Please note this chapter was written in 2005 - have fun spotting what has turned out to be futurology!
Tenant Futures – the future of tenants in social housing
This paper is designed to look at the role of tenants in social housing 20 years from now. It seeks to develop trends which are already apparent and ask some uncomfortable questions about both tenants and landlords’ housing futures. The paper aims to be, in equal parts, predictive, aspirational and provocative. It is not a solo effort and thanks go to a number of TPAS staff and activists for their commentary. However the responsibility for the article is mine alone.
Tenants in 2025 will not be the same as today. I will set out opportunities which, if realised, would show that social housing has the ability to broaden it’s appeal. As a result ‘tenants’ will become a more diverse group. Next the name ‘tenant’ will become increasingly anachronistic as social housing creates new types of ‘ownership’. Tenants will also have the ability to choose between different types of tenancies depending on their circumstances, and, in certain circumstances, be able to choose different landlords. Finally tenants will see two types of social landlord services – the delivery of direct services, which will include a range of rents, services and equity, and secondly the ability to be part of successful communities through the social landlords advocacy role, currently articulated through the National Housing Federation’s In Business campaign.
Who will be the tenants?
If we are going to discuss ‘tenants’ then we need to understand who the tenants will be. The obvious trend is the increasing concentration on the most socially excluded into social housing. As Right to Buy and increasing affluence take more tenants away from social housing, the remaining stock inevitably becomes focussed on those for whom home ownership is unattainable. This results in social housing becoming tenure of no choice. No choice makes it harder to sustain an attractive product for social housing as “why bother, they’ve got no choice anyway” takes hold in the mind set either of politicians or housing providers. The first point is that social housing should not be about no choice, doesn’t have to be about no choice and can have a clear future.
There is a group of younger, middle class, aspirational people who cannot afford to buy (and who will define their ‘poverty’ by that lack of ability to buy). The current housing market does not fulfil the demands of those who aspire to home ownership but cannot, because of the currently inflated housing market, afford to buy. This group are also not in sufficient need to access social housing and their aspirations would largely work against the stigma attached. Although this house price bubble may burst, student debt is likely to be higher in future further restricting home ownership immediately post-University.
For graduates the ability to either work off student debt and/or to raise a deposit for a future property is important and could be a normal part of a young person’s life between 22 and 26. This points to a different product than currently offered and one aimed at a short-term lease, of say 3-5 years, including elements of rent, minimal services and the conversion of some of that rent into equity at the end of a lease. That equity would be the most obvious attraction in allowing for a deposit for home ownership. In addition the minimal services would be an introduction to the world of taking responsibility for the well being of your property. It would also allow a degree of flexibility in people’s lives during a time when they may want to move around more at the start of their careers. Social housing is well placed to offer such an arrangement – able to provide a bridge between student renting and home ownership and trusted to provide good quality accommodation.
Rewards and Incentives
One of the points made by tenants about dealing with difficult tenants is that the attention is spent with undeserving tenants and nothing nice happens to “good” tenants. Links can be made between successful tenants and various rewards – either individual or collective building on some of the approach pioneered by Irwell Valley HA. It’s worth making the point that there is a subtle but important difference between incentives and rewards for what landlords want from tenants and the volunteer ethos that still drives a substantial proportion of vital community activity.
There is also the possibility of incentivising involvement in the local community such as school governors, local Boards, youth groups, environmental groups, religious activities, which could also tie into both the demand for such people and their interest in accruing capital as a reward for such engagement. TPAS work on rewards for volunteers point to an increasing interest by landlords in rewards and incentives. We could see the creation of rewards schemes tying in with short-term (3-5 year) leases aimed at recent graduates and young people. These will be connected with building up an asset base for those young people and rewarding their involvement in that local community. At the end of the lease (and not before) a guaranteed amount will be available as equity plus a proportion of the increase in the value of the property.
