Meet the National Tenant Council
Tenants up and down the country have a powerful new body made up of 50 social housing residents. Emily Twinch joined them as they met for the first time to find out exactly what they want to do.
Source: Richard Hanson
Scores of council and housing association residents descended on Sheffield last week to mark a new chapter in tenant empowerment.
Plucked from across the UK - and from a variety of backgrounds, ages and cultures - 42 of the people in the picture form a new National Tenant Council, charged with influencing government policy and housing practice.
The pressure doesn’t seem to be getting to them so far. As they line up inside the Hilton Hotel, where they are meeting for their first ever discussions, they smile and pat each other on the back, buoyed by the excitement of their new roles.
It’s the second day of a two-day meet, and they are still making acquaintances and working out what they want the new body to achieve. The council forms a central part of the National Tenant Voice, a non-departmental government organisation being set up with funding of
£1.5 million a year to champion tenants’ rights and issues. The council numbers 50 people at full-strength, although some of the new members were not present due to other commitments or illness.
On Wednesday last week, they set to work on their first task, hammering out a response to the Tenant Services Authority’s consultation on the standards it has set out for social landlords.
Richard Crossley, co-ordinator of the NTV, has no doubts the council will be a ‘strong, powerful group’.
He adds: ‘People will have different views and different priorities and their task is to be able to cope with that. It’s one voice but different opinions.’
All of that lies in the future. The big question for now is who is on the council and what do they want to achieve? We asked four of them.
Richard Mandunya (no.27)
‘My particular interest is to sell the vision of the National Tenant Council.
‘I would want the message to come across to the relevant authorities and to the landlords that tenant empowerment is not contrary to their business.
‘The fact that someone is living in [social] housing does not mean they are not qualified, and it does not mean that they don’t know anything about their housing association.
‘The biggest challenge will be to change the culture within the social landlord fraternity. Too many times landlords view the tenants as powerless.
‘There’s lot of zeal to make it work.’
Richard Mandunya is a 46-year-old marketing consultant and Soha Housing association tenant from Oxford.
Kelly Johnson (no.15)
‘I was a bit worried about coming and what people would think because I’m young but nobody has ignored me. I’m still learning, but so is everyone here. If people have been in communities for a long time, young people think they won’t be accepted. But if we all have the same goal it doesn’t matter what issues we have or what age you are.
‘We will disagree at some point but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. We don’t want to be “yes men”.
‘Social housing has got a bad name which I don’t think is right and I don’t think people who live in social housing should just settle for things.’
Kelly Johnson is a 30-year-old tenant of arm’s-length management organisation Carrick Housing in Truro, Cornwall. She is the youngest member of the council.
David Exall (no.5)
‘I don’t have much experience as a housing activist.
I was the kind of tenant who just paid my rent and shut up. I didn’t get interested at all until almost by chance .
‘I was really excited about the opportunity to be at the centre of social housing matters.
‘Before we become the tenant voice we have to become the tenant ears. We have to not just put forward our own particular views but actually speak authoritatively on areas that affect the general tenant populous.’
David Exall is a 72-year-old grandfather and retired careers adviser from Bradford. He is a tenant of Headrow, part of the Arena Housing Group and chair of the group’s board. He was inspired to get involved by a TSA roadshow.
Hilary Wears (no.23)
‘We [social housing tenants] reached a stage where we really needed to have that strategic voice nationally. I don’t think that because we live in social housing we should be expected to live in antiquated, dilapidated homes that are in a state of disrepair.
‘Many of the issues in London are national issues as well. There’s a shortage of housing nationally, there’s a need for social housing to be in a decent condition and rents to be affordable.’
Hilary Wears is a 50-year-old tenant of arm’s-length management organisation Lambeth Living and an expert on community safety, working on domestic violence and hate crime reduction. She set up and chairs a tenant and resident association on her estate and chairs an area housing forum.