Stevenage housing row heads towards meltdown

Tenants have voted to try to increase their influence over Stevenage housing stock as a bitter dispute between the borough council and a tenant association moved towards meltdown.

Talks between The Federation of Stevenage Tenants and Associations and Stevenage Borough Council over the management of its 10,000 council homes have completely broken down, with the association voting on Saturday to apply for Tenant Management Organisation status. If successful, the application will give FOSTA legal authority over how housing stock is managed in the town.

Relations between the two bodies has deteriorated after councillors moved to bring the management of its housing stock, currently in the hands of arms length management organisation (ALMO) Stevenage Homes, back in house. A consultation is ongoing with affected residents.

A statement by the council on the issue, distributed to tenants this week, said: “We are proposing that your homes should be managed directly by the council and not by Stevenage Homes but we want to hear your views before making a final decision.”

Ted Jones, a former chair of the Stevenage Homes board is leading the FOSTA Save Our Homes campaign. He criticised council information distributed to tenants.

“The council are attempting to bring the ALMO back in house. The literature that they are producing for the tenants to agree to this is incorrect.”

FOSTA must apply to the Tenants Services Authority before it can ask for funding to support a TMO application. A petition in favour of the move has begun and will be handed in to Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland in two weeks.

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Tenant advisor and FOSTA member Oonah Lacey said: “The move to apply to the regulator to establish a TMO is the right decision and will ensure that residents are at the heart of the decision making process and able to shape and continue to deliver high quality housing services in the future.

“The 100 per cent vote in favour of a TMO by the residents on the campaign group and the large number of names on the petition for the MP demonstrates the strong feeling and commitment by residents to protect their homes from being managed by the council.”

She added that the campaign group will be consulting with all residents once the application has been registered with the regulator.

A spokesman for the council said the authority is engaging with tenants and leaseholders to ensure their views are taken into account when the future of housing management is considered by councillors later in the year.

She said: “Working together with FOSTA, we have appointed an independent consultant to ensure tenants and leaseholders fully understand the options when responding to the consultation. This will see drop-in sessions arranged across the town beginning next week.”

Housing portfolio holder Ann Webb said she was “disappointed” with the move by the tenants’ association.

“Some groups seem to have decided to try and make this genuine consultation a political issue in order to suit their own ends,” she said. “I would encourage tenants and leaseholders to fill in and return their questionnaires so that their opinion can genuinely influence our decision making.”