There is another group of older people with limited pensions and substantial capital assets in their homes, for whom a social landlord with the ability to release equity, maintain the fabric of their home, and would be a viable option. Over the past five years there have been sharp reductions in the Stock Market with a profound knock-on effect on the ability of pensions to keep pace with expectations. This has come at the same time as sharp rises in the housing market, leaving two groups of people: those who got on the property ladder early and are comparatively well-off in terms of capital and those who did not and are not. Thus we have, in the first group, people who are approaching old age with limited pensions and lots of tied up capital who will want to release that capital to enjoy a good standard of life without it all going to their children. There are already lifetime mortgages and home reversion schemes. However social landlords have the unique ability to create a market that would see larger proportions of capital realised, rent paid, maintenance of the property and minimal risk as the landlord would have the capital value of the property to fall back on. The selling points are the care of the property, which could tie into rent or further release of equity, and that social landlords are not tainted with the uneven reputation of the private financial market.
New approach, not just new products
This paper identifies two new groups of potential tenants in younger and older people. However this is also about creating a new approach to social housing. Simply creating two new products and ignoring issues for the no-choice tenants does not really solve another problem. TPAS have long believed that the lack of ‘ownership’ status of tenants results in poorer services and have wanted to blur the edges of home ownership (which in many cases means you own a small part of your home) and renting (which means you still live somewhere you call home but without the same view of ‘ownership’).
This is also an issue for the stubbornly poor who find it increasingly difficult to get on the cycle of home (or any other kind of) ownership as prices reflect the legacy of home owners passing on their assets to their home owning children. It is now becoming harder, not easier, for children born in poverty, to escape poverty as wealth becomes increasingly concentrated in those who own property. Therefore Government should have an interest in supporting even comparatively small amounts of ownership.
Future changes would be summarised as:
- The creation of a new market for homeowners reaching old age to liquidise their capital asset into cash for spending. This new market will require both financial capacity and the ability for someone to manage the resulting split asset. The current restrictions on both type and amount that can be borrowed as Housing Associations take on both the funding and management role in exchange for rental stream within their not-for-profit ethos.
- The creation of short-term (3-5 year) leases aimed at recent graduates and young people.
- The introduction of equity stakes for four purposes
- To create opportunities for home ownership by helping form a deposit
- To break down the barriers of ‘ownership’ in terms of services
- To create a capital resource, able to borrowed against, for small enterprises
- To incentivise good behaviour
It’s plausible to foresee three types of ‘tenant’ emerging:
- ‘mature’ owners with a relationship with a social landlord
- ‘aspiring’owners with a relationship with a social landlord
- ‘tenants’ with no choice
Strictly speaking they are all tenants of some kind but it is unlikely that the phrase ’tenant’ would be used for either of the first or second groupings. In fact forward thinking social landlords would start marketing themselves as ‘cradle to grave’ partners, able to fit into people’s complex lives and allowing staircasing up and down of asset and repairs, much in the same ways as leading financial institutions do. Some may go even further and align themselves to those financial institutions to create a menu of lending, borrowing, fabric of homes and rent for a far wider range of customers than is currently the case.
If the product was that flexible it may create a different ethos around social housing, with products that were geared to the possibility of different combinations of rent, service, equity and wider issues around empowerment and community. It is not just about creating two new types of tenant – it is about creating a new approach to tenants that includes those two types.
Choice and Customers
All political parties now talk the language of choice. The most recent symbol is choice based lettings although it is too early to tell what impact this will have on tenants’ choice. A few years ago declining numbers in some areas of social housing meant talk of reluctant customers and social housing needing to make itself more attractive to retain it’s viability. Now the increase in demand and house prices mean that, with the exception of a few areas of long-term decline, in theory social housing does not need to be ‘attractive’ to any one – it just waits for the queues to form of those in need and those unable to buy. Although there has been a North-South divide expressed crudely as low demand North and high-demand South many parts of the ‘North’ now have rising demand. There will remain some areas in the North (currently known as Market Renewal Pathfinders) where both discontinuity in the labour and housing markets combine with lack of demand for some types of housing will result in low demand, although these remain exceptions.
Although macro-economic policies and the slow burn of house building will eventually dampen demand for social housing across most of
Or will they?
Even where there is limited supply of housing, people will exercise choice and creating no-choice housing simply means that as soon as people can exercise a choice then they will move – or will resent their no-choice housing and express this in negative ways.
