I spent an enjoyable hour recently taking part in the Rising Stars debate organised by Inside Housing. It proved to be a useful summary of the major housing issues and a reflection of the views of the best of the next generation. I began to think what the housing association world will look like when the four finalists become leaders in 2025 and beyond. I have no crystal ball but the questions and answers gave a taste of things to come.
A discussion about maintaining social values as the sector becomes more commercial gave an indication of the direction of travel. One answer mentioned values being constant as methods of delivery change. Another talked about passionate staff with social hearts but emphasised the need to live in the real world. Another said that we exist to do good and to provide homes for those in need. They added that if we lose that we are done. I could not agree more.
The debate showed the tension that exists in the sector between the need to be commercial in the real world and the difficulty of continuing to deliver our social purpose. Some will seek to overcome this by changing the definition of social purpose just as some have changed the definition of affordability. Others will simply accept the inevitability of being commercial and forget about social purpose all together. A decreasing number will strive to maintain their original social purpose at all costs. Good passionate people will continue to work for all three types of organisations. Only a few will be as fulfilled and rewarded as my generation were as our focus changes.
Questions on dependency gave an indication of the people we will provide homes for in the future. One answer said that housing associations do not create dependency but questioned how we support dependent people in future as more become vulnerable. Another said that maybe housing associations did create dependency and asked who else would provide homes for them. All talked about the need to empower tenants and residents, some as a condition of tenancy.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation have just reported that there are over 1.25m destitute people in the UK today, including over 300000 children. These people would have once found a natural home in housing associations. I fear that this will cease to be the case in future. Housing associations have already begun to move upmarket and I am sure that more will follow. Future generations will not talk about dependency and its causes as fewer tenants will fall into this category. Higher rents and different tenures will eventually change the very nature of the people who live in homes provided by housing associations. I am sure that this is not the world the rising stars or many others want to inherit but it might already be too late to change.
In answer to a question on future investment in social housing all the Rising Stars recognised it was needed to keeps rent low. Some argued the government should invest, others that profits from more commercial ventures would provide. All wanted to find a way of continuing to provide low rent homes. In the current climate this looks increasingly difficult. The CIH estimate that we will lose over 370000 social rent homes by 2020. None of our current funding streams will replace them. By 2025 social housing as we know it could have completely disappeared.
The world that the Rising Stars will lead in 2025 is beginning to look very different from the one we know today. Mergers and mega mergers will see the rise of the 150000 home and eventually 200000 home housing associations. All the rising starts recognised the difficulty of staying local or maintaining social values in these circumstances. New technology will change the way in which we deliver our services. Staff will develop new skills. Some of these things are inevitable and perhaps even necessary. Some can be changed if they move us away from providing homes for people on low incomes. On a positive note all of the Rising Stars recognised that the sector had not done enough to protect our most vulnerable tenants and resist the changes that will hurt them most especially in relation to the right to buy and the housing bill. I hope that they will use their future power wisely and provide a voice for those who cannot be heard and resist more strongly the attacks upon social housing. Our generation has failed to do that. I hope their generation will be more successful.