Nick Hibberd is keen to hear what thousands of tenants have to say about their homes after a landlord’s neglect cost the life of a friend.
Mr Hibberd’s job involves a lot of listening to people’s moans about housing. He’s responsible for 12,000 council houses and flats and their tenants.
And later this week (Saturday 19 November) he will be opening the doors of Hove Town Hall to any of them who want to come along and have their say. Plenty will.
The event is called the City Assembly and it’s become a regular fixture twice a year.
The death of a friend sparked Mr Hibberd’s initial interest in housing. She died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
He was a geography student at Liverpool University sharing a big old house. He said: “There were 12 of us living there. We had a lot of fun there but in terrible conditions.
“It was only after she died that we found out that the landlord hadn’t been following basic safety rules.”
Mr Hibberd came to Brighton in 1995 to work at the housing office in Manor Place. Most of the staff there have since moved to the new housing centre in Moulsecoomb.
As a result, the old office in Manor Place may close with rent payments shifted to the nearby council “hub” in Whitehawk Road.
Essex-born Mr Hibberd has since risen to become head of housing and social inclusion at the council.
Last month Local Government Chronicle marked him out as one of the rising stars and future leaders of local government – the only person listed from Brighton and Hove City Council.
The 39-year-old has 280 people working for him and manages the £200 million ten-year maintenance contract with Mears.
It sounds a tad ambiguous to say that he’s responsible for anti-social behaviour but, for example, noisy neighbours in council housing are dealt with by his staff. And his department includes the traveller liaison team.
It would involve, among other things, speedier evictions. Mr Hibberd said that the council had evicted more quickly this summer and blocked access to more places.
On several occasions travellers just set up camp near by on another unsuitable site. And so the same process started again.
He said: “What’s the real problem? When we move on an encampment we’re displacing the problem.
“There’s a lack of suitable stopping places nationally so they do sometimes move to places that are more sensitive such as parks.
“It needs a national solution and it’s important that Brighton and Hove plays its part.”
His immediate focus this week though is the City Assembly which takes place on Saturday (19 November).
He said: “One of my real passions about the job I do is being able to involve the tenants in how we design and deliver and monitor our services.
“These are people’s homes. The whole point of the City Assembly is to give people the opportunity to work with the council on how they see their homes being run.
“The agenda is set by tenants and the day is run by tenants.”
On Saturday there will be a creche for the first time and a live webcast as Mr Hibberd tries to reach more people.
The council sets aside £500,000 for projects suggested by tenants to improve our estates. And, given the current economic climate, there will be workshops on making money go further and tackling fuel poverty.
He said that another theme on Saturday would be tenant scrutiny. The council aims to set up a Tenant Scrutiny Panel early next year, encouraging residents to identify issues of concern and to raise them formally through the independent panel.
Mr Hibberd said that he wanted more tenants to be able to have a better, deeper involvement in the way their homes and estates are looked after.
In his spare time, the father of two heads out on to the water in a lightweight kayak known as an Ocean Surfski.
As a youngster he was in the national canoe sprint team. He said: “Getting out to sea each weekend is a great way to unwind after a week at work and has introduced me to a whole new side of our local community – people who use our coastline for sport, work and other leisure activities.”
Mr Hibberd lives on one of the estates in Brighton, having bought his home through a shared ownership scheme.
He said: “I grew up on council estate. Nothing annoys me more than some of the negativity that is attributed to council housing estates.”
But if there is ever a basis for that negativity, he is one of the people most determined to set it right.