Thursday, 25 April 2013

Managing unambitious households Yarlington Housing Group may have got itself into a bit of hot water for a new initiative ostensibly intended to help residents in personal and family development. In a nice contemporary example of really tacky scheme design and marketing, they announce: ‘The aim of our Household Ambition Plans are (sic) to support you - our tenants, in achieving your goals and ambitions and help you sHAPe your future to transform the lives of you and your family. sHAPe is currently being offered to all new tenants who accept a 7 year fixed term tenancy. It is an agreement between Yarlington and the tenant and sets out the ambitions and aspirations of the tenant and their family.’ It’s not clear if this is a response to levels of anti-social behaviour, disorder, or other tensions among tenants. It may not be a response to anything, but a positively-intentioned development. But I suspect we have been quite near here before. In 2006 I edited a book on Respect in the neighbourhood which included a thorough research-based chapter by Liz Richardson on ‘Incentives and motivations for neighbourliness.’ Liz pointed to the significance of local agencies taking action and concluded that incentives certainly have a positive effect, but schemes need to allow space ‘for negotiation and the accommodation of alternative views’. Yarlington would doubtless claim that they do that. Inside housing quotes executive director Phyllida Culpin: ‘Our approach to getting a positive involvement from new tenants is crucial to the success of our company aim to build communities… We expect everyone entering this with us to do the very best that they are able.’ These people only want tenants who have ambitions, and who 'do their best' according to someone else's judgement. It's hideously reminiscent of current education policy. There's little attempt to disguise the moralising. Some of the comments in response, on the Inside housing pages, are well-worth reading. I don't think any of the scheme's defendants can get away from the impression that the housing provider has assumed a right of judgement over people’s lifestyles: indeed some people celebrate that as being what housing providers should do. Yarlington have unwisely stepped over the line between laudably offering support to residents, and coercively requiring them to participate in a customer scheme with dubious intentions. The chief executive’s use of language and the wording in their customer guide are not reassuring: ‘We will look at the progress you have made with your HAP when we consider the renewal of your tenancy at the end of the 7 year fixed period. ‘Some people may feel uncomfortable about committing to a HAP. If, after discussing it with Yarlington staff, you decide that you do not want to take advantage of this opportunity, you will be able to bid for homes offered by housing providers who do not have a similar scheme.’ It’s hard to avoid the suspicion that Yarlington have a cleansing scheme in mind, with the intention of getting rid of ’undesirable’ tenants, who might or...

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