Choice over landlord product
One of the distinctive features of social housing has been that there is, to all intents and purposes a single tenancy. The differences between the current tenancy agreements are diminishing and, apart from Right to Buy, effectively act as one tenancy. The imminent Single Tenancy is a long-held ambition of the tenants’ movement in
Earlier I explored the importance both of responding to new markets and better meeting the existing one. This suggests that social landlords will need to develop new products to respond to differing situations. The one-size fits all model is already creaking at the edges as some tenants clearly want different services than others. The creation of ‘supporting people’ is perhaps the most overt sign but it is increasingly hard to argue for a monolithic rent/services approach. The movement over equity stakes and shared ownership are the next steps in a process that will result in a number of different products aimed at attracting and retaining new and existing tenants.
These products would include those mentioned earlier for young professional and older people but should also include the following:
- different levels of rent related to different levels of service
- opportunities to gain equity
- opportunities for shared ownership
- negotiated levels of service
- negotiated tenant contribution
- how Anti Social Behaviour would be tackled
- Opportunities for involvement
- Successful communities
This also ties in with earlier comments about incentives and rewards – is a lower rent a reward for requiring less services? Would equity shares be linked to good behaviour? Again we could see a blurring of the current divide between rent/service, rent/equity, behaviour/reward to create a single framework that connected all these issues.
Choice over landlord
More arguably there is a case for tenants, in certain circumstances, being able to choose between landlords. Currently a landlord is a fixed item for a tenant. Apart from stock options/transfer there is no ability for a tenant of a property to choose their landlord. However why would anyone want to stay with a ‘bad’ landlord – either as shown through external evaluation or through their own experience? We can choose lenders, supermarkets, cars and increasingly schools and hospitals – why not landlords.
It is not just an issue for tenants. Government too, has an interest in ensuring value for money, and effective social landlords subsidised through the public purse. With an emphasis on choice it would be attractive to Governments, of whatever political colour, to offer tenants of bad landlords the opportunity to move to a better one.
There are obvious limits to any such choice, as recently recognised by the Public Administration Select Committee. It would be difficult to sustain lending from the financial market if there were frequent turnarounds in landlord ownership, likewise stability is important in terms of staffing and structures. However there are three scenarios where choice over landlord would be appropriate
– where tenant management was appropriate (as now for Local Authorities)
– and where social landlords were delivering a poor level of service, say equivalent to 1 star or less. This would be through a collective process where tenants choose a new landlord, much as through the stock options process now where different landlords can compete.
– for individuals with a sustained individual complaint about consistently poor levels of service that are reported through the Ombudsman.
What is interesting about this proposal is that it reinforces the need for landlords to behave as good landlords, which is of benefit to everyone.
What do I want as a tenant?
There are certain core standards which could be expected to be in place for all tenants and would form part of the new ‘product’.
I want to be free of Anti Social Behaviour (ASB)
TPAS has long argued that crime and ASB are now the defining feature of failing communities and housing – far more so that poverty or ill-health or illiteracy (although there are connections). Government is slowly responding – through various initiatives that either deal with crime/ASB generically (such as the
Landlords already face a clear demand from tenants for action to combat ASB, and in many cases are doing something about it. A clear line needs to be drawn around the landlord role, about tackling tenants who commit ASB, and the wider advocate role which is more about working with other agencies who can assist both with their tenants and other people who harass tenants.
Thus future landlord roles will break into four parts:
Prevention by landlord
– more activity around the commencement of a tenancy
– Pre-tenancy checks for drug and alcohol abuse
– Working with tenants who are creating ASB
Prevention advocacy by landlord
– preventative work on parenting skills, illiteracy, drug and alcohol abuse with other agencies
– partnership approach with police, council, social services and Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships
– backed up by tenancy clauses (attend and you keep your tenancy)
– Social Landlords leading creation of local crime and grime groups with police forces
Enforcement by landlord
– Power for landlords to instantly terminate tenancies for ASB
– Key staff available at short notice to deal with any cases of ASB
Enforcement advocacy by landlord
– The growth of Zero Tolerance areas – backed up by local tenant and resident ballots
– Access to instant ASBOs at less than 24 hours notice
There’s also a case for a tenant role:
- Agreement not to commit ASB
- Contributing to ASB strategies
- Reporting ASB
- Providing on the effectiveness of ASB strategies
- Attending local groups
- Working with the police
- Voting for zero-tolerance zones
It is arguable that ASB now poses the biggest single threat to social housing. What will put off anyone about social housing is the issue, perceived or real, that it is synonymous with ASB and crime. Social housing will reduce costs, provide better services and have happier tenants if they can break ASB and it’s baleful impact on tenants’ lives.
