Aldershot-based Pavilion Housing Association and Eastleigh-based Atlantic Housing Association recently merged to form First Wessex Housing Group. Strictly speaking it was not a merger, it was a takeover of Pavilion by Atlantic.
Pavilion was a failing housing association, one of the worst performing in the country. Prior to the Atlantic takeover, it had received a damning report from the Audit Commission. The choice was either a takeover by Atlantic, a housing association of similar size, being gobbled up by a much larger housing association, or direct control by the Housing Corporation (the industry regulator).
The tenants wanted neither of these options, they wanted to see reform, with control by the tenants. The one option that was not being discussed. The tenants were given no say and ignored. The local council, the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor, without any concern for the wishes of the tenants, pushed for takeover by Atlantic.
Eventually the tenants, with some reluctance, agreed to takeover by Atlantic, it was seen as the least worst option, nothing could be worse that the situation prevailing at the time, although in a formal sense, unlike housing stock transfer, they had no say.
Tenants were promised by Atlantic that the situation would improve, renovations would be carried out, repairs carried out promptly and efficiently, tenants would be treated better, anti-social behaviour which was plaguing the estates would be dealt with. They were also told the worst personnel at Pavilion would be cleaned out, hit teams would be sent in.
For the first few weeks, matters did improve, the loathed chief executive of Pavilion was kicked out, Atlantic management talked to tenants as human beings, repairs were promptly carried out.
But following the initial euphoria, matters are now back to how they were. Anti-social behaviour has not improved, innocent tenants are being served with Asbos or receiving threats of eviction on the basis of hearsay and trumped up charges, management are intimidating tenants, repairs are not being carried out, and where they are, the work is sub-standard, refurbishment is shoddy and leaving tenants worst off, no quality control or monitoring of work carried out, contractors not up to the job, rumours circulating of backhanders being paid to obtain contract work etc.
Contrast this with a report by Rushmoor head of housing Alison Whiteley who falsely claims matters have improved. A claim made which flies in the face of reality, a claim made without any reference to the views of tenants. Rushmoor is to place on a formal footing, reviews of local RSLs (Registered Social Landlords). These reviews will take place without any input from tenants.
It is difficult to see how Alison Whiteley can make the claims she does, as a recent exchange of e-mails between herself and Pavilions shows she is well aware of the situation on failure to repair. She was recently invited to attend a meeting of Pavilion tenants in Aldershot to explain the failings of her housing department, a meeting she refused to attend. Rushmoor officials so far appear to be refusing to attend a meeting to which they have been invited on 27 September 2006.
First Wessex is now proposing a takeover of Portsmouth Housing Association. This has sent alarm bells ringing. First Wessex cannot manage its existing housing portfolio. The Rotten Borough of Rushmoor, as it did with the first takeover, is backing the move.
What is happening is the creation of ever larger conglomerate, empire building, an association unaccountable to anyone, least of all the tenants. The only beneficiaries will be the senior management on ever higher salaries.
If the merger goes ahead, the borrowing will be increased. This places an additional burden on existing tenants. The money has to come from somewhere. It comes from higher rents, worsening services.
Soon we will be left with half a dozen housing associations across the country. These will be private corporations in all but name, with all the benefits of public bodies, but accountable to no one.
It has always been known that Atlantic would not be satisfied with Pavilion. That Pavilion was but one small step on the way of their ambitious expansion plans. They have yet to consolidate their acquisition of Pavilion, a merger that only took place April 2005 and yet they are already greedily lusting after housing stock in Portsmouth, Gosport, Havant and Fareham. In part, what is driving Atlantic, is the fear that unless they rapidly grow, they in turn could be gobbled up by an even greedier housing association.
What has happened to Pavilion should serve as a dire warning to all council tenants facing privatisation. Pavilion tenants were promised the earth when they were Rushmoor council tenants, that all they had to do was agree to sell-off of their homes. Instead they have faced over a decade of misery. Again they were promised the earth when Atlantic moved in to acquire Pavilion, only this time they had no say in what happened to their homes, like victims of a road accident, they were reduced to innocent bystanders.
If you are are a council tenant, you have a say on privatisation. After that, once you have foolishly agreed to the sell-off of your home, you have no further say in what happens to it.
Inspection report: Pavilion Housing Association, Audit Commission, July 2004
Keith Parkins, Audit Commission savage Pavilion Housing Association, Indymedia UK, 27 July 2004
Keith Parkins, Crisis meeting at Pavilion Housing Association, Indymedia UK, 24 August 2004
Keith Parkins, Pavilion Housing Association in Crisis, Indymedia UK, 25 August 2004
Keith Parkins, Pavilion v Atlantic, Indymedia UK, 6 September 2004
Keith Parkins, Pavilion and Atlantic Housing Groups to Merge?, Indymedia UK, 13 September 2004
Keith Parkins, Pavilion chief executive resigns!, Indymedia UK, 18 January 2005
Proposed grouping of First Wessex Housing Group with Portsmouth Housing Association, Rushmoor Borough Council, 5 September 2006
Review of Local Registered Social Landlords, Rushmoor Borough Council, 15 June 2006