Single mum Dawn Watson was today toasting the end of the old ‘take it or leave it’ approach to social housing.
The mother of three is one of the first tenants in Newcastle to exercise her right to choose the location of the family home.
Just like house hunters in the commercial sector, she and her sons – back in the Midlands from the Isle of Man following a change in her personal circumstances– have had the luxury of deciding exactly where they want to live.
The Choice Based Lettings system (CBL) is the result of a shake up of housing allocation by Aspire Housing, which has placed tenants’ choice high on its agenda.
Mrs Watson found her dream home on the housing advice website NHA Options, which carries a full list of available social housing, updated weekly. The service is a joint venture by Aspire and Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council
Caroline Baggaley, head of housing services, said: “In the past the council or landlord told people where they would live.
“Now we have introduced choice, and people can visit the website to see what is available week by week.
“People can look at the properties and decide whether they want to be considered for any of them.”
She stressed, however, that a housing shortage coupled with increasing demand meant that not all applicants would be successful in their bids for the home of their dreams.
Mrs Watson was among the lucky applicants, finding a three bedroom house in Chesterton at a rental of around half what she was paying in the Isle of Man.
Mrs Watson grew up in Newcastle and recently moved back. She and her three sons, Samuel (7), Nathaniel (6), and Joseph (4) were living in a two bedroom flat on the island and paying £825 a month.
Their new house, which is much bigger and has space for the boys to play, is just £81 a week.
Mrs Watson said: “I wasn’t able to make ends meet and we were very cramped in our previous flat.
“Now I’ve got a good lounge, a kitchen, utility room, front and back gardens and we overlook open green space.”
An added bonus is that she has family living nearby in Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle. Her immediate plans include finding work, either as a care assistant or in a supermarket.
“The bidding process went very smoothly. It was easy and I got my first choice, so I’m very pleased,” she added.
Cllr. Robin Studd, cabinet member for regeneration and planning, said: “Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council is committed to working in partnership with Aspire Housing to deliver excellent housing services to residents.
“The scheme is innovative and a great improvement on the traditional way of allocating housing. We wanted to make finding a home as simple, fair and open as possible for everyone.
“It’s also about giving people a choice about where they live and I’m delighted that Mrs Watson has found the house of her dreams,” he added.