So the last Parliamentary session looks like it will be bringing no surprises to the table for housing. Right to buy and help to buy look set to continue and the HCA looks set to get hold of more public land to handover for development. Other than that it was barely worth tuning in to see our ‘Liz read through a speech that was shorter than a lot of fairy-tales.
On the subject of tales, the sector is finally getting the notion that more personal accounts of the impact of social housing are needed in the on-going PR war against years of negative press. Blog’s from the likes of Tom Murtha and all the others at Council Homes Chat have helped to give voice to those who have benefited from social housing. Last week a piece of research released from the Housing Network, part of the Guardian, gave housing professionals the chance to put forward their thoughts. The results of the poll have been insightful, if a little worrying. Alas I was not involved, I’m guessing my survey got lost in the post.
Apart from the bleeding obvious point that many believed a lack of Government funding has been detrimental to house building levels. The perceived indifference of the Coalition towards low-income households was also seen as playing an important part in restricting the building of more affordable homes. Pleasingly (for me at least as I have said this in previous posts, cue smug face) many thought that the sector provided good value for money but was poor at demonstrating it.
Overall, and on the same day that the IMF warned that the current set of policies towards the housing market was risking the long term recovery of the economy (hitting 2 for 2 here), the poll is pretty grim reading. A quarter of those surveyed reckoned housing associations had done all they could. Around 43% were negative about the future of social housing. In addition to those joyous insights, key themes from the surveys were 1) the sector needed to be more commercially minded (that’s me 3 for 3) and 2) that the Government had already decided that the private sector was the provider of choice (4 for 4, ooosh!).
Aside from feeding my ego, the survey results do show those working in the sector to be rather embattled. With the impact of reforms to the welfare state and severe cuts in public funding meaning housing professionals are having to fill in where the state (local or national) has withdrawn. And the various legislative and funding changes that have served to restrict the sector’s ability to build new properties (or even let them out at truly social rent levels) I can understand why a few housing professionals might be feeling a bit miffed.
A potential solution to our funding woes, if not all the other ills affecting the sector, has been suggested in the form of a national investment bank for housing. This has already been put forward not once but twice prior to the think tank The Smith Institute’s proposal. The bank would, in theory, be able to lever in funding for social housing as is the case in a number of places in Europe. I must admit whilst it is a different idea (which is a bonus in its own right as housing policy has a case of repeating on itself like a dodgy late night kebab), whether it is workable in the UK is unknown. Hannah Fearn points out a number of its weaknesses, noticeably the relative failure of a similar attempt to invest in social causes via the big society bank. That being said housing, particularly that of the social kind, does represent a steady and secure investment opportunity (Legal and General are going fricking mad for it at the moment) but it remains to be seen if a British take on this experiment will work.
What is more certain is that we are resilient, if slightly pessimistic bunch. If you didn’t notice in my previous blog building by housing associations has actually stayed remarkably steady since the last market balls-up in 2007. No mean feat considering the monumentally financial cock-up that took place. OK that is a highly selective example of our resiliance but after 30 years of hostile policy making there’s still 1,500 or so social housing organisations. I would say that is an achievement, even if some of the smaller ones should merge.
Reused graph type thingy 1
Over the decades we have grown, adapted and improved (if you ever want to partake in masochism I can lend you a copy of my undergrad dissertation on this subject). Along the way we have helped millions of people by providing safe housing of a standard that is severely lack in a significant part of the private sector. We have ploughed millions of our own cash into support initiatives and helped to regenerate areas forgotten by others.
Like Tom Murtha I despair at the broken consensus around the need to invest in social housing, it’s residualisation, and the demonisation of a whole sector of society based on their tenure. I am however given hope by the work that we do, that just like Tom and his family, many more will benefit from living in a home provided by a landlord that gives a flying f@*k about more than just receiving the rent.
On a side note it has come to my attention that somewhere in London a douche-bag of the day has decided to put spikes up outside a block of flats in an apparent attempt to stop homeless people sleeping there.
I hadn’t realised homeless people were now relegated to the status of pigeon. It is an often repeated phrase that you should judge a society on how it treats its less fortunate. On the basis of this new development we’ve got a long way to go.