The issue of the transfer of council housing to new landlords is a
contentious one. New landlords are able to inject desperately needed
funds into rundown housing, funds which are simply not available to
local authorities. But tenants fear that changes in the system will
cause problems and lead to rents being raised.
This was the situation faced by Poplar HARCA when the London Borough of
Tower Hamlets (LBTH) decided to transfer 2,900 homes on six estates in
the second phase of its programme of transfers. Any such transfer must
be agreed to by a majority of tenants, voting via ballot. The LBTH is
not allowed to campaign either way, but has a role in explaining the
implications to its tenants. The HARCA was set up by the LBTH to provide
a new landlord for homes to transfer to. The HARCA can gain access to
private money and Government funds not available to the council. It is
also allowed to campaign, and brought PR team The Grand Design in to
work with it.
To encourage high turnout in the vote. To promote the Poplar HARCA as a
good deal for Poplar tenants.
Prior to hiring The Grand Design to handle the HARCA’s PR, the LBTH
in-house team had started a rolling programme of newsletters, some
general and some targeted to specific estates, aimed at keeping
residents informed of the current situation.
Once the Poplar HARCA was established, The Grand Design worked on
developing its corporate identity, and then began publishing another
series of newsletters, this time in the association’s name.
The transfer of housing is a complex issue, and this was complicated by
the fact the many of the area’s residents do not speak English, so all
materials were translated into Bengali. House-to-house visits were
conducted to find out if residents intended to vote or had any further
Closer to the ballot, activities, such as family fun days, which would
result in direct contact with the tenants were held. Weekend stalls were
set up in major thoroughfares in the area, staffed by senior members of
The team also embarked on a media relations campaign, targeting both
local and national media as well as specialist housing publications. As
HARCA was the first of a new type of registered social landlord, it came
under close scrutiny from both the local authorities and the media.
Because the issue of transfer of housing is such a a hot one, much of
the campaigning involved reacting to the actions of those supporting a
’no’ vote. This included countering claims that the transfer was against
the best interests of tenants, and that their homes were being sold off
to big business.
While the final turnout for the vote was strong, with 71 per cent of
eligible tenants voting, the vote was very close. However the Poplar
HARCA transfer was approved with 50.4 per cent of residents in favour.
This will lead to a pounds 77 million injection into the estate, most of
which would not otherwise have been available.
In terms of meeting the objective of encouraging as many eligible voters
as possible to have their say, this campaign was successful. The vote
was 50.4 per cent in favour, meaning that the campaign was perhaps, less
of a success in quelling fears that the changes it will bring will
benefit the residents, rather than hurt them. However, should there be
any further campaigns of this sort, they will have the advantage of
real-life examples of the benefits which housing transfer can bring
Client: London Borough of Tower Hamlets/Poplar Housing and Regeneration
Community Association (HARCA)
Campaign: Transfer of council housing to the Poplar HARCA
PR Team: In-house and The Grand Design
Timescale: March to July 1998