Homes transfer hits council resistance

Homes transfer hits council resistance 

Laurence Demarco
Regeneration & Renewal
30 September 2005

Council housing in Scotland has been a mess for many years, so when it became a devolved responsibility some in the new Parliament were determined to sort it out.

‘We’ll pay all the debt,’ they said, ‘but the houses must go to community housing associations.’ This deal applied across Scotland, but the battle to push it through was fought in Glasgow, where the problems were worst.

In spite of Labour municipalism, Glasgow folk have nurtured successful community housing associations going back 30 years. In places such as Govanhill, Renton, Southside and Queenscross, these associations have flourished and diversified into development trusts involved with childcare, community buildings and credit unions. This is the brave new vision for Scotland’s social housing.

But in spite of what Westminster preaches, most UK councils resist the transfer of assets or control to community-owned organisations. So communities that ‘go for it’ have the added burden of a hostile relationship with the council. Voluntary community action, the compost of social capital, is routinely discouraged. In order to truely participate in a regeneration partnership, a community must have its own anchor group where it can privately shape its strategy. These take many forms, but I think the most effective are development trusts. Trusts can provide an independent community voice, as well as a development vehicle to acquire and manage assets.

The Development Trusts Association conference was in Glasgow last week.

The DTA takes its annual gathering seriously. When it calls itself a movement, it’s not hype. Membership-owned and value-led, the DTA champions community empowerment across the UK. Yet despite invitations, council officers from the Scottish cities didn’t attend. ‘The future belongs to those who hear the thunder coming.’ But the suits haven’t twigged yet that this is the way it’s heading.

In March 2003, Glasgow council transferred its 80,000 houses to the Glasgow Housing Association. Most of the staff moved over with the houses. With the crippling housing debt written off, the GHA made a profit of £80 million in its first year and £110 million last year. But so far all we’ve seen is the rebranding of a centralist monolith: the largest social housing agency in Western Europe. My instinct is that there will be bureaucratic resistance to the dispersal of such a tasty empire during the second stage of the process when the homes are transferred to a number of community housing associations. We’ll need to watch this.