This week the Housing Executive (NIHE) is writing to 1,369 tenants in four estates, informing them about the potential transfer of their homes to housing associations.
The areas concerned are Rossville in Derry/Londonderry; Mourneview-Grey in Lurgan; Killicomaine in Portadown; and Lord Street-Avoniel in Belfast. Last year, tenants in four other estates in Ballymena, Ballyclare and Larne were similarly briefed.
These homes all require significant refurbishment. As NIHE does not currently have the required resources, it believes there is a potential role for housing associations to use their access to low-cost private finance to facilitate the necessary tens of millions of pounds of investment.
However, this is no done deal. In each area there will be a ballot on the proposals, with transfer only proceeding if there is a majority of tenants in favour. Transfer terms will also have to be realistic to make the schemes financially viable for housing associations. Prior to ballots, there will be extensive engagement between tenants and associations, supported by impartial tenant advisers.
There are successful precedents. In 2011 in Rinmore, Derry-Londonderry, 89% of tenants voted in favour of 55 NIHE homes transferring to Apex. Homes have been extended and completely refurbished at a cost of £1.75m.
Also in Bangor in 2014, 97% of tenants voted for the transfer of 72 NIHE bungalows to Oaklee [now Choice]. £3.2million is being spent to modernise homes including new kitchens and bathrooms, double glazing, and gas-fired central heating.
Understandably, residents have questions and concerns. Some fear losing their tenant rights, but these are the same for housing association and NIHE residents. Housing associations are accountable to government in a similar way to NIHE. It is true that there will be some increase in rents following transfer, but these will be offset by warmer homes and lower energy bills. And tenants will be enjoying much improved living conditions.
Although it’s a big step for all concerned, transfers offer exciting opportunities, especially for the NIHE tenants concerned. But rightly, the final say is theirs.