Four challenging years

We're Watching You: Three members of the new Tenant Scrutiny Panel. From left: Jo-Anne Shiffer, leader Linda Levin and Barbara Epstein. Other members are Robert White, Sandra Lewis and Viktoria Wagner

THE next four years are likely to be the most challenging the housing sector has faced in generations, says Lee Bloomfield, Leeds Jewish Housing Association chief executive.

He forecast at the annual meeting that the introduction of Right to Buy for housing association tenants and the reductions in welfare benefits implemented by the government, are two issues that could cause problems.

"Last year the government told housing providers that we have to reduce our rents year-on-year for the next four years by one per cent," he said.

However, in real terms this is more than a one per cent reduction, as LJHA is unable to apply the proposed 2.5 per cent increase.

"This means our income will be reduced annually," he said.

After taking up his post last year, Mr Bloomfield looked at the internal staffing structure. He and his team decided to combine both housing and building services under one director of operations, "allowing us to make some additional costs savings by reducing from two directors to one, leaving us savings to plough back into services".

At a special general meeting in March, a new structure was adopted by shareholders, resulting in LJHA creating a board of management as well as an operations sub board and merging other committees into one.

A short-term compliance and assurance group, chaired by Colin Grazin, to monitor and oversee the new governance arrangements now ensures it is working effectively.

As part of the governance structure was the introduction of the Tenant Scrutiny Panel, which sits alongside the board of management, auditing and scrutinising the services LJHA provide, holding officers and board of management to account.

Chairman Kate Pearlman-Shaw said it had been "quite a year". LJHA has emerged as a modernised organisation with a "truly 21st century board and quite different to how it had been previously. We are in a much better place".

Barbara Epstein, who is now a TSP scrutiniser, said LJHA and its tenants were not a "them and us" organisation.

"We all want the same thing; a good place to live, pleasant neighbours and a reasonable standard of living," she said.

The group is in mid-training and led by Linda Levin, who gave an overview of the work involved.

However, tenants showed concern about a transparent lack of investment plans where management appeared to be doing full refurbishments in some flats whilst the rest of the stock was falling behind in standards.

Mr Bloomfield said: "Taking this on board, we decided to adapt our approach and look at the investment programme in a different way,"

A volte-face has put together a plan to undertake a rudimentary approach to refurbishment, starting on the oldest elements first. The programme will last more than four years.

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