Tenant management organisations - the best-kept secret in housing

Zardoz tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Wed Sep 23 02:35:40 BST 2009

Tenant management organisations - the best-kept secret in housing
When social housing is given over to tenants to manage, communities begin to thrive on a new sense of belonging

Kate Murray - The Guardian, Wednesday 23 September 2009 

When tenants first took on the management of the Burrowes Street estate in Walsall back in 1994, things were pretty dire. "It was a transit estate - if people came to live here, they wanted to get out as soon as possible," says Terry Edis, chair of the Burrowes Street tenant management organisation, which manages 286 homes. Fifteen years on, the estate has been transformed, with refurbished homes, good services for residents, such as repairs, and a better community feel. It's proof, says Edis, of the success of what he calls "the best-kept secret in housing" - the tenant management organisation (TMO).

A TMO allows tenants and leaseholders to take on responsibility for housing management. Resident members create an independent legal body and elect a committee to run the organisation, which is paid a management and maintenance allowance by the social landlord.

There are now some 230 TMOs across England, managing anything from a small number of flats in a single block to thousands of properties. The government is keen to encourage more, and last year it changed the rules to make setting up TMOs quicker and easier. And the tenant watchdog, the Tenant Services Authority (TSA), is about to launch a pilot programme to establish more of the organisations to run housing association homes. 

Edis, who is also chair of the National Federation of TMOs (NFTMO), says the time is right for an expansion of the sector. "Now the government is pushing tenant management and grassroots involvement, it looks as if there is going to be an upturn," he says.

The pay-off in terms of performance can be impressive: a government review found TMOs recorded higher tenant satisfaction scores than councils. The 2002 assessment of TMOs found that 69% of TMO residents were satisfied with repairs, compared with 59% of council tenants, for example.

One high-performing TMO is also England's largest, Kensington and Chelsea, managing 10,000 homes. Its chair, Juliet Rawlings, says getting involved in managing your own housing is hard work but brings huge rewards. "When we set up the TMO, it took away a lot of the bureaucracy, it gave us ownership of our properties and we felt more involved," she says.

It's not all plain sailing. Some TMOs have folded after mismanagement and others have become embroiled in disputes with their local authority. Earlier this year, two organisations in south London unsuccessfully took Lambeth council to court over budget cuts.

But Trevor Bell, NFTMO coordinator, says although it's inevitable that some TMOs, as small voluntary-led organisations, will run into trouble, most do a fantastic job. Bell says last year's government rule changes have not yet had much impact on increasing the number of new TMOs, and the federation has now embarked on a publicity campaign to let more tenants know they can set up TMOs to manage their housing. He adds that although TMOs will always be a "minority sport", their record of successful tenant engagement has much to teach the wider housing sector. "They illustrate the potential of disadvantaged communities to exercise responsibility," he says.

Phil Morgan, executive director of tenant services at the TSA, agrees. "We want to see more tenants involved, and TMOs show that putting tenants in control can make a positive impact."

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