Local housing associations ‘minding the gap’ as public services decline, says GWSF
Community based housing associations are increasingly stepping in to provide environmental and other services which may be replacing services previously carried out by the local authority, according to the Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations (GWSF).
The organisation has published a report showcasing a variety of local services that its member housing associations are providing. These include environmental works such as bulk uplift and grass cutting, broader initiatives such as helping to tackle drug dealing and wider anti social behaviour, and work to improve private tenements. Support to vulnerable tenants, directly funded by housing associations, is also featured.
GWSF said that providing these services is what tenants and residents want, and cements the role of local associations as anchor bodies in the community. But at the same time, it added, this ‘role creep’ raises the issue of how much more will be expected of housing associations if it means their tenants could be paying twice for the services.
Sometimes the services are delivered through special arrangements with the local council, for example a bin replacement programme for tenement back courts. Work to improve private tenements is another example of partnership working – with both the local council and Scottish Government.
GWSF chair Helen Moore said: “Community based housing associations have long provided a lot more than housing in their communities. Most of these ‘wider role’ activities have been externally funded so that tenants’ rents aren’t being stretched too far.
“But more recently, associations have been plugging gaps as hard-pressed local councils find they can’t do everything they’ve traditionally done. A lot of associations feel that ‘if we don’t do it, who will?’
“So whilst the report very much shows local housing associations in a positive light, it also raises the issue of how fair it is to tenants who pay both rent and council tax.
“We recognise that partnership working with councils can take many forms and that it isn’t just about paying associations to take over services. But a debate is needed on whether some services should indeed be the subject of a transfer of resources if the council is willing to see housing associations and other bodies take responsibility for them.”