As one of the first housing associations to take advantage of the decision to allow councils to transfer their stock out of local government control, mhs homes had a challenging birth, but one that has given us a head start in tackling the south east’s growing housing crisis.

The transfer, which took place 30 years ago on 27 July, was not made any easier by the fact that Medway Housing Society (as we were then called) took the unique approach of setting up as a non-registered body.

It was a controversial move, but one that gave us valuable freedoms that have seen us become Kent’s largest independent landlord - and we now enjoy ‘the best of both worlds’ after setting up its registered Heart of Medway subsidiary.

That independence has allowed us to put the customer at the heart of everything we do and take advantage of every opportunity to build new homes across the area.

We were the only one to offer a lifetime guarantee”

As part of the takeover, Medway Housing Society guaranteed existing Rochester-upon-Medway City Council tenants that their rents would never be increased by more than the rate of inflation plus one per cent each year. To this day, 30 years on, we still have around 2,300 ‘protected’ tenants who still benefit from that pledge.

“There were a number of associations that promised five or ten-year deals on protected rents, but we were the only one to offer a lifetime guarantee,” explained Ash Hook, who joined mhs homes in 2004 and became Chief Executive in 2009 when John Sands retired.

One customer who experienced the transfer said: “The level of tenant involvement was good and I went along to a number of meetings. It was all very smooth, and I have been happy here. The protected rent has been a bonus, too.”

John was working for Rochester-upon-Medway when he and Roger Hill, then Director of Finance at the city council, put together the stock transfer plan that would see the council’s homes moved into new ownership.

The move was controversial. “If the government had turned down the application, John and Roger would have been looking for new jobs, but fortunately for them, the decision was made, Medway Housing Society began looking after the homes and tenants and we began to create a new story.”

Our story is one of success and innovation

That story, now in its 30th year, is one of success and innovation and has seen us grow steadily. We now have more than 20,000 customers, 9,000 properties, 270 employees, and offer affordable homes to customers in Maidstone, Dartford, Tonbridge and Malling, and Gravesham as well as in the Medway Towns.

Throughout our 30-year history, mhs homes has continued to look for new ways of being an innovative and creative landlord, focusing entirely on the needs of our customers and looking for new opportunities to build new homes and communities.

“Stock transfer was all about taking the provision of social rented homes out of the public sector borrowing limits,” Ash explained. “Housing associations could borrow money and spend based on future income projections and so they could spend money on improving the stock."

“Most of the associations that set up around that time were registered with the Housing Corporation, but that tended to stifle what they could do, and the only benefit was that they were eligible for grants. Because building new homes wasn’t part of Medway Housing Society’s plans, they didn’t need grants and didn’t apply for registration."

“The good news was that it gave the association more flexibility to make its own decisions, and to this day mhs homes remains the largest non-registered housing association in the UK and still enjoys those freedoms.”

We’re now building safe, secure affordable homes

The Government made social housing grant available to private house builders in 2007 in a bid to create a more competitive market for new homes, and so mhs homes was able to access funds alongside other associations while retaining its non-registered status.

“We took advantage of that access and we have never looked back,” Ash explained. mhs homes began building new homes and by 2013 had grown the stock back to the original level, replacing those that had been sold to tenants under Right to Buy legislation.

“As the housing crisis in the south east has intensified, we’ve been opportunistic in taking advantage of legislative change in order to build new houses and help tackle the housing crisis,” Ash said.

We now have the best of both worlds

In 2010 we decided that that goal would be helped by having a registered arm that complemented its original status, and so we set up Heart of Medway as a subsidiary business registered with what was by then Homes England.

“It gives us the best of both worlds and allows us access to new funding streams while retaining the flexibility we have always enjoyed,” Ash explained. “mhs homes can set its own rents because it is unregistered, but we have nonetheless made sure they remain affordable over the past 30 years."

We’ll continue to help end the housing crisis and provide a stepping stone to a better future

“We have a really exciting future based on a commitment to neighbourhoods and communities. We work closely with local authorities in the area and we are determined to play our part in tackling the housing crisis and meeting housing need.”

Just two years ago mhs homes was granted charitable status. The change brought some significant benefits:

  • It reflects who we are and what we do (most large social housing associations are already operating as charities because of the nature of the work they do)
  • Financial benefits which include the ability to qualify for grants and donations, helping us to extend the important work that we do

We now have ambitious plans for future developments, including a site in Lenham earmarked for 120 new homes. We offer a number of shared ownership schemes, but Ash explained:

“Our core business remains to provide rented housing for those on low incomes and supported living accommodation for older people together with foyers for younger people and care leavers. That was the original dream and it remains our goal 30 years later.”