I used to be on the management committee for the Shepherd's Bush Housing Association, a pretty dire landlord operating in my borough and also neighbouring boroughs. At one of the meetings there was a proud declaration that we owned a house worth £4 million in Kensington Square. Those who lived there must have an incredibly subsidised rent – like winning the lottery. "Lucky family," a fellow committee member exclaimed. But in terms of asset management the policy of retaining such properties as some point of principle, even when they become vacant, is bonkers. With their scarce resources the charitable role of housing associations should be about providing decent housing to the many – not extravagant housing to the few.
Another scenario would be that a housing association has a vacant property in poor condition – but due t mismanagement of budgetary pressures fails to carry out the extensive repairs required. So it sits empty. Common sense would suggest that it be sold. Socialist ideology – the predominant ideology on housing association boards – is that this option should not be considered.
Anyway the Homes and Community Agency is a Quango which squirts out £4 billion a year of our money in subsidies to housing associations. It is also a regulator and used to act as a block on housing associations selling off run down properties. It still does. But the good news is that the red tape has been eased a bit.
Social Housing Providers are now able to seek the Regulator’s consent to a policy of disposals, rather than individual consent as is currently the case. This will increase flexibility and reduce administrative burden for providers who can demonstrate a strategic approach to the management of their assets.
Matthew Bailes, Director of Regulation, said “This change to our consent process recognises that a programme of sales can be an important part of providers’ strategies to achieve best use of the resources available to them. It will particularly help those providers with agreements to deliver new Affordable Homes, with sales receipts contributing to the overall resource requirements.
“It is also intended to relieve administrative burdens for those providers who have developed plans for a significant level of sales, where previously they would have to seek individual consent.”
This is welcome but does not go nearly far enough. Housing associations sitting on empty properties for long periods of time is a scandal. Not only should the obstacles to them selling but reduced but their should be obligations for them to sell in such circumstances. For instance a trigger mechanism that any property left vacant for more than six months is put up for auction. There could be a similar mechanism for any of their properties which falls vacant and has a asset value per bedroom above the regional average.
Are housing association interested in prestige empire building or providing as many homes as possible to those in need?