A Riverside Tenant Writes
If you look at my landlord’s website or newsletters you are given the impression that they are an efficient and caring organisation. This used to be true before Riverside took over.
My landlord was originally Newcastle & Whitley Housing Association until Riverside took over in 2006. Newcastle & Whitley was a great landlord compared to Riverside. We all knew our housing officers, and staff were accessible and communicative.
My flat is in a Georgian listed building. Repairs were taken seriously and professionally carried out by people who know their trade. Our homes were well maintained and decorated when needed, and our gardens were immaculate.
We had a bench which was donated to Newcastle and Whitley by actor Ralph Richardson’s widow (they had a connection with the house). Now the bench has been pulled from the wall by tradespeople and lies discarded at the bottom of the neglected garden. It is symbolic of the treatment shown to tenants by the merged landlord, Riverside.
… And Now
There are many illustrations of declining interest in tenants’ welfare under the Riverside regime. During lockdown, my neighbour contacted a Riverside executive to ask for a refund for services which had not been carried out for a year. She was told that a refund would not be issued, but to contact Riverside’s helpline if she was struggling financially. She was also told “you will have to take one for the team”, implying we are all somehow one happy family with common financial interests.
Riverside have let the building slip into disrepair and have had to carry out extensive repairs on the roof. The repairs were very badly carried out with large scaffolding going up and down and taking forever to complete. Visits from cleaners, gardeners and other service providers are virtually non-existent.
I took advice from legal experts who were excellent, and Riverside were told to do extensive repairs to fix water and damp issues. But this took over two years of complaints and bodged quick-fixes.
I had years of water coming through the floor of my flat and at first was told that the damp was condensation caused by steaming pans and not having the windows open, so basically my fault. Blaming tenants is a speciality. Riverside’s website is awash with patronising little pictures of possible faults and how you might correct them.
Riverside are also keen to paint and decorate the outside of the building adding to its curb appeal whilst the flats are in urgent need of upgrading. The sound proofing is terrible and some tenants have water boilers in their living rooms.
Communication is another problem, especially for tenants. Repairs are shoddy and their emergency phone number just keeps you on hold. By contrast, if you ring the number for rent arrears somebody answers straight away.
In my view this change has come about because Riverside is now run by bean counters who receive large pay packets. Maybe it’s time for it to be brought to their attention that they are responsible for peoples’ poor quality of living? No doubt there are many dedicated and caring staff in Riverside, but the senior management and organisational culture ensures these values are not extended to tenants and residents.
Riverside Housing Group was created through a voracious appetite for acquisitions and mergers. It started humbly enough in 1928 as Liverpool Improved Houses. Its original aim was:
“Making housing affordable to those most in need.”
Merger mania changed the focus of the organisation, taking it a long way from these worthy roots. Liverpool Improved Houses became Merseyside Improved Houses in 1973. In 1996, it was renamed Riverside Housing Association.
Then the merger fever really began. In 1998 it merged with Leicester Family Housing Association. Lee Valley Housing Association was transferred to Riverside in 2003. In 2006 it merged with Newcastle and Whitley Housing Trust, and later the same year, with English Churches Housing Group. In 2009, Community Seven, Bowlee Park Housing, Berrybridge Housing, and Carlisle Housing Association, were all amalgamated to become The Riverside Group Limited. Some had already become subsidiaries.
In 2010, council homes in the North Bransholme area were transferred from Hull City Council to Riverside. In 2011, Irvine Housing Association became a subsidiary. Riverside took over Impact Housing in 2018, and in 2021, the failing One Housing Group becoming a subsidiary of the Group.
Many of the pre-merger housing associations began life as stock transfers from local councils having been built with taxpayer money.
Rediscovering Social Purpose
Riverside would benefit from recruiting senior management who have a sense of social purpose and who genuinely care about doing a good job and making peoples’ lives better, instead of just thinking about their salaries. Riverside bosses would do well to look back to a time when people were less greedy and took pride in how they made a difference.
There is nothing to suggest that Riverside executives will be minded to do this if left to their own devices. It is therefore up to us tenants and residents to form ourselves into local and national organisations that can make this change happen.
1 March 2022
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The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.