I want a good service……………but it’s not just about my housing it’s also my community
It is reasonable for tenants to want a good level of service. One of TPAS’s predictions for Compacts was that they would become a model not just for resident involvement but also for linking service delivery between providers and customers. What attracted us to that idea of service delivery was both the ability of tenants, as customers, to influence standards of service, but also that Government, as with Public Service Agreements, could increasingly promote Value For Money. It’s interesting that since drafting this article that Neighbourhood Charters and Local Area Agreements are now being mooted. Again there is a dual role for landlords – to create their own direct agreements with tenants over service delivery and to promote similar agreements with other service providers within local communities.
Firstly there could be an annual process of review of rents and services – either of the current single product or of the wider range of products proposed in this paper. This would allow for a real dialogue about what matters, and what does not, create accountability of the landlord to tenants and allow the tenants to understand why certain decisions are proposed.
Secondly that process could also allow for dialogue about wider community issues where the landlord is unlikely to have any direct control but is in a position to be able to influence other public service providers about the quality and quantity of their service provision. Again this creates a different role for the landlord about being an advocate for their tenants and the opportunity for a good reputation to talk up their tenants. It also creates a very clear divide between private rented housing and social housing as products. There is a case to be made for private rented housing offering a type of service in return for rent. The community advocate role would be distinctive for social landlords and part of why Government continued to subsidise rents.
The creation of these direct service delivery agreements should not be viewed as a one-way process. It is quite reasonable for this to be part of an annual cycle that also tests tenants’ willingness to contribute – be it through not committing ASB or by assisting activity within either housing or their local community. Some of the early work on Community Service Agreements points in this direction. Again there are links with the rewards/incentives agenda as tenants behaviour shapes both individual and collective relationships with the landlord.
I want to be involved
One of the marked changes over the past few years has been the decline of traditional representative structures for tenants. Whilst neither terminal nor simple that decline has been marked by a number of different trends. Firstly the representative model itself has come into question. Landlords are less likely to rely upon a single point of contact and tenants themselves are far more discerning about what they do with their time. In addition other factors have driven the breakdown of the single point of contact – modernisation of local government, neighbourhood renewal, Best value, Compacts – have all led to a more complex situation and one ill-suited to tenant representative structures. That is not all bad news either. Some of those structures have shown themselves ill-equipped to meet the three tests I set several years ago – are they democratic, representative and inclusive – preferring to remain small and exclusive. Some tenants have demonstrated an understanding of the situation and many ‘newer’ tenant groups now work closely with their landlords, the police and Local Authorities as a key stakeholder.
Unfortunately some landlords have taken this as an open invitation to simply close down their dialogue with tenants full stop, replacing often ‘difficult’ tenant groups with ‘tame’ tenant sounding boards that cause less problems.
However the main driver has been cultural – tenants are far less homogenous, far less likely to go to formal meetings and far less likely to be part of traditional structures than they were. Informal routes have proven to have been successful in many cases at engaging with a wider group of tenants.
Along with growing cultural diversity, changes in working patterns and the dismissal of ‘process’ in tenant involvement it would be easy to predict a future bereft of tenant representative structures. That would be a mistake. Recent Government publications, such as Community Engagement and Public Services, point out the importance of communities being involved in local decision-making and service delivery. Strong communities require more, not less people to be involved. Tenant representatives have the ability to play a leading role within their communities and can help shape the wider engagement. We need to embrace the valuable commitment and contribution by many thousands of tenant activists who act as the lifeblood of their local communities – and find ways to support and deepen it, not throw it aside.
Good structures and processes strengthens, not weakens, that involvement – as backed up by yet-to-be released work by TPAS on landlord-tenant disputes. Indeed, as the Housing Corporation found when outlining their Involvement Policy, landlords still need to talk with someone about how to talk to tenants.
