The Poor Door Problem in Social Housing

The Poor Door Problem

Housing Associations tend to be filled with well-meaning kind hearted people. Like all humans they are of making mistakes. Paraphrasing Alan Greenspan (Renowned Economist), even the best humans tend to be right only 70% of the time.


It therefore irks me to hear such staunch criticism of the way housing associations and local authorities have approached the problem being touted as “The Poor Door Problem”. Programmes such as channel four’s dispatches (trending on twitter as #dispatches) hinted that having two separate doors, one for affordable tenants and one for wealthier part owners, to a building is a slant on the way society is heading. It’s also true – taken at face value this is clearly not how we’d like our society to operate. However, Dispatches and many other media sources have only given one side of the story.


The way a question is posed often slants the perception and eventual answer of each individual who considers a problem. For example, if you were to ask a middle aged couple if the Government should do more to reduce unemployment amongst 18-21 year olds, the likely answer would be yes. Should you then ask the same couple if they would like to see conscription to the army for 18 year olds in an attempt to teach them life skills and discipline, they’d also be more likely to say yes than if you’d posed the question in a different way. Let’s say you’d ask the couple if they were concerned about increased gun crime with in the UK, and then followed up with the same 2nd question…should government introduce conscription to the army for 18 year olds in order to familiarise them with the use of guns.


It’s not hard to imagine that you’d get two different answer to the same root question…”should the government introduce conscription”? This is exactly how the media have played the Poor Door Problem.


Housing associations only have limited resources and have to continuously think about the long term. When appraising a mixed tenure scheme, one with both affordable rent and shared ownership, they have to take into account how affordable their “affordable units” will be 10 years down the line. This is where the difficult decisions come in. In most cases, flats and apartments will attract service charge payments. These service charges go into maintaining the communal areas and general maintenance of the buildings shell. However, in an attempt to attract people into buying the shared ownership units, these service charges may also include a concierge service or a gym, possibly even laundry services.

Can you imagine the uproar within the media should they find out that social renting tenants are using housing benefit on luxury gym subscriptions, dry cleaning and concierge services? Well, housing associations have considered it and one solution is to keep the entrances and stairwells separate for those who won’t be paying towards the additional services. If you don’t walk past the concierge or have access to the gym, then you quite rightly won’t have to pay for it.


In an attempt to put forward a balanced view, the key here is to approach the problem sensitively. This could have been better in some of the cases I’ve seen. For example, there is a need for the property management company maintain both entrances to a similar standard and not let one look over grown and shabby. But to reiterate the opening point, I’m confident that most housing associations are making the right call between #Dispatches

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