by Tony Osborne, Aspland & Marcon estates
The ALMO (Arms Length Management Organisation), set up by Hackney Council to manage its housing stock, and now called Hackney Homes, ‘went live’ in April. It is supposed to deliver central government’s Decent Homes programme, and bring all Hackney Council’s housing up to a standard that is fit to live in by 2010.
What a great idea. And not before time, especially if you are among the many residents unlucky enough to live on one of the estates that have been neglected for years and allowed to become run down by the council’s mismanagement.
However, before you become too excited, just what does Arms Length Management mean? Reports from around Hackney suggest that it means more than what’s on the tin.
Saving money: we pay the price
According to the Hackney Gazette (15th June), some 1,500 council homes have gone without necessary external renovation, despite funds being available. The council has an underspend of £98 million in its annual housing scheme budget.
Hackney Homes says: “The reduction in spending is due to a planned cost-saving exercise, for which we have received national awards”.
Hackney’s Council residents do not want national awards for cost saving. We want Decent Homes and repairs carried out when we report them.
Rent arrears? No Decent Home!
The Gazette also reported that Council tenants in rent arrears will not benefit from Hackney Homes’ £225m refurbishment programme. There are several reasons why a tenant can get into arrears: many understandable, with tenants who need help not punishment.
While Hackney Homes has a duty to collect rent, one of the reasons for there being such a large debt (£9million) is due to previous failures of Hackney Council Housing departments to engage with defaulters quickly enough.
For Hackney Homes to say that rent arrears or broken arrangements to pay excludes tenants from Decent Homes is short-sighted. If a defaulting tenant leaves, the works still have to be done! Or are all future tenants of the property in question to be excluded because of a previous tenant’s rent arrears?
Surely the answer is to do the works as they become due, rather than at some later date at who knows what additional cost.
Repair Charges drive residents out?
Leaseholders on Hackney estates could be forced to sell up and move from their homes as they face massive recharges for Decent Homes works. Bills of £10,000 to £18,000 have been reported, with Hackney Homes levying additional administrative charges of £2,500.
The prospect of having to find these sums over a two year period is making some leaseholders question whether they want any works done in the first place, or even the viability of staying in their homes.
I know from talking to leaseholders on my own estate that Hackney’s recharge policy causes a lot of resentment.
Marcon Court: No Decent Homes?
Marcon Court is four blocks of 81 flats and maisonettes built in the ‘50s. After neglecting it for years, the Council decided a couple of years ago that the estate was uneconomical to invest in, and proposed to demolish the blocks and dispose of the site for redevelopment as a largely private estate of homes for sale.
Residents protested against this proposal to such effect that in July 2005 the Council backed down and returned them to the Decent Homes programme. Shortly after, money was found to undertake some limited decorative and concrete repair works to the blocks for the first time since 1983.
But there it appears to have stopped. At a recent meeting with officers from Hackney Homes, a question was put. “At what point over the next four years can the residents expect to have Decent Homes work started”? The answer from a Senior Officer: “Not for at least 10 years”.
So much for Decent Homes by 2010 - the very reason the ALMO was set up in the first place. Rest assured that residents will be campaigning to ensure that their homes are made fit to live in within four years, not ten.