- The end of single point of contact between tenants and landlords
- The acceptance of many different ways to involve tenants – both formal and informal
- Leading tenants and tenant groups having an important and enduring role in helping shape tenant involvement
- Contact being more about delivery of services
As stated earlier TPAS also has predicted that rewards will grow. This will be driven by one of the two forces in tenant involvement – the landlord wanting to engage (the other is tenants wanting to engage). Landlords will increasingly look to encourage and reward tenants when they, the landlord want or need tenant involvement.
Although related to the above points about old versus new ways of engagement there is also another point about engagement through traditional and non-traditional structures. There is a long-term trend about how people want to be engaged. We are all far less likely to take part in the ‘traditional’ structures – be it the Church of England, political parties, scouting – but does that show a lack of interest? Perhaps not – there is evidence to suggest that it is not apathy but those institutions that drive down interest. Younger people do take part in single issue campaigns and express their interest in issues that drive them – such as the environment – that do not fit easily into left/right politics or traditional structures for engagement.
One of the distinctive features of Thatcherism was the triumphing of the individual over the collective. Margaret Thatcher’s claim that “There is no thing as society” defined very brutally the explosion of individualism as people brought their own homes and left restrictive social structures. One of the objectives of Blairism was to stress the communitarian approach as a reaction to what were seen as the excesses of individualism. Parts of that approach can be seen in the civic renewal agenda and most closely personified in Blunkett’s time at the Home Office.
We believe that the collective approach will continue to have a role but will not again be of the same scale or type as 20 years ago. People relish their ability to be different – or in current terminology diverse – but still appreciate their ability to interact with others in communities of interest. These can be both geographically or non-geographically based.
- That landlords will need to respond both to a strong individualist streak in tenants – wanting good individual services……………
- But landlords will still want to respond to collective approaches from tenants in particular areas and in communities of interest
- Landlords will want to encourage those groupings both as a good landlord and in it’s wider community role
- Those groupings will be far more fluid
I want to be connected (mostly)
There is no doubting the transformation that new technology has made to our lives. Be it work, play or education many of us spend hours fixed to our computer screens, Satellite TVs, DVDs and I-Pods. There have already been some successful and innovative ways in which new technology has helped the delivery of services. It is not difficult to imagine how that might continue with IT broadband connections for every tenant allowing them free access to repair or other landlord services and wider access to the Internet and virtual communities. In many ways this is admirable. For those who cannot leave their homes easily, through disability, age or rural isolation, there will be a free and easy link to landlords, friends and the outside world. The technology becomes increasingly cheap and available. It will help landlords provide better services, be very time responsive and allow them to canvass tenant views quickly. Tenants too, will become more IT literate, as young people become older. We are already seeing the use of texting by landlords – expect more not less, especially for engaging groups that do not respond to traditional approaches.
Yet there is a nagging doubt that IT alone is the answer. For many it’s an addition rather than a substitute for human interaction. When you rely on it and it stops working it.
Therefore we may see the growth of a new breed of locally based officer who provides some of that human jam in the sandwich. They will help link with isolated people and ensure that small human communities exist to lend support. This may not just be a landlord service either – Local Authorities and other neighbourhood service providers may find similar pressures on them ‘to be seen’.
- IT broadband for all tenants
- Support for non-IT literate tenants to use IT
- All repairs reporting through IT
- Landlords to use virtual panels of tenants for consultation
- Dedicated staff to provide ‘human’ link to tenants and residents
I want my landlord to be nearby
The number of landlords is in the process of reducing very sharply. Although Government’s original intention was for ALMOs to be restricted at 6,000 units and some stock transfers similarly capped at 6,000 units it is now obvious that the dislike of “Stalinist” landlords has ebbed. Although the effiency agenda has crystallised the need to reduce procurement costs through partnering, merger and groups structures, the reality is that the Housing Corporation, now explicitly supported by Housing Ministers, has been actively encouraging this through it’s own urging and policies for several years. There is not a single Housing Association in
That will accelerate – both the efficiency agenda and the desire of any business to maintain it’s market position will create yet more interest in driving down the costs of procurement. This will continue through the three models of partnering, merger and groups structures. The Housing Corporation and, implicitly the Government, will continue to support this change to landlord provision.
For tenants the results will be very mixed. There will be reductions in costs of procurement as the Wal Mart principle takes hold. Whether this will be sucked into Government saving or passed onto tenants in terms of lower rents/better services is more debateable.
