Generation Mildly Peeved

After the euphoria of Housing Day 2014 earlier this month those involved in promoting housing be it in the private, public or 3rd sector have been brought back down to Earth with a rather large bump.  For whilst we celebrated (and rightly so) all that we do as a sector, the acts of Messrs Philip Davies and Christopher Chope on Fri 28th November have again served to highlight how much more work is needed to be done.  Despite Shelter, Crisis, Generation Rent and Citizens Advice (to name but a few) in support, alongside cross-bench backing in Parliament, the Tenancy Reform Bill is dead as it stands.

That Davies and Chope managed to successfully filibuster the Tenancy Reform Bill (jargon for talking out your arse for a long time) is largely due to the nature of the Bill, a Private Members one. Such Bills are limited by procedures about when and how long they can be heard in Parliament. Meaning they are a target for blocking tactics such as filibustering. That this wasn’t part of the Coalition Government’s legislative programme in the first place again shows how far down the pecking order housing policy, of any kind, is for this Government. And whilst I applaud Sarah Teather for attempting to get it through, she shouldn’t have had to. This should have been part of the Government’s general programme of legislation, it should be on its way to being law.

I am 21 (plus 5years) old, I have lived in 5 different houses in the last 3 years.  Including my time at Uni I have lived in 9 places in the last 7 years.  In that time I have lived in University Halls, in the properties of several buy-to-let landlords, dealt with muppets who simply rented out the house of a dead relative and even an IMR property.  I have had to deal with amateurs who didn’t know their legal responsibilities in terms of property maintenance or deposits and those parasitic beings know as lettings agents aplenty.  As you can probably guess my experience of the private rented market is largely negative.  I have had one or two decent, honest landlords, the rest weren’t exactly bad, just incompetent, clumsy and slow to react to repairs issues.

By and large I am lucky, many others are not.  In their piece supporting the Tenancy Reform Bill, Shelter noted that over 200,000 renters were evicted or served no fault notices in 12 month period.  That is 200,000 renters who lost their tenancy simply because they reported a repair and/or general issue with their property.  1 in 12 renters have stated they have avoided reporting a repair because they fear retaliatory action.  I have had friends in the past ‘put up’ with crappy living conditions because it was all they could afford.  But this shouldn’t be the case.  A home is the keystone on which you balance the rest of life’s crap.  If the place where you rest your head is unstable the rest of your life will also be.  Health, mental and physical, is strongly linked to a decent, secure home.  Revenge evictions, and frankly poor landlords in general, put that at risk.

I don’t know what pisses me off more, the actions of Philip Davies and Christopher Chope, or their reasons behind it. In reality it doesn’t matter because it just means another curve ball for me and my peers to deal with. Only one of my friends owns the property they live in. Everyone else either lives in privately rented accommodation or with their parents. None are particularly in a position to buy or qualify for social housing and in my neck of the woods there is not a lot of IMR stock. So it is live with mum and dad or deal with the lottery of renting in the private sector.

Don’t get me wrong this Bill wouldn’t have been a world changer, the reality is that despite being an issue for a significant minoirty revenge evictions is a relatively contained, if growing, problem. But it would have meant there would be fall back if your landlord attempts to screw you over when you report a legitimate repair.   The Bill accounted for lousy tenants and good landlords would have had little (if anything) to fear.  It would not have become some bureaucratic nightmare.  It did not look to introduce full blooded regulation to the private sector, it did not seek to restrict the private sector.  But hey, Phil and Chris know better…

I will leave you with a point made by Hannah Williams in the Independent.  Other countries have had this sort of legislation for 50 years.  Even the USA, that bastion of small Government does.  My addition to this would be why the hell have not we?

As always if you want to follow me on Twitter simply click here or find me using the handle @ngoodrich87, you can view the rest of my blogs here.

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Your revolution is a joke (?)

