Should Labour support a Community Housing Trust in Kingston? This was the difficult decision facing Labour in Kingston.
The massive decade late refurbishment of council housing initiated by the Liberal Democrats was poor value for money, frequently badly fitted, and planned to the standards of 2010 rather than 2020. Many of us had experience of this as we went from door to door: badly fitted windows: new bathrooms ripped out and replaced: outrageous costs. Above all where were the solar panels to provide value for tenants?
We also knew that massive cuts were about to hit Kingston Council. Could we be sure that there would be sufficient dedicated staff left in the housing department to provide the quality of service and care that Kingston tenants should be entitled to?
On the other hand the Community Housing Trust would allow tenants elected by their peers to oversee the repairs and maintenance of council properties. Experience from elsewhere showed that tenants were better at overseeing what was needed, and savings made by local flexibility benefited tenants.
The quality of council housing that tenants would experience was seen as the over-riding factor in the decision. Kingston Labour would put its energy into making sure the Shadow Board planned for an effective Community Housing Trust. All the work was planning and preparation. No final decision on the Housing Trust had been taken.
Labour’s Councillor Linsey Cottington was elected onto the shadow board. Linsey had had a great deal of experience in council housing and so was an ideal member of the shadow board.
She had a number of concerns:
(i) the lack of proper consultation or a vote by council tenants:
(ii) the lack of support given to those council tenants elected to the shadow board: and
(iii) the planning to reach the goal of establishing a Community Housing Trust was inadequate
The final nail in the Community Housing Trusts coffin was the government’s Planning and Housing Bill now before Parliament. This provided for a one per cent decrease in rents to be met by the Housing Revenue Account. The government was trying to impose what looked like a popular measure, reducing the rent, by dumping the costs of so doing on Kingston’s already stretched budget. Basically the Bill meant that the Community Housing Trust in Kingston would not have sufficient money to undertake repairs and maintenance.
On 15th October the Shadow Board of the proposed Community Housing Trust stop its work and abolish itself. The formal decision will be made by the Council in November but the proposal looks dead in the water.
There are lessons to be learned.
Consultation is key. You cannot impose structures without explaining them.
People power is great, but people need the training and support to exercise that power.
Finally it is necessary to plan carefully before imposing new structures or the structures will fail to meet the targets they are intended to achieve.
You can read what was written in the Norbiton Rose (pdf below). Obviously the decision by the shadow board of the Community Housing Trust on 15th October rendered the story out of date.