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Last Updated: Friday, 18 March, 2005, 15:59 GMT
South: Housing Associations
Peter Henley
Peter Henley
Politics Editor, BBC South

Council housing
The government aims to make all council homes decent by 2010

It sounds too good to be true. Council houses are transferred to the ownership of a new company and millions of pounds are handed over for improvements, or to build new homes at affordable prices. And the government is strongly encouraging councils to make the change.

So why is anyone opposed to Housing Associations? Why are tenants opposing the move?

Salisbury Council vote this week on a deal that seems difficult to resist.

In their case it will mean that the council is no longer responsible for maintaining the houses, and according to their figures there would be an extra 20m to spend on them, or 3,500 per house.

Plus the council would get another 45m for new affordable homes.

Decent Homes Standard

It is all being driven by John Prescott's "Decent Homes Standard", which is meant to raise the quality of council houses across the country by 2010.

Councils have until July 2005 to decide on one of three ways to do that.

First by transferring control of all their stock into a housing association, which would then be responsible for making all the repairs and improvements necessary.

Second by using a PFI to provide extra cash for those repairs, which in 2000 were estimated at 19bn across the country.

Or third by setting up an Arms Length Management Organisation or ALMO, a separate company which gets councils some more government funding but leaves the housing still council owned.

Defend Council Housing

That deadline is what drives much of the opposition. The organisation "Defend Council Housing" describe it as government bullying and blackmail.

"If tenants are happy to go ahead with the change that's one thing," says spokesman Alan Ward.

"But when tenants are told it is the only way to get improvements then that is not fair"

"Defend Council Housing" say there is no evidence that private organisations can manage the day to day running of housing better than councils.

They say it defeats "joined up government", for example caring for the homeless.

According to Shelter, nearly half the local authorities that have voluntarily transferred stock have had difficulties dealing with the homeless.

The Borough of Rushmoor includes the towns of Aldershot and Farnborough.

As in Basingstoke, the council tenants voted in favour of changing landlords, in this case to the Pavilion Housing Association.

But there have been problems.

In one house, the tenant says her central heating boiler has kept breaking down since she and her children moved in last summer.

In another, the tenant says her toilet was once an outside loo and to her feels as though it still is.

Housing Associations positive

But should the experience of Pavilion put tenants off the whole idea of housing associations in places where they have yet to decide?

On the South Ham housing estate in Basingstoke they knocked down the old council houses here and built 220 nice new ones in their place.

Brian Hutchison
Housing Associations can attract capital funding

Brian Hutchison is Chief Executive of the Kingfisher Housing Association in Basingstoke, which has a record of good performance, responding well to the needs of its tenants.

He says: "Housing associations are able to attract private finance which local authorities are unable to do.

"We have not got any of the bureaucracy and politics you see in local government.

"We are single focussed organisations. Our sole purpose is social housing."

Kingfisher performs well. Customer satisfaction is high and it completes more than 95%of its jobs on time.

The choice, as they say, is yours. But will the loss of council houses cost more in the long term?

Politics Show

Join Peter Henley on Politics Show, BBC One on Sunday 10 April, 2005 at 12.00pm.

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