As part of my current responsibilities I sit on my employer’s Equality & Diversity Forum.  It is a break from my normal duties and gets me to see sides of the organisation I don’t often encounter.  They don’t let me out much…  I do occasionally feel a bit of a fraud because you know, University educated, white middle-class men have it so bad.  But it is nice to be able to be part of something that is working towards ensuring a culture of inclusiveness thrives and that all our employees (and residents) can get the most out of the services (and employment) we provide.  So far, so wishy, washy.  Bear with me, there is a point to this.

Being on the forum I was invited along to my organisation’s annual award/celebration of the efforts that individual staff and teams have made towards meeting E&D related goals.  The things people had been nominated for ranged from helping facilitate fitness classes for the grey brigade (old people), assisting in a particularly difficult domestic violence case (if there ever are simple ones?) and raising money for a plethora of causes.  The award was a poignant reminder that we as social landlords do more than simply provide bricks and mortar, and that we should continue to do so as the impacts are often immeasurable. Though not everyone got this memo.

Relatively recently the Policy Exchange, the Conservative Party’s think tank in all but name, produced a well constructed document on a future of social housing without grant and less regulation.  FYI Jon Land does a very good job of summarising the debate on the report here.  Red Brick does nice number ripping it apart, here.  From my point of view I was pleasantly surprised by the number of concessions the paper made around the folly of the incumbent Government’s policies. The notion that Affordable Rent is bollocks was given credence, well stated that it is a ‘misnomer’, that’s enough for me.  That too many strings were attached to the last funding round.  That Welfare Reform, in particular the Benefit Cap and direct payments in conjunction with higher rents caused by ‘Affordable’ Rents would lead to higher rent arrears.  That in its current form, capital grant works for no-one.

Other observations were that:

  • £1.1bn of grant funding from Government is a lot of money – this point is stressed a lot…
  • Too many housing associations won’t build/can’t build – 5 out of 6 social landlords are not build or acquiring any new housing – naughty people!
  • We spend too much time/effort/money on our current residents and should use more of our surpluses to build new homes – ‘cos who needs happy tenants…
  • There should be less regulation, but boards should be required to show what options they have explored to build/develop – so less and more regulation?

Being a little cynical the report also neatly side steps, well more brutally, ignores one or two consequences of Conservative Government policy.  The number of people on council waiting lists is lamented long and hard.  But whilst Right to Buy is talked about in the report not a single mention of its negative impact on the overall social housing stock is noted.  Nor the neutering of the ability of Local Authorities to build new housing to replace lost stock and expand existing portfolios.  The negative impacts of the Benefit Cap are nodded to, but not the Policy Exchange’s calls to reduce the draconian cap even further.  But most of all it fails to realise we don’t just deal in bricks and mortar.

The report seemed to think that all social landlords do is build houses.  Or not build as the case may be.  I understand that looking at how we can build more properties was a fundamental of the report but you cannot, shall not, separate all the other aspects of what we do from the number of properties we build.  To do so, to assume that we are merely machines for building (and shoring up piss poor policy making in central Government) completely misunderstands our raison d’être.

I do however admire the attempt to look at a different way of operating, even if it is largely based on a bastardisation of the model operating in Holland.  This is because we do need to look at alternative ways of financing future builds.  We also need to be mindful of how much debt we load onto our assets.  I can’t argue against the statement that there are too many Landlords doing too little to build, because for the most part it is true.  There are also a number of large landlords playing chicken with the financial markets.  To both these groups I would ask if, in the long run, either model is sustainable.  You can only sweat what currently exists for so long, you can only gamble so long before striking out.

Whilst a number have come out vehemently opposed to the report, I must confess I sit on the fence.  In terms of going it alone I think some in the sector a capable, frankly for a number of others I don’t think they would survive.  We do operate in a cosy environment and this has bred a certain level of complacency.  Will having more freedom mean we turn into ‘proper’ private sector organisations?  I don’t know.  What is the culture like in a LSVT organisation?  Still a whiff of the former Local Authority way of doing things there?  The culture of an organisation doesn’t change overnight.  And it doesn’t just change because the operating remit has altered. As Jon Land notes, there may well be a parting of the ways on with those seeking ‘independence’ keen to take on a role many others will feel uncomfortable doing.

