A Public Service Announcement

Every now and then an article comes along that, a bit like Top Gun, takes your breath away (oh my, that volleyball scene…). Whilst I doubt Mike Iszatt will ever be my Goose, or even my Iceman, after reading his article I did feel the need, not for speed but to counter his piece.

The article’s opening salvo was to question whether our glorious country will become a nation of housing association tenants. Well actually what he meant was whether this would happen to the lovely, leafy Borough of Broxbourne in Hertfordshire (I didn’t know where it was either, used those adjectives to pad this out a bit). And by that he meant it appears that a number of new developments have quite steep proportions that must be set aside for affordable homes. So, to allay Mr Iszatt’s fears about the UK becoming one big social housing love-in I feel it is my public duty to highlight some facts and fun tit-bits.

1 – We are losing social housing, not gaining it

Between 1981 and 2010 the UK pretty much saw a net loss of social housing every year. Every year. A slight upturn in 2010 (go figure…) has hardly reversed the long term decline in those who rent from Housing Associations and Local Authorities in Great Britain. At the same time private ownership and private sector renting has blossomed. Don’t worry Mike I think we’re safe from becoming a nation of housing association tenants just yet. If you want the figures just nip over to the DCLG website and look at the live tables.

Dwellings by Sector

2 – Whilst all social housing is affordable housing not all affordable housing is social

Just like that fact that whilst all Catholics are Christians but not all Christians are Catholics the merry-go-round regarding social housing terminology keeps on spinning faster. It is a deliberate misuse of wording to conflate a large package of measures in order to hide the inexorable fact that we are haemorrhaging truly social housing in this country. Alas Mr Iszatt also appears to be suffering from this affliction. Quite often when he states Affordable, he means social. Again the DCLG have produced some figures which highlight why choosing your words carefully. @Churchiechat might also be able to enlighten you.

DCLG Live Tables 1009 Additional New Build and Acquired affordable homes (England)

Dwellings by Sector new

3 – Waiting lists are sign of a larger problem

As someone who works in performance, whose very job is to look at performance trends and delve into data your cavalier approach to waiting list figures is utterly shocking. Causality v correlation my friend, they are tricky thing. Waiting lists are generally an indicator of wider structural issues not just people being sneaky little so and so’s. If the private market is providing for the masses there won’t be too much demand for social housing. The problem for Broxbourne, and the UK in general is that it isn’t.

House prices are rising way above wages and for many home ownership is out of reach, even private renting is a struggle. Based on a quick look on Zoopla the average value of a property in Broxbourne is a whopping £391,867, for the rest of England it is £279,985. A £60,000 cap on an applicant’s yearly income seems pretty reasonable in this light. Particularly because if you were looking to buy £60,000 will only enable you to borrow in the region of £200,000 (provided you have a deposit of £10,000). I can see why people might want to be on that housing list. Yes some housing lists may need a bit of a spring clean (double counting of applicants isn’t unheard of) but still focus on the main issue. You know, the complete failure to build enough housