Choice Housing along with Victoria Housing Estates Limited (VHE) has approved a £28m investment programme, which could see up to 429 properties transfer to Choice Housing ownership.
The approval of the investment follows an extensive period of consultation, announced in January of this year, in which both Choice Housing and VHE engaged on the investment programme and the range of options open to tenants.
The investment plan would see tenants move from VHE to Choice and the Housing Association take ownership of the properties. The investment will ensure each home receives significant renovations and refurbishments to meet the Decent Homes Standard.
Those who do not wish to move over will have the opportunity to purchase their own home through an application process. It is anticipated that those who will move to a Choice tenancy will do so from 1st October 2020.
VHE and Choice Housing commenced full tenant consultation on the 3rd of February 2020, working with Empowering Communities (EC) and Housing Rights (HR) who hosted pop up sessions and provided expert independent advice to tenants. Although face to face consultation was suspended as of the 16th March, ongoing engagement between VHE, Choice Housing and tenants continued via telephone and other online platforms. There was a strong response to this consultation, with a 90.5% response rate from tenants.
Announcing the approval of the investment programme, Michael McDonnell, Chief Executive of Choice Housing said: “This investment programme is welcome news for VHE’s tenants who have long been campaigning for upgrades to their homes. As part of their new Choice tenancy they will see an upgrade to their properties which will bring it up to Choice standards.
“During the consultation period we engaged extensively with VHE tenants, providing information on their options. If they take up a tenancy agreement with Choice they would get a long term and secure social tenancy agreement which will give them the same access to services and support as all of our other 10,000 plus tenants across Northern Ireland. Tenants also have the option of purchasing their homes, which a has been taken up by a number of tenants. Should any of these sales not complete, tenants will still have the opportunity to move over to Choice tenancy agreements.
“I would also like to pay tribute to the team at VHE who worked hard to facilitate this engagement and ensure that tenants availed of a range of independent advice and support throughout the process. Now that the plan has been ratified by our respective boards we can move to the next phase of finalising tenancy agreements and transferring stock. We aim to have all the refurbishment work completed within three years of taking ownership of these homes”.
Dawn Purvis the Chief Executive of Victoria Housing Estates added: “Following an assessment of our 429 properties in late 2016 it was found that significant investment was required to bring these homes up to a required standard that unfortunately we were not a position to manage. This new investment programme, facilitated by Choice Housing will ensure that all current VHE tenants will see significant investment in their homes as well as long term secure tenancy agreements for those who take up that option.
“I was pleased to see the level of engagement from tenants throughout the consultation process, especially given ongoing challenges to the process as a result of Covid-19. VHE, Choice Housing and tenants all adapted to the situation and found alternative ways of engaging to ensure information was received and where independent advice and guidance was required we sign posted tenants to appropriate organisations.
“It was also pleasing to see some tenants take up the option of applying to buy their own home, an element of this investment programme which showed a tenant centered approach”.
The investment programme covers all of VHE’s properties across Northern Ireland, including Riverdale (West Belfast), Benson Street (Lisburn), Worcester Avenue (Bangor), Cherryhill, Holywood Road and Clonaver (East Belfast) and Harmin in Glengormley.
The programme has been developed in consultation with the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland.