Marching for a Home. 

I was pleased to see so many people marching against the Housing and Planning Bill recently in London and Nottingham. There was a time when housing associations would have been leading such a protest. Sadly no more. No doubt there were individuals from associations involved, but as a sector we remain conspicuous in our absence from the anti-Housing and Planning Bill debate.

Some of my colleagues from SHOUT were marching. I could not be with them as I was sharing a platform with mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington at the conference of The Outward Bound Trust
I discovered he is a strong supporter of social housing and a critic of the Right the Buy. Like many, he could not understand why housing associations have accepted it without a struggle, when there is so much evidence of the damage it has done to social housing and will continue to do in future.

I still ask the same question, even though I am reminded constantly in the housing press that housing associations have to accept the reality of working with this government as there is no alternative. I find it strange that we should want to work with a government which, in the view of almost all other housing experts, is determined to kill off social housing and inflict further financial hardship on many of its tenants and residents.
We are told that, despite this, the future is positive and that we must own it – whatever that means?

I have no doubt there will be a golden future for some housing associations in the new world. Sadly the future is not so bright for the many who suffer under the relentless onslaught of government policies. The very same people who used to look to housing associations for help and support.

The news recently has been full of evidence that for them the future is looking even bleaker. The levels of homelessness are rising, something I experience daily as chair of an Emmaus Community. This is a result of the lack of social housing and the government’s attack upon welfare benefits. Recent reports also show that inequality and poverty is increasing and that those who live in social housing are suffering the most from the welfare cuts. I witness this as a board member of Plus Dane.

In addition, the Chartered Institute of Housing has estimated that by 2020 there will be a net loss of over 370,000 social rent homes. Almost all housing commentators believe that this haemorrhage will eventually lead to the death of social housing, unless it is stopped. And what are housing associations doing to stem this bleed out? The answer is very little. We are told that innovation will provide the answer and a transfusion of new blood in the form of ‘sub-market’ rent homes. I see no sign that this is happening. There is little evidence that sufficient social homes are being built to replace the net loss, let alone increase the supply of homes that people on low incomes can afford.

In my 40 years of working in social housing, I have been involved in some of the most innovative funding and development schemes. None has provided the scale of replacement and additional new homes that are required today. I challenge those who claim that it is the answer to produce the evidence that it is happening.

Even the business model upon which most place their hopes is at risk. As Inside Housing reported recently, there are signs that the London housing market is softening. As some of us predicted, housing associations could soon be dealing with this threat rather than increasing supply. It will undermine the model which seeks to fund low-rent schemes with profits from sales and markets rents. Remember that during the last crash some housing associations had to be bailed out by the Homes and Communities Agency and others. That option no longer exists.

I no longer fear for the future of  housing associations. The traditional business model is such that it is almost impossible to fail. Most will survive. I fear for those who were once the focus of our work, for whom we provided homes, hope and so much more. I ask again, who will provide this for people on low and no incomes in future?

I hope that I am wrong and that David Orr is correct when he says “it will still be housing associations”. I fear that this is looking increasingly unlikely, unless there is a change in approach by the government and housing associations. I predict that in future more people will be taking to the streets as the housing crisis deepens. Maybe then some housing associations will join them.

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One thought on “Marching for a Home. 

  1. OK. So – what to do about it?
    I am articulate, self confident and used to nipping in and out of Westminster, contributing to policy making and being heard. But in the context of renting from a housing association, and only in this context, I am completely unable to get heard or to influence anything.
    I’m 62 and expected to have retired but am of the generation of women whose pensions have been put back by 6 years. So for the next four years I have barely enough money to live on – I’m using my savings up as I wait for my delayed pension.
    And oh it is painful to pay most of my small income as rent and service charges, directly into the well feathered bank accounts of housing staff whose behaviour and incompetence appalls me. These solipsistic people of course don’t join tenants on marches or stand beside us when we represent ourselves as the competent people we really are.
    It is essential to housing sector “leaders” to promote us en bloc as pathetic beneficiaries of housing workers’ grand charity. How would they benefit from acknowledging we are their equals as adult human beings, not theirs, not pitiful clients needing endless intervention?
    God forbid they acknowledge that, because then how to justify their jobs, clumsy great hierarchies, grossly inflated senior staff wages or ridiculous overbearing behaviour?
    The housing sector is as it is, because it rewards the decision makers for behaving like tinpot dictators. New young staff are given this as their role model and become ever more distant from the tenants they learn quickly to despise and bully or ignore.
    The huge batch of “experts” leeching on the tenant body, patronising, declaring their own wonderfulness, trotting to award ceremonies to praise one another, drain our communities.
    What to do?
    Complaining about the sector is pointless.
    If they wanted to listen, the situation would not be as it is. What do you suggest we together actually DO to redistribute this misused power and recreate housing as people’s homes?

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