The Audit Commission report into mergers and group structures cast doubt into the ability of tenants to get into the heart of decision-making in the new structures. As the new mega-landlords take shape it is easy to see the Board being increasingly driven by the need to run a billion pound business successfully and less concerned about tenants, except in their role as customers of their service.
It is hard to see, in an environment of mega-landlords and decreased reliance on formal tenant structures, how tenants will influence the major decisions. Instead we see two trends of mega-landlords branding themselves as being efficient/deliverers and local versions of those landlords (which may include the names of former Housing Associations). It is these local brands which will focus on their relationship with tenants within the parameters set by the mega landlord and regulators.
- Under 500 landlords in total
- Of these a comparatively small number holding 50% of all stock
- Social Housing rebranding as efficient and delivery housing
- Local brands of larger landlords having the closer relationship with tenants
I want rights………………but accept I have responsibilities
For many years the tenant activist agenda was about securing more rights for tenants – over their tenancy agreements, rents, repairs and ability to manage their own housing. This paper has argued for further increases in what tenants can expect although this needs to link in with an agenda around personal responsibility. The onward march of tenant’s rights is also under challenge as it becomes clear that someone’s ‘right’ conflicts with someone else’s ‘rights’.
The first challenge has been from tenants themselves over the ASB agenda. Put simply tenants are fed up with ASB wrecking their lives and their communities. They want to see ‘something’ done about and do not particularly care what it is. They are fed up with delay and support being given to the perpetrators of crime rather than the victims of crime. As a consequence they already support introductory tenancies and demotion (although not withdrawal of benefits). Some tenant activists still argue the case for retaining rights for all tenants and that the actions of a small minority should not result in the weakening of rights for all.
We believe that challenge has been successful, and as indicated earlier, tenants, as a body, will support more immediate and draconian action against ASB perpetrators through local Judge Judy style courts able to take remedial action against those perpetrators and the causes of their actions.
The second challenge has been about repairs. Landlords are uneasy about the explosion of repairs cases triggered off by sleazy firms preying on tenants. Although the Disrepair Protocol has helped, there remains evidence of continuing abuse by firms of housing disrepair rights for their own ends. Landlords would love to remove these rights and move to a less enforceable regime. We foresee reluctance by both Government and tenants to such moves. Instead we foresee the diversion of such cases to local tribunals with considerable saving to the public purse for solicitor’s fees.
- The creation of local housing tribunals with power to direct remedial action for ASB perpetrators and deal with disrepair cases
However these are just symbols of a tension that needs to be drawn out between ‘rights’ and ‘responsibilities’. The acceptance of personal responsibility is a key issue for all of us as individuals. Just as I have argued earlier about the lack of ownership leading to poorer services there is a case for considering how tenants would view their home if they ‘owned’ it in some way. It’s debatable whether this needs to be financially ‘owned’ or some other looser form of ownership that we all have, say, with our local park or school. Certainly the equity models referred to earlier would create a clear ‘ownership’ and it would be reasonable to tie that into certain responsibilities for that tenant. However it would be useful to create a wider sense of ownership of both landlord and community – part of that means that tenants would take some responsibility (as many do already) for their homes and community.
As stated at the beginning this is an attempt to link the aspirational, predictive and provocative. This article has set out a test for thinkers in social housing about how the future might look.
Although landlords will change tenants are likely to change as well. If the more ambitious statements in this article are realised then tenants are likely to be responsible for more than now, from different types of rent/services product to part-equity to tackling ASB and finally to involvement in their homes. It is that responsibility that will carry out the most ambitious aim of blurring the distinction between home ownership and renting and has the ability to transform how people view their homes and communities.
Rich Warrington - TPAS response to Building Communities, Beating Crime – February 2005
Ian Hembrow and Chris Wadhams – Rewards for Volunteers, TPAS Innovation into Good Practice project September 2003
Phil Morgan and Paul Schofield – TPAS Housing Green paper response, summer 2000
Phil Morgan – TPAS National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal response summer 2000
Phil Morgan – TPAS Tackling Anti Social Tenants response 2002
Irwell Valley Gold Service report Innovation into Good Practice project November 2001