\mike Lane | 20.08.2003 14:25 | Liverpool
RSL’s have for a long time been involved in property development for sale or for shared ownership. Shared ownership is a scheme, which is presently being promoted by central government. Small RSL’s such as Maritime Housing, who manage roughly 5,000 properties covering the northwest region, deal only in shared ownership, whereas larger RSL’s such as the Riverside Group and Liverpool Housing Trust (LHT), build new builds for direct sale as well as shared ownership. Riverside manages some 23,000 properties in Merseyside alone and LHT manage roughly some 10,000 properties in the northwest region. Riverside was recently involved in the building and selling of 200 luxury departments on Kings Dock waterfront complex at the time they were being sold at prices ranging from £95,000 to £195,000. LHT sold 96 luxury flats on the waterfront as well as twenty flats in Cathedral Chambers, which is situated in the City Centre. LHT also sells more properties direct than it sells through shared ownership. LHT are also in the process of refurbishing older terraced properties, which were once let to tenants on a rented basis, and selling them directly to prospective homeowners. This refurbishing of existing rented properties for sale is also being implemented by other large RSL’s on Merseyside. In regeneration areas such as the Liverpool Kensington New Deal for Communities area the RSL’s, the largest one being Riverside, have been accused, espeicialy by the home owners who live in the NDC area, of not vetting their tenants properly and as such allowing antisocial tenants to occupy their properties. The RSL’s and the City Council have tried to blame the problems of antisocial tenants onto the private landlords when in reality the problem of antisocial tenants is largely due to the RSL’s.
There are many void RSL properties throughout Merseyside, which have been empty for over 12 months. This issue of voids was recently addressed (2003) by an organisation, which represents private landlords and covers some 30,000 properties through out the northwest region. It was reported by the National Federation of Residential Landlords (NFRL) quote: Merseyside is seeing the swift decline of once popular areas and it is the considered opinion of this Association, borne out by testimonies from our members, that the problem is being exacerbated by housing associations, who are boarding up their properties rather than letting them. In many instances some housing associations own a majority of the stock in a particular street. Numerous void properties attract vandals and discourage people from living in the area.
Some of the large housing associations are ignoring the grass-roots social housing in areas around the Inner City and concentrating on more choice City Centre Developments. The attached advertisements bear this out. (The attached advertisements cover the building of hundreds of luxury departments in the Kings Dock waterfront complex by the RSL’s Riverside Housing, Maritime Housing and the Liverpool Housing Trust).
The suggestions that they were digressing from their remit as social housing providers was first brought to our attention almost two years ago by one of our members, who owned a property in Tancred Road, Liverpool 4. He was concerned about the number of boarded up properties in the road. He told us that he believed that one of the large housing associations owned the majority of stock there. We did some research by contacting the Liverpool City Council and Riverside Housing Association. Riverside admitted that they did own a lot of property in that road and the surrounding area.
One week later his property had fallen victim to vandals and had been set on fire. The insurance value on the property was a mere fraction of its value set two years before. The last resident of Tancred Road moved out a couple of months ago and the street now lays derelict.
Another one of our members, who has been a landlady for over 30 years, provides bed and breakfast accommodation to people, who in her words, “have nowhere else to go”. One of her properties is in Alroy Road, Liverpool 4. The houses adjoining hers are boarded up. The ground floor flat in her property had been broken into and the remaining residents were fearful for the future of their homes. They want to move out and away from the area. In desperation, the landlady has decided to sell the property but, she has been told by estate agents that they could probably not sell it for her, because the street is in such a bad state.
Another one of our members operates care homes and hostels all over Merseyside. They were greatly concerned that the levels of housing benefit had declined dramatically in some areas. The Rent Service confirmed to them that the local reference rents have been reduced to reflect the poor condition of the areas. It is uneconomical for them to provide bed and breakfast accommodation on the amount of housing benefit which some of their tenants are getting. They have very reluctantly decided to sell several of their properties.
Several large letting agencies have passed on their comments to us about the decline of some areas. They all complain that the majority of boarded up properties are in the ownership of housing associations.
Whilst an experienced landlord accepts the risks involved in investing in property, there is no answer to the deliberate actions of a larger competitor. Competition is expected in any business, but if Tesco or sainsbry decided to buy up all the corner shops, with the express purpose of closing them down, there would be a public outcry. The practices of these large so-called social landlords is not the best interests of the housing market (both social and residential) and it is going on unchecked. The residents and other businesses in the area have no control.
There has been not effort on their part to encourage sustainable communities. The argument that this type of property (mostly terraced houses) is no longer fashionable is simply not true, as this type of accommodation is extremely popular in other areas.
Government assumptions about the so-called swathes of vacant properties being bought up by an element bent on criminal activities are entirely incorrect. The properties highlighted in this report remain boarded up and, as the residents vacate the area, it is only vandals who move in.
In our opinion, these are deliberate tactics by housing associations, as they know that they can win all round. Even in areas, which are earmarked for regeneration, the housing associations invariably play a large part in the running of the regeneration companies, controlling the funds. Once the money has been paid out for director’s wages and refurbishing their plush offices, there is very little or no funds which reach private landlords.
Private landlords are “left out in the cold” when it comes to negotiations for long term housing strategies of local authorities. Liverpool City Council does run a private rented sector forum, but there are no representatives from housing associations on the committee. This Association has made requests to several local authorities to sit on the same forums as housing associations, but there have been no invitations so far. Housing associations treat us with suspicion.
Government may benefit from seeing the problem at first hand and we would welcome a visit from the hosing minister. (Lyn Smith NRFL)