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History of Solon

We are a charitable housing association established in 1974 to develop and manage good quality affordable rented housing for people in housing need.

We provide 1,300 homes in Bristol, South Gloucestershire, Mendip, Bath and the Forest of Dean.
Development and growth in the 1970s and early 1980s
From our first office in Clifton in Bristol, Solon played a major role in improving private sector properties, with the help of local authority grant. Our first housing corporation funded scheme was completed in November 1975. By 1976 we owned and were managing 100 homes. 

Early success prompted an invitation to work in Housing Action and General Improvement Areas being set up in Bristol. This brought Solon into Easton, which we have a close association with to this day.

Our first scheme outside Bristol - 8 homes in Shepton Mallet, Mendip - was completed in 1976.

By 1989 we had 687 homes in management, mainly across inner-Bristol and also in Mendip and the Forest of Dean.

Supported Housing in the 1980s
Solon's first supported housing scheme - a refuge for women escaping domestic violence - was completed in 1980. By the end of the decade we had provided 18 schemes for people with a range of care and support needs.

Stock condition - the cost of success
Solon originally concentrated on the rehabilitation of existing properties. Most of our stock comprises street properties originally built circa-1900. Many were in poor condition at acquisition. They were subsequently rehabilitated or converted in the 1970s and 1980s with relatively low levels of grant, and therefore not always to high standards. A number of properties are listed.

By 1989, 92% of our homes comprised rehabilitated flats and houses in old buildings. Many were falling into serious disrepair due to internal resources available to fund repairs and improvements.

We subsequently invested £5 million Housing Corporation grant in major repairs, carried out over the next 5 years. This brought a number of long-term voids back into use, and tenanted properties up to a better standard. Subsequent stock condition surveys in the mid-1990s and 2000's prompted additional investment in major repairs and improvements. These resources were provided by Solon as by this time Housing Corporation funding was no longer available to us.

Constant reinvestment has maintained many of our houses in reasonable condition. However, the stock condition survey during 2006-07 identified a requirement to spend considerable resources over the next 30 years to maintain the stock. Approximately £20 million is required to achieve and maintain the Decent Homes Standard (DHS) over this period. A further £5 million will be needed to meet the cost of repairs that are necessary but not required to achieve Decent Homes. Additional resources will be required to exceed the DHS.

The current 30-year financial plan makes sufficient financial provision to ensure that Solon will meet the DHS. However, it is likely that, despite this, some of our stock will still be badly laid out, suffer from sound problems and not be insulated to modern standards.

Solon has therefore recognised that, despite significant investment in major repairs, some of the stock will continue to be unsatisfactory due to its age, condition, need for expensive improvements and/or remodelling.

This has prompted a change in Solon's approach to reinvestment in recent years. Whereas previously, we sought to retain and reinvest in existing stock to meet current standards, more recently, it has been felt to be prudent and more efficient to consider disposing of poor quality property and units that are hard to maintain. This reduces the need for expensive reinvestment, enabling savings to be better targeted on existing stock. Consequently, property disposals are now an important part of the Asset Management Strategy and Solon has a programme of disposals of unsatisfactory property based on factors such as condition and unpopularity.

The disposal of property also enables Solon to focus more of its resources on new developments, providing desirable homes which meet current housing need.

Continued growth/new development in the 1990s
By the mid-1990s and with many of the disrepair issues identified at that time having been resolved, Solon was again able to focus on providing new homes, although on a smaller scale than before.

New work included our first new-build schemes in the Easton renewal area, complementing work by Bristol City Council and other housing association to revitalise whole streets. In 1999 we built 9 new homes in Easton in a partnership formed to redevelop Bloy Street.

We also participated in the Rough Sleepers Initiative, providing a temporary hostel for 20 people in 1997 and 12 permanent self-contained flats in 1999.

By the end of 2001, we managed approximately 1,100 homes, including 227 for people with support needs and were housing approximately 2,100 people. Housing Corporation grant allocations had been received for new homes in Bristol and Mendip.

