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Agenda item

RSL Scrutiny : Islington Shoreditch Housing Association

Minutes:

The Committee received a presentation from Ruth Davison, Chief Executive, Islington and Shoreditch Housing Association about its work, challenges and future plans as a landlord in the borough.

The following points were highlighted:

·         Islington and Shoreditch Housing Association (ISHA) is committed to building homes of high quality where everyone irrespective of their background has the opportunity to reach their potential and enjoy a good quality of life. The meeting was informed that ISHA has developed many homes in the borough in partnership with developers and with Islington Council who, for example, recently provided a plot of land at the old Ashmount school site at a price which enabled ISHA to build 60 homes - 100 percent of which were social rent or shared ownership.

·         Meeting was informed that ISHA has been in operation within the borough since 1933 and has presently 616 homes built for social housing, with presence in other neighbouring authorities such as Camden, Hackney and Haringey and outer boroughs such as Waltham Forest. Meeting was informed that half of ISHA homes have been built in the last 20 years and it continues to look for opportunities to grow and to build more houses. ISHA’s Board is run by volunteers and  staff and contractors are paid the London Living wage.

·         Chief Executive informed members that in its pursuit to build and help others to build homes ISHA established the North River Alliance(NRA) 15 years ago, a development consortium of 11 small housing associations where both expertise and resources are  shared and has over the years delivered 3,500 homes.

·         Meeting was advised that ISHA continues to strive to be a good landlord, does not have starter tenancies; is committed to life tenancies; new homes and all re-lets are provided at social rents and importantly it does not carry out affordability checks for social rented homes. In addition, homes are built with great space and high environmental standards.

·         With regards to repairs and maintenance, ISHA endeavours to provide high quality service, however feedback from a recent STAR survey shows an overall satisfaction rate of just 60% which indicates that there is still room for improvement especially with its first time fixes. The Chief Executive assured members that ISHA is addressing this and that its analysis has recognised that although in general the service is good, there are issues of consistency and communication that need to be addressed.

·         Ruth Davison informed the meeting that in its pursuit of being a good landlord to its residents, training is provided to all staff on a range of issues, both staff and contractors are now being held accountable and in extreme cases contracts were terminated due to service failure. ISHA continues to invest in stock and repairs and have been able to set new standards, which was co-created with residents at ‘action days’.

·         On the consultations held at St Mary’s Path estate, Ruth Davison reminded members that on taking office, she made commitments that secure and assured tenants had the right to remain; that there would be no loss of social homes and no increase in rents for its residents.

·         Ruth Davison informed the meeting that following the consultation ISHA has abided by the majority view and would not be demolishing any of the buildings on the estate, nor carrying out the refurbishment as consulted upon. It will now form a task and finish group to reach agreement on the scope of works.

·         ISHA prides itself as being anchored in the community it serves, it remains the first housing authority to become a London Living Wage employer which is also applied to contractors that carry out work on behalf of the organisation. ISHA takes the issue of climate emergency seriously and its efforts have been recognised by winning the SHIFT Gold award for its activities. ISHA also provides tenancy sustainment & outreach & support services for its own residents and to Vietnamese residents more widely as it has a specialist outreach team.

·         With regards to the future, the Chief Executive requested further assistance especially with the high value of land within the borough. In addition, the Chief Executive requested if the Council could consider changing the mortgage clause in the S106 agreements and adopt that which is agreed between the GLA and NHF as it will enable organisations borrow and build more affordable homes within the borough. 

·         Meeting was advised that ISHA has an Asset Strategy through which it carries out both its cyclical and responsive repairs to its properties investing over £2000 per household. ISHA does not utilise direct labour services in carrying out its repairs, but employs Mears as its contractor. In terms of gas safety checks, compliance and certificates, the services of an external organisation is also employed. Meeting was advised that fire safety certificates of all its building blocks are published on the ISHA organisations website.

·         On the issue of contracts, the meeting was informed that ISHA is in the position of looking at disaggregating its contracts so that it employs local contractors instead of being subjected to the OJEU rules in tendering or contracts.

·         Members were advised that ISHA does not offer starter tenancy and that 75% of its nomination comes via the local authority with the remaining 25% reserved for management transfers to residents who are experiencing domestic abuse, harassment or have a medical condition.

·         In response to overcrowding concerns in households, Ruth Davison informed the meeting that due to lack of capacity ISHA is unable to address this but continues to work in conjunction with Islington’s Housing Needs Manager by signposting its residents to available support. Members were informed that a piece of work being carried out in conjunction with other housing associations to find suitable accommodation for tenants interested in downsizing will help alleviate the overcrowding issues in the borough.

·         On monitoring of repairs and the quality of the work carried out, Ruth Davison acknowledged that the current practice of residents receiving text survey from contractors when works are completed is recognised as inadequate as evidence confirms that residents prefer either a physical visit or completing written questionnaires, hence the decision by ISHA to employ an officer to undertake the monitoring of repairs. The Chief Executive reiterated that the organisation has recognised the need to redefine what is termed first time fixes which is now easily understood by both the repair operatives and the residents.

·         In response to a question about rents, meeting was advised that tenants pay affordable social rents and not sub-market rents which is sometimes described as affordable rents.

·         On the question of whether the partnership arrangement with the Council has been beneficial to both parties, Cllr Ward, Executive Member for Housing acknowledged the arrangement especially in light of the scarcity of land and the authority is willing to work with similar small size community association to build high quality social housing homes for its residents.

·         In response to a request for more information about the North River Alliance consortium and its efforts in building homes, the Chief Executive agreed to provide more details via the clerk of the committee. The Chair encouraged ISHA to liaise with officers about its community energy initiatives as it will be beneficial to its residents in terms of addressing fuel poverty and high energy bills.

·         In terms of community engagement and consultation, the meeting was advised that efforts are made to ensure participation of its residents and provides transport for vulnerable residents to such meetings.

·         In response to a question from the Housing Disability Panel regarding smoke alarms, lack of consultation and its impact on deaf residents, the Director Housing and communities advised that specialist Council officers with specialism working with deaf will be able to share the products available for households with deaf people. On the concerns that blind residents could get stuck in lifts, The Director Housing and Communities indicated that although no solutions exists at present she indicated that she will be willing to meet HLP representatives to discuss the issues early in 2020.

The Chair on behalf of the Committee thanked the Chief Executive, Islington and Shoreditch Housing Association for her presentation, extending an invitation to ISHA to update committee on its future plans.