I do agree we should build more private sector rent and market sale properties.  But I don’t believe that this should ever be our primary focus.  It is a means to an end, not an end in itself.  As with everything there is a balance to things.  I for one will be intrigued to see if an equilibrium between a drive for the production of more housing and providing for the social good can be maintained.  But I would say this, social housing is fundamentally about people, about place and then about buildings.  To state otherwise is to deny what makes us, us.

As always if you want to follow me on Twitter simply click here or find me using the handle @ngoodrich87, you can view the rest of my blogs here.

Go Team!

I have previously noted that working in housing can often be akin to hitting your head against a particularly unforgiving brick-wall, thankfully joyous sweet relief is here.  The hype, some have argued hyperbole, around this year’s #housingday (sorry Matt Leach, I promise there won’t be too many hashtags here) being a welcome change from the normal doom and gloom of working in our beloved sector.  Consequently I have given the wall a rest, for a day at least.

Firstly, the bad news.  We as a sector have largely failed to get our voice heard, loudly, consistently and coherently.  Ask your friend, neighbour, significant other, your Gran, what social housing is and what we do.  They won’t be able to succinctly tell you, if at all, because if we don’t know ourselves and if we don’t know how the bleeding hell are others meant to?  Do we just provide housing for the poor? Do we regenerate communities? Do we act as a de-facto welfare state? Do we provide housing for all, across their housing journey?  The answer is all of the above, yet the public still thinks of us as council housing, backward, an irrelevance.  As Mr Halewood wonderfully puts it,

“Joe Public still believes that social housing is full of White Dees laying on the settee hoping to get on Jeremy Kyle whom they adore on their 60″ flat screen TVs and get out of bed to watch.”

Frankly we lost the PR battle a long time ago and we need to make up a hell of a lot of ground to turn things around.  We also need to be better at balancing slapping ourselves on the back for a job well done and having crippling paranoia about what the world thinks of us.  As some of those on the receiving end of the services we provide have also noted we need to be much better campaigners-in-chief for social housing.  For a very good case and point it is worth reading Michael Vincent’s piece in 24Dash.

#housingday is an opportunity to challenge the negative perceptions of what we do and who we work for (ultimately about the people that provide us with livelihoods).  And as a result, whilst his blog makes many valid points, I wholeheartedly disagree with Joe’s viewpoint that #housingday is an inconsequential campaign.  Because anything that raises the profile of what we do in a positive manner (even if it is with hashtags largely only known by our own sector) is a good thing.  More importantly anything that enables us to work a bit closer together, and less like the herd of cats we tend to operate like, gets my vote.  It is true that there are a large number of different campaigns going on at the moment and I am running out of room on my lapel…might have to invest in a Wilderness Explorer-esk sash.  A bringing together all the disparate campaigns into one, largely homogeneous entity wouldn’t be a bad thing, if not just for my clothing choices. Less of the Judean People’s Front bollocks would also be a nice occurrence.

I blogged a while back that the main reason why UKIP do so well is that yes they say dumb things, but they do so repeatedly and very loudly.  They have bullied their way onto the political sphere and into the public consciousness with a “we’re here, were a bit posh and want to be out of Europe, get used to it” approach.  The package is well presented, works wonderfully with the masses as it hits a nerve and is easily identifiable.  Until we nail our own version of the ‘guffaw, f@*k Europe’ brigade’s method of campaigning life will continue to be tricky politically as we won’t be able to secure public backing.  You can’t back what you don’t know.  #housingday is an real chance to start getting the message out there, winning friends and influencing people.

So if you haven’t already joined the Housing professionals, amateurs, Twitterati and people who wondered along by accident I strongly suggest you do.  You can participate by tweeting using #housingday or the including the Twitter handle @housingday in your tweets.  When doing so for the love of whatever god/goat you believe in Tweet someone who knows nothing about social housing.  Because what is the point in keeping this in the large extended family that is social housing if we are trying to spread the word?  Viva la revolucion…or something similarly uplifting and rabble rousing.

As always if you want to follow me on Twitter simply click here or find me using the handle @ngoodrich87, you can view the rest of my blogs here.