Temporary Social Housing
During the 1990s, Solon promoted the use of grant to bring empty properties into use on a short-life basis, creating homes for single people and families whose options would otherwise have been limited to bed & breakfast.

Many of the homes were provided by Bristol City Council. Solon also used grants to bring private property into life and develop other opportunities, for example leasing from the Merchant Venturers and subsequently improving a listed almshouse in Bristol to provide 8 self-contained flats for young single people.

By April 2002, Solon was managing approximately 70 temporary homes.

This work was subsequently extended to South Gloucestershire, reflecting the practical and financial support of the Council and entry into a five-year partnership to lease family houses from private landlords to help eliminate local bed & breakfast use. We also completed the purchase of a programme of 10 houses for homeless families, funded by a combination of private loans and revenue grant.

By March 2005, a total of 110 temporary homes were in direct management. However, since 2006, the Temporary Social Housing programme has been in decline.

South Gloucester is now no longer supporting the provision of new temporary social housing. Therefore , as leases expire, they are not being renewed and the properties are being handed back to their owners. Bristol is no longer making properties available for use by housing associations as temporary accommodation. The Council is taking properties back at lease-end and selling them on the open market to generate sales receipts to support other activities.

It has always been expected that our involvement in Temporary Social Housing would eventually start to dwindle. The condition of Bristol's street properties, the absence of grant funding for temporary housing and the high cost of rehabilitation and future maintenance generally makes this work uneconomical and no longer appropriate, particularly when we have the opportunity to develop our own permanent housing. As noted below, Solon's permanent stock is increasing significantly and this is offsetting the loss of temporary housing.

Ongoing inner-city regeneration and new permanent development
Regeneration activity has continued with inner-city rehabilitation and newbuild. Between 1998-2002, Solon committed £1 million to improve eyesore properties in the Bristol gateways.

Solon increased its development capability in 2003, setting up a separate development department and recruiting specialist development staff. Success in bidding to work on the regeneration of Barton Hill was followed by the achievement of partnership status with South Gloucestershire and Bristol City Councils in 2004.

We are partners of Barton Hill New Deal for Communities, working with Community @ Heart, Bristol and Sovereign Housing Association to build 160 new homes in this important regeneration area.

We have continued to work on other development opportunities in South Gloucestershire and inner-city Bristol, maintaining successful partnerships with developers and the local authorities to deliver new affordable housing through planning agreements. New homes have been successfully acquired and let in the central area, Easton and Bedminster in Bristol, and Kingswood in South Gloucestershire. In 2008, we were also involved in the redevelopment of the Cabot Circus shopping centre in Bristol, working on a project of 24 new homes, including 20 family houses.

We successfully completed and sold our first 6 homes for shared ownership early in 2007. Work is also nearing completion on a further 10 homes for sale in Bristol and South Gloucestershire. We are pleased to be able to provide access to home ownership to people who would not otherwise be able to afford their own homes.

Selection as a partner in South Gloucestershire and Bristol, together with associated HomeWest transfer arrangements for local partners has led to a significant increase in the size of Solon's potential development programme funded by Social Housing Grant (SHG) or secured via planning gain and S106 agreements.

The current 30-year financial plan includes a development programme of 477 new rented homes and 122 new homes for low cost home ownership (LCHO) produced over a the nine-year period 2005/6 - 2013/14.

We also expect to achieve growth via our ongoing and successful development partnership with Sovereign Housing, a Nation Affordable Housing Programme (NAHP) partner, and member of the Homes West Strategic Partnership.

The growth of the development programme has started to change Solon's stock profile. By the end of 2007/08, the percentage of newly built homes had increased to 16% (from 8% in 1998/99) and the percentage of rehabilitated homes had fallen to 84% over the same period.

Resident Involvement
Solon has a long history of encouraging resident involvement. In recent years this has led to renewed efforts to recruit residents to the board and regular meeting of local groups of residents to improve the way we deliver repairs and our customer service. We continue to prioritise resident involvement and use our customers' views to drive our continuous improvement work.

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