This is a summary of our response to the draft tenancy strategy and has been prepared by one of our trustees and one of our advice and development workers.
Our organisation is proud to be one of WCC’s recognised amenity societies and we are also pleased to be one of the charities funded by the council to deliver advice and information services to residents.
Our advice and information service receives a large number of enquiries each year about housing and it is one of the most valued services we provide. Our neighbourhood faces huge barriers to housing and we see our work in providing housing advice as vital in building a stronger community.
Westminster City Council’s draft tenant strategy says: “3,700 people with priority waiting for housing … Social housing supply in Westminster can never keep pace with demand” (pp5-6). Yet according to housing charity Shelter, City of Westminster has 3,759 vacant dwellings. We would welcome efforts by the council to bring these vacant properties into use to house those in priority need.
While we are pleased that the council is looking at a tenancy strategy we are disappointed by its rather negative tone with regard to social housing.
We are familiar with a number of WCC’s housing estates: Great Titchfield Street, Holcroft Court, Hanson Street, and Carburton Street. We are also familiar with the housing association properties in our area of Fitzrovia and East Marylebone.
Residents living in these streets are an important part of our neighbourhood and we would like to see residents encouraged to make permanent homes here. We have also seen the tangible employment, mental and physical health benefits to people once they become secure tenants. Yet the strategy calls for an end to truly secure social housing.
This is something we are strongly opposed to as it would set about a structure for transient neighbourhoods. Inner cities by their nature have elements of transition but having stable communities where neighbours know and trust each other is vital to improve neighbourhoods.
We would like to see the council adopt a more positive approach to social housing and encourage tenancies for life to build more stable neighbourhoods.
We welcome a strategy to guide registered providers but believe the Localism Act should deliver power to communities not be used increase rents in affordable housing.
We strongly object to the following from the document:
“The Localism Act also introduces a new local authority flexible tenancy for a minimum fixed term of two years. These changes represent a significant move from a position where social housing is always for life, to one where it may only be for a period while it is needed. The government aims for social housing to be a vehicle for progression and mobility.”
This is a recipe for temporary housing and transient communities — and the kind of anti-social behaviour the strategy claims to address. There is no good reason why social housing cannot be secure and part of a strategy to build stable communities. WCC should resist the government’s agenda to shorten social housing tenancies and devalue social housing communities.
We welcome a harmonised set of rent levels providing they are not used as a tool to push rent levels up across housing. It is unclear, however, how WCC will be able to enable these in registered providers who provide housing across many boroughs.
Guiding principle should be giving tenants choice rather than imposing tenancies that tenants do not want.