GLASWEGIANS have a long and proud history of building housing associations and co-operatives that are controlled and run by the local community.
Indeed, there are around 70 community-controlled housing associations across the Greater Glasgow region today – almost half of the total number of active housing associations in Scotland.
They date back to the campaigns to stop the demolition of traditional tenement communities like Dennistoun, Govan and Springburn in the 1970s and they have long been a pillar of communities across the city and in many instances have been a bulwark against the continued austerity foisted upon their residents.
Sadly, now more than ever, they are under threat.
In recent years, the number of community-controlled housing associations has declined dramatically.
Repeatedly, we have seen them swallowed up by gargantuan national housing association groups, often entirely unaccountable and headquartered outwith Scotland, for no reason other than profit maximisation.
To me that is a great shame, because the whole purpose of social housing in Scotland is to ensure that there is a social element to the basic commodity of housing.
It isn’t, or shouldn’t, be a method for wealth extraction or the stripping of assets currently owned and managed in the community.
It shouldn’t be a game of boardroom monopoly.
And fundamentally it shouldn’t be a lever by which to control finance, remove democratic power and exert unwelcome external influence.
If we go back to the days of the Glasgow Corporation slum-clearances and the establishment of the city’s first housing associations, it was done on the basis that those local management committees taking control of the housing stock were volunteers rooted in their local communities, worked in their local communities and ultimately knew what was best for the local people who lived and worked there, indeed the local community voted for them at the annual general meetings.
That ethos was the very genesis of community housing associations, yet it appears to have been forgotten.
The result? Community housing associations that are financially robust and providing great services to their tenants being taken over at board level and railroaded into mergers with promises of a land of milk and money.
There is no clearer example of that than the proposed takeover of Reidvale Housing Association in Glasgow’s East End.
Reidvale was set up in 1975 by a committed band of residents dubbed the Bathgate Street Mafia led by stalwart activist John Butterly to halt the planned demolition of the tenements.
Since then, it has refurbished its 900 properties and brought the community back to life through the introduction of traffic calming measures and construction of a thriving community centre.
Yet, despite being financially robust, it has been earmarked for what is being dubbed a ‘transfer’ but in reality is a takeover.
The vulture that is circling goes by the name of Places for People Scotland, but the reality is it is merely an offshoot of the enormous England-based parent company, Places for People, which currently operates in Scotland as Castle Rock Edinvar Housing Association, predominantly in Edinburgh.
Its marketing literature is a masterclass in spin and deceit, and to entice current Reidvale residents it is offering a five-year rent freeze guarantee, despite the Scottish Housing Regulator’s website showing that its rents elsewhere in the country are up to 26% higher than the Scottish average.
When compared to Reidvale, its performance is a cause for huge concern.
The average rent charged by Reidvale for a three-bedroom flat is £69 per week, while Places for People charge £98 per week; its emergency repair response time is four times slower than Reidvale’s, while non-emergency repairs take 17 times longer to complete.
That this is not only being allowed, but actively encouraged, by the Scottish Housing Regulator is a shameful episode in Scotland’s social housing history and is why I have urged the Scottish Government to review the role of the regulator in this sorry saga.
Reidvale residents can put a stop to this.
They can vote to reject the takeover, but the truth is the odds are stacked against them and anyone who advocates against the proposal.
With the clock ticking, and the PR operation supporting the takeover in full swing, the local community has been left to fend for itself and once again we face a situation where David is forced to go up against Goliath.
As Glaswegians, we should all be concerned about this scandalous situation.
The motivation for the takeover is clear – profit, and if Places for People Scotland gets away with it this time, it will have its hand in the till all over again.
We cannot allow that to happen.
For decades, these community housing associations have been the lifeblood of our local areas. There through thick and thin, locally accountable and with boards directly elected by residents and service users.
This new, capital-driven breed of unaccountable housing associations is a far cry from that traditional structure. Their boards are appointed, they are accountable to no one and in most cases, they have a parasitic effect on local economies; sucking resources and power from the hands of the many into those of the few.
Glasgow has a long and proud tradition of campaigning to ensure housing does not become a commodity for capital.
It’s time we come together to do it again.
You can view my column on the Glasgow Times website here: Community housing associations under imminent threat of extinction | Glasgow Times