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Opinion: Tenant board members - help or hindrance?

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Opinion: Tenant board members - help or hindrance?

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing

putin putin

By Alistair McIntosh, chief executive, Housing Quality Network

I see that a few tenants made the list of top power-players. Well done. But will we soon be saying good-bye to them? Is it the end of the road for tenant board members? Are they a help or a hindrance as we face up to new challenges?

On the one hand it looks like housing associations are in great shape. But will the surpluses stay high for much longer? Things do change. Can interest rates really stay this low? If they went back to their long term average it would wipe out half of the surplus. Housing associations in London do well out of selling homes. Will prices keep rising? I have no idea. It’s above my pay grade. You need to ask Mr Putin. I have a feeling he might be harder to deal with than Mr Ashby.

And while I am piling on the doom and gloom, let’s not forget about welfare reform. All your rent is about to go straight into the hands of publicans and bingo callers. Well it is if you think the same way as people who went to school near Slough.

It is no surprise that we want to boost the quality of our boards. There are stormy times ahead. We want the best. Even those people who worship Polly Toynbee think it is time to boot the tenants out of the boardroom. Let’s bring in people with commercial skills instead. That’s what we need, they say.

Well I don’t agree. Why can’t we treat people with a bit of respect? You get good and bad board members from all walks of life. I have met some fantastic tenant board members.

Do you remember when Professor Cave took a look at what we do? One tenant blew him away with her ruthlessness. She refused point blank to take on permanent staff on pensions to deal with the Decent Homes spike. Temporary staff could do the job just as well for less money, and they were easier to get rid of.

I was working on a scheme to turn an estate into the New Jerusalem. One of the tenants could run the sums quicker than the global accountants. The lady ran a stall in the market. She could fill a colander full of fruit and move her mind at the speed of the Hadron Collider at the same time.

We don’t want to lose these people do we? There are millions of tenants out there. So by the law of averages there must be more great board members amongst them. Let’s step up the effort to find them and train them. In some ways tenant board members can help the business the most.

What is one of the biggest opportunities for you? There is gold in them there council HRAs. How do you do a deal with councils? A lot of the time you need to win over a tenant vote. In the old days this was why stock transfer landlords had tenants on the board. You could not sell the idea any other way. The song remains the same. If you have tenants on your board you go to the front of the queue.

I can hear some of you spluttering that this is all nonsense. It is far better to put tenants to work on scrutiny. And some of you do this really well. A lot of the time it is not so hot. What is the number one problem I see here? Landlords don’t give tenants enough information to get their teeth into. The HCA says that they cannot make head nor tail of what associations are telling them about VfM. What hope do tenants have? Tenant board members did not cause all the problems that we face. But they look set to become the victims. When they go who will get the blame for the next crisis?

As someone once said: First they came for the tenants, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a tenant. Then they came for the councillors, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a councillor. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.

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