Two housing associations which manage thousands of homes in Tower Hamlets have decided to pool resources to create a more robust organisation.
After a lengthy consultation, Tower Hamlets Community Housing and Poplar Housing and Regeneration Community Association boards have approved the merger that will bring over 13,000 houses into joint management, as THCH manages over 3,000 homes, and Poplar HARCA over three times as many. Many of the properties are former local authority built homes.
The merger will result in Poplar HARCA becoming the new landlord/freeholder of THCH properties. It will not change the terms and conditions or existing tenancy or leasehold agreements.
1,098 residents from both landlords responded to a survey, with 74% of Poplar HARCA and 62% of THCH respondents expressing positive or neutral sentiment to the proposed merger. The remaining expressed negative sentiments.
Crucially, the number of respondents who returned the survey in THCH stands at 10%, and 8% for Poplar HARCA.
For Poplar HARCA residents, general thematic concerns included ensuring existing service wasn’t impaired, regeneration schemes stayed on schedule, financial implications, and staff redundancies or management replacement.
THCH residents’ feedback, meanwhile, focused on opportunities for service improvement, increased investment and the impact on service charges. There has been concern over the loss of community focus and customer care from a bigger housing association.
Earlier this year, the merger plans were embroiled in controversy as some Tower Hamlets residents protested against the merger.
Citing a strong business case and due diligence through independent consultation, both boards remain hopeful that combining expertise and visions will afford greater investment and development opportunities for residents.
The possibility of leveraging efficiencies through streamlined senior management roles and access to more homes to reduce overcrowding issues remains an undercurrent of this discourse, as well as the potential for enhanced digital services.
“Significant building safety investment, high-inflation, a rent cap, and the cost-of-living crisis has had a big impact on the long-term survival of our organisation. We want to do more for our residents, but we know we can’t do it alone,” reads the THCH website.
The option to merge with Tower Hamlets Council itself was off the table, with the official Council statement citing it would “place the Council’s current medium-term financial position at risk due to the Landlord’s significant amount of debt.”
In THCH’s quest for a merger partner through a comprehensive mapping exercise, Poplar HARCA was identified partially because it would keep the management of THCH homes within the borough.
“Over the last few months, we’ve focused on confirming Poplar HARCA as the best fit for THCH. Our Board recognises the benefits and financial security that this partnership offers in achieving our shared goals,” said Anita Khan, Chief Executive for THCH.
For Poplar HARCA, the merger was welcomed as a way to attain more financial security. The housing association assauged fears of brewing financial insecurity driving the merger and shared its improved credit rating from October.
Steve Stride, Chief Executive for Poplar HARCA, said: “We’ll continue to talk with residents to understand their priorities and concerns and deliver on what they tell us. Having gone through a rigorous process to understand each other’s organisations, we’re sure the merger will unlock opportunities for us to do more for more Tower Hamlets residents.”
Multi-pronged strategies were used to elicit resident responses to the survey, including postcard (THCH), letter (Poplar HARCA), social media, text message (THCH), e-newsletters, and face-to-face surveys of known residents less likely or unlikely to use digital means in Poplar HARCA. Resident groups were also consulted.
Khan added: “Both organisations have worked to ensure that a merger will not only improve services for residents, but also enable more investment into homes and community initiatives.”
Pending discussion with the Regulator of Social Housing, the merger is expected to be legally completed in spring 2024.