A green paper on Social Housing in England, which proposes giving more power to tenants, has been welcomed – with some concerns – by the co-op movement.
The consultation document, from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG), includes a look at housing associations which have already restructured as a community-based provider, using a co-operative or mutual model and managed by residents.
And it includes comment from residents on the benefits of living in a co-op, and asks for ideas to boost community-led housing and overcome the barriers faced by developers of new community-owned homes.
The paper outlines plans to build on the £1.67bn government investment deal announced last year. However, it does not suggest allocating any additional funding to meet the increasing demand for affordable housing. Fewer than 6,000 social homes were completed in England in the last year, while more than 1.8 million households are waiting for a social home.
Proposals include changes to make it easier for tenants to own their homes, such as giving them the right to buy 1% of their home each year.
And the government pledges to strengthen partnerships with housing associations to boost the supply of new affordable homes by providing longer-term funding certainty to some housing associations.
Reforms are also being considered which would help people using affordable home ownership schemes – such as shared ownership – build up more equity in their homes.
The green paper asks how the current complaints process can be reformed to be quicker and easier; particularly when dealing with safety concerns, and wants feedback on whether the regulator should produce a code of practice for landlords, and league tables for landlords.
The department also plans a consultation on how to create longer tenancies in the private rented sector.
Secretary of state for communities James Brokenshire said: “Providing quality and fair social housing is a priority for this government.
“Our green paper offers a landmark opportunity for major reform to improve fairness, quality and safety to residents living in social housing across the country.
“Regardless of whether you own your home or rent in the social sector, residents deserve security, dignity and the opportunities to build a better life.”
Nic Bliss, head of policy at the Confederation of Co-operative Housing (CCH), welcomed the recognition of the need for a national voice for tenants, and the references to co-operative housing and community land trusts.
Social housing needs to be much more community-led, he added. Last year four tenant-led organisations, including CCH, called on the government to re-establish the National Tenant Voice (NTV).
He said: “The whole social housing sector needs to be much more community-led. These definitely are ways to tackle social housing stigma, service quality and many other social issues. But alongside this, we are worried that the green paper is questioning whether tenant management is a valid form of community-led housing. Of course it is.
“Over many years, it has delivered very positive results . As with any form of housing, some TMOs have been better than others and the appalling failure of one of them should not lead to blanket condemnation of all of them,” he wrote in an article for 24Housing.
CCH will continue to work with the government, added Mr Bliss, to ensure the vision in its recent Civil Society Strategy is replicated in the social housing sector, giving people a real say in decisions that matter to them.
Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operatives UK, also backs the idea of a national tenant voice.
In 1997 he chaired a commission for the National Housing Federation which produced a report, What Tenants Want, calling for a new relationship of mutuality between housing associations and tenants. In response, the National Housing Federation produced a voluntary code on service and accountability for its members.
A similar report last year from CCH found that tenants want see decision-making in housing associations to be subject to checks, balances and safeguards, with tenants given a clear and defined role in big decisions.
Mr Mayo said: “We need to listen to the voice of social housing tenants and we will all feel part of a fairer and more inclusive country if we do.”
Around four million households live in social housing with the figure projected to rise annually.
Tenants and organisations have until 6 November to share their thoughts about the green paper, which only concerns England.