A Not So Happy New Year

As I read the many housing predictions for 2017 over the Christmas period, I began to wonder if I live in a different world to some housing leaders.

They were full of self-congratulatory optimism about the future of housing associations.

Despite overwhelming evidence that poor people are getting poorer and that a major cause of this is housing costs, the New Year housing reviews were Panglossian.

You would be forgiven for believing that we “have never had it so good”, to use a phrase from another era. Apparently the government has listened to our message and will support us in owning our future

We will be given flexibility and control of rents, which will allow us to solve the housing crisis by building more and more homes – except, of course, for those in the greatest housing need.

Ownership is still the main government mantra as they seek to provide homes for people in their own image and not for poor people and those who need social rent housing.

I began to write more than five years ago about the slow death of social housing. I have seen nothing in the past 12 months that changes my view. The net loss of social rent homes continues and social lettings are down.

The false dawn before Christmas seems to be nothing more than a minor move away from the ownership obsession with a little more flexibility around so-called affordable rent.

The mayor of London seems to understand the importance of social rent housing but this is not reflected in funding for other parts of the country.

With all the best will in the world, the answer to the housing crisis does not lie in China or India or in mega housing associations using their assets.

It lies in a major increase in government investment, especially to fund social rent housing for those on low/no incomes.

I realise, of course, that many will disagree with this message. I am also aware that I am living in a different housing world, as I spend most of my time working as a trustee and, until recently, a chair of charities that work with homeless and formerly homeless people.

I am also involved in campaigns with people not directly linked to housing. In this world the perception of some housing associations is not so glowing. They are seen as large organisations that have lost touch with their communities.

Many are seen to be moving away from their social purpose as they blindly follow the government agenda. It is recognised that this does not apply to all but it is reflected in the leadership of some.

A recent blog by a well-known housing commentator showed how in one association, decisions were taken at the highest level to move away from social housing.

As I have argued before, the move is not accidental.

Some housing associations have been complicit in helping to form government policy that ignores those in greatest need.

With each government announcement and each response from our leaders, housing associations are seen by those on the outside to move a bit further from their original values and social purpose. Change never happens in one leap.

It is incremental and often not perceived by those involved. Just as the toad in the slowly heating pan does not recognise the danger of boiling water, some housing associations do not realise how far they have moved in recent years.

If they stood outside the pan, as I have in my new roles, they would see that it is reaching boiling point. The values which once dominated the sector are slowly dying.

The best leaders step outside of their organisations to get a true perspective of how they are seen. They ask people who give uncomfortable answers. My challenge for housing association leaders in 2017 is to do this before it is too late.

The only certainty in 2017 is that those we were set up to help will suffer more from a perfect storm of ever increasing rents and draconian cuts and caps to all forms of benefits.

Maybe for some associations this is no longer their problem as they produce the homes the government want, to house the people it has always favoured.

I hope this is not true of all and that some will recognise in their New Year optimism that we are still failing so many of the most excluded in our society. For them the prospects for 2017 are very bleak indeed.

This article appeared recently on Inside Housing under a different title


2 thoughts on “A Not So Happy New Year

  1. Thanks for this reflection. I am in my own little way trying to make a contribution to delivering housing for young people that they can afford, even on a minimum wage. Given your experience and passion, I’d be happy to share with you and benefit from your insight.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s