moving to a one-bed flat, but my rent increased by £200 per month.” Ian Henderson, chair of the Chelsea Association of Tenants, is happier with the way things have panned out for him. He thinks it would be a good idea if tenants who moved to a smaller property received a rent reduction, however. Mr Henderson was moved five years ago – from a one-bedroom flat into another on the same estate. He has the option to move again into one of the new properties. His rent increased upon moving from £86 to £100 per week initially, and now it’s £114 per week: “I had to move through no choice of my own – but I’m quite happy – my new flat is bigger and better, and the rent is still reasonable,” he states. “Affinity has given us financial help to regenerate the community garden and for various trips for the tenants, to Brighton and to a pantomime.” There is existing guidance from the Greater London Authority (GLA) for landlords involved in regeneration schemes. It states that “existing social housing tenants should receive a new home within the development – with their existing council tenancy rights preserved – and tenants that lose rooms should receive a statutory payment of £5,300”. The Blackwall Reach development of the Robin Hood Gardens Estate in Poplar, east London, involves a partnership between the GLA and Tower Hamlets Council, which owns the land, and Swan Housing Association. Consultation with residents in regeneration schemes is obviously essential – and in Blackwall it has been ongoing since 2007. Residents here can choose to be rehoused in the new development or within one of Swan’s other developments – with assured tenancies for life. Tenant Munaim Ahmed, 38, is certainly happy with the way that things have worked out. He moved into phase one of the new development with his wife and three daughters, just a few months ago: “In the old flat we had no kitchen units and no double-glazed windows,” he says. “In winter, we had to put the heating on non-stop. “The lock was broken on the communal door to the block. We feel much safer now,” he adds. Preserving communities Keeping communities together is also a key concern of many residents – and should be reflected in approaches to regeneration. Swan has endeavoured to meet ten- ants’ requests where possible, to allow existing neighbours or family members to live close to each other. “I feel like I’m still in the same com- munity because 70% of my old neighbours are in my new building,” says Mr Ahmed. Alison Gelder, chief executive of homelessness charity Housing Jus- tice, says that the length of time that regeneration schemes can take can also be a cause of tension. “The biggest problem within regeneration has tended to be the length of these projects, because if you decant people for five years, it’s just as bad to move them back again,” she states. “My experience is that communities are broken up and support networks are hard to sustain. “I was glad to hear of the good practice at Blackwall because our experience has mainly been bad. Keeping communities together is definitely the right way to do it.” A spokesperson for Newcastle City Council says that it is also essential to make sure you are learning from past experiences. Newcastle has delivered numerous regeneration projects in the last decade such as the Walker Regeneration scheme in 2006 – which included the remodelling of the Pottery Bank Estate. The scheme saw 82 households relocated. “People moved from one secure tenancy with the council into another upon transfer,” explains Julie Markham, housing and lettings specialist with the council. “Some opted to transfer to housing association tenancies. We would give them advice about how this would impact their existing rights – together with information, support and advice to help them resettle.” All tenants received financial help from the Home Loss payment scheme. Like Swan, Newcastle sees consultation with residents as crucial.
The coming years will see an increase in large-scale regeneration schemes. There is plenty of existing learning out there for landlords to pick up on. If they do so, then the process can be a positive one for all concerned.
 
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