Time for a genuine partnership between residents and housing associations

1 April 2019 | 1 April 2019

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As the National Housing Federation (NHF) unveils a plan to improve the relationship between associations and tenants, resident Joyce Ward says the focus should be on building a shared vision.

There’s been rather a lot of talk about listening recently.

When tenants speak, do housing associations really hear all the way from the boardroom to the frontline?

But as any parent knows, sometimes you can be heard and nothing changes. What we need is a conversation, a genuine partnership, where residents and housing associations work together to make things better for everyone.

As an active social housing resident for over 15 years, I’m committed to ensuring the voices of residents are heard and that the service they receive provides great value for money.

I never shy away from helping others to make a better life for themselves and as a qualified teacher I have this belief that if you nurture and empower people, things will change.

That’s why I was so pleased to see the NHF’s Offer for Tenants evolve in to a Together with Tenants charter.

While rebalancing power is obviously important, this plan focuses on more than that, it’s about building a team: the board, residents and employees agreeing a shared vision for the future.

I absolutely support the NHF’s ambition for housing associations to be the most trusted and accountable organisations in the country.

I see this same ambition in those I work with at Sovereign. In fact, we were given the space and support to create our own structure of resident-led leadership, data-led scrutiny and local community-led social action about 18 months ago.

Since then, we’ve challenged and dug into thorny issues like lettings and why some tenants have to call more than once to get a repair sorted – how Sovereign handles complaints is next.

And, while data matters, I know that it was the listening to residents’ experiences and getting out of the boardroom that helped Sovereign make the decision to triple its investment in communities.

I’m sure many big, commercial companies would be envious of housing associations, which have so many passionate residents or customers chomping at the bit to help shape services or improve the customer experience.

Listening, involving and co-creating makes so much business sense, as well as just being the right thing to do.

But things change and it feels time to develop the long-standing tradition of housing associations opening their doors and involving residents where they saw fit – and move to a far more collaborative approach.

“It feels time to develop the long-standing tradition of housing associations opening their doors and involving residents where they saw fit”

However, I know not everyone who lives in a Sovereign home will agree that we’re there yet and we can all listen harder, learn and do more.

This was part of our comments when the team from the NHF came to see us as they developed Together with Tenants.

We wanted all tenants and residents to be respected, to be heard, to be involved, if they wished, at a level that works for them and we wanted there to be a stronger, national voice for tenants.

But what matters to each individual is different. Every housing association is different. This plan places ownership squarely on boards, which is quite right, but this is about co-creation.

“We wanted all tenants and residents to be respected, to be heard, to be involved, if they wished, at a level that works for them”

So I’ve asked the NHF to come back to see us in the South West and to speak to around 100 residents and Sovereign employees at our conference in May. Together, with the board and Sovereign’s senior leaders, we’ll start to set the priorities and measures that will underpin our charter.

We’ll explore what respect looks like, what transparency really means, what information matters and what are the standards that we, as residents and tenants, we’ll hold Sovereign to.

I’d urge every resident and tenant to read the NHF’s plan and to have their say. I’d also ask all boards to sign up to this approach, making a public commitment to meaningful change.

To be a success, this new approach needs to be created together and delivered together.

Originally written for Inside Housing magazine

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