Housing association "no longer represents the people" says former committee member

Bellsmyre Housing Association is celebrating its 25 anniversary this month

A HOUSING association born after poll tax demonstrations no longer represents the people.

Thats the view of former committee member Tommy Lusk, who helped form Bellsmyre Housing Association (BHA) in Dumbarton. 

BHA are celebrating their 25 anniversary this year, but Lusk claims they are “just another government department” despite claiming to be run on the ground “for the people, by the people.”

“It came off the back of the poll tax campaign, and we had a good campaign in Bellsmyre.” Tommy Lusk

Speaking to CommonSpace, Lusk, who sat on the committee for the first two years of Bellsmyre’s inception, said he quickly became “disillusioned”.

He said: “When going through the process of becoming a housing association, we were one of the first ones that done it.

“There was tremendous ups and downs.”

Having been brought up in Bellsmyre, Lusk moved to Merkins Avenue and was shocked at the state the housing was in.

He claims many of the houses were left derelict until the formation of BHA by locals, who initially took control of Merkins Avenue with a view to gradually taking over the rest of the housing stock in the scheme.

Lusk, who has lived in the same house for 25 years, said: “It came off the back of the poll tax campaign, and we had a good campaign in Bellsmyre, in terms of local people getting involved.

“Once everybody realised they were not the only ones refusing to pay it (poll tax) we had a public meeting and the place was full. 

“That ran its course, and you seen the potential for community spirit. Scottish Homes were looking for members for a steering group.

“I went into it because I thought it would be about community control.

“I gradually became a bit disillusioned with it and I eventually came off the committee.”

Formed in September 1992, BHA now controls around 600 properties in the area. 

Lusk claims BHA was forced into taking over the existing stock by Scottish Homes just a few years after being created. He claims this put a lot of pressure on the group.

The disgruntled tenant told us he has been hit with rent increases, despite being promised this would not happen by BHA. 

“I never heard of anyone who got their rent standardised down the way.” Tommy Lusk

Lusk told CommonSpace his rent has gone up 12 per cent since the formation, saying: “BHA said it was to standardise rents. I never heard of anyone who got their rent standardised down the way.”

Tenants voted for a partnership with Perth-based Caledonia Housing Association (CHA), a move that was completed in April of last year.

Lusk opposed the move as CHA promised to invest £5 m, which Lusk believes will come from rent increases over the next few years.

BHA renovated several properties’ kitchen and bathrooms over the last year.

Lusk said: “As Scottish Homes were leading tenants where they wanted them to go in 1992, so the Scottish Housing Regulator is leading tenants where they want them to go in 2017.

“BHA changed when Scottish Homes bounced them into a decision they could not afford and it's been like that ever since.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The role of housing associations isn’t just providing good quality housing and services for tenants, or building new energy efficient homes, it’s also about creating jobs, supporting vulnerable people, and acting as an anchor for some of the most deprived communities in Scotland.

“Around 160 housing associations registered in Scotland range from small community based organisations to very large group structures covering a wide geographic area.   

“Regardless of these differences, all housing associations are independent, non-profit distributing organisations with the overarching purpose of providing good quality housing for their tenants and the Scottish Government values the diversity of the sector.”

We contacted Bellsmyre Housing Association, but they declined to comment.

Picture courtesy of Google Images

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Tom Lusk

Wed, 09/13/2017 - 17:44

Just to clarify the timeline, this is the original text I sent Commonspace:

Bellsmyre Housing Associations in Dumbarton are celebrating their 25th Anniversary. They were one of the first Associations formed by tenants to take control of their houses from Scottish Homes. It brought back memories for me as I was on the first committee. I lived in Merkins Avenue at the time and it was falling apart. The rents were steep and half the houses were derelict.

We thought our fortunes were changing when Scottish Homes spent a lot of money renovating one of the blocks. It looked very impressive. We waited for our turn before SHs said they had no more money. Then they told us if we were to form a housing association they would give us the houses in Merkins for £1 and we’d also get a Housing Association Grant. We went along with it and in a few years the street was transformed. It was like moving to a better neighbourhood without having to move.

We only owned Merkins to begin with but had a plan to gradually takeover the rest of the scheme a few streets at a time. This would help us to learn on the job and build up experience. SHs agreed to this and said they understood it was a big step for us to take on the responsibility of employing their staff and a morgage of a million pounds.

I don't know what happened to that agreement because I wasn’t on the committee by the time the refurbishments in Merkins were finished. I was expecting the next step of the plan to take shape but nothing happened and it all went quiet for a year or two.

Then, out of the blue, we heard that all the houses SHs owned in Bellsmyre were up for sale to any housing association that could afford to buy them. This meant that BHA would need to agree to whatever SHs said or go out of business because a housing association owning one street wasn't viable. Especially when they still owed a lot of money to The Clydesdale Bank.

BHA bit the bullet and bid whatever it took to out do Cube HA who also bid. SHs must have been rubbing their hands with glee when Cube entered the race. It meant they had even more clout over Bellsmyre. It was strange to see Cube helping SHs out in this way as their original role was to support the housing association in situations like this.

At first it seemed the new agreement was good for tenants because BHA were limited to how much they could increase rents by each year for the next ten years. However, it soon became clear that BHA had made an agreement they couldn't afford. The early signs were service charges for things like close lights and door entry systems, previously included in the rent. It was obvious this was their way of getting round the agreement they’d made with SHs.

The problem was they didn't understand if you charge for a service you need to maintain it. They didn't like it when I deducted the door entry charge from my monthly payment when it wasn't working. They kept calling it rent arrears. Talk of being in denial.

When the ten year rule came to an end they recouped more money by having two rent increases in the one year. My rent went up about 12% that year. They didn't call the second one a rent increase, they said it was to standardise rents. I never heard of anyone who got their rent standardised down the way.

Things settled down for a while apart from the odd rumour here and their. Everything was hunky dory, their quarterly newsletters told us. Then we noticed the senior officers didn't seem to be around anymore and we heard most of the committee had resigned.

At Xmas their newsletter wished us merry xmas and gave us phone numbers to call for emergency repairs while the office was shut for the holidays. It also included a list of present staff and committee. It didn't resemble the staff and committee they had three months earlier. There was no accompanying explanation.

Six months passed before we were told there had been a problem and it would be solved if we agreed to become part of a big HA in Perth. They then made up for their lack of communication by showering us with leaflet after glossy leaflet, telling us how good things were going to be if we voted to go along with their proposal. The only time I saw them get a bit agitated was when they were asked if there were any cons to the proposal. You know, as in weighing up the pro’s and con’s before we made our decision how to vote.

We’re now a subsidiary of Caldonia HA. It's early days yet so we'll have to wait awhile to see how it goes. They've already put up big billboards telling us about the new bathrooms and kitchens were going to get. They've done a lot of them already. They’re keen to please at the moment and are offering new kitchens to people who’ve already had a new kitchen. I guess it’ll take a bit of time before they know what's what. They've said they expect to to know the state of the houses they took on by some time next year.

Rent increases are limited, as they were before, but only for a couple of years this time. Caledonia also promised to "invest" £5 million in the stock to persuade tenants to vote for them. It'll be interesting to see if they come up with creative ways of recouping this money as Bellsmyre HA did in the past.

You never know what the future holds, but if the last twenty five years are anything to go by, it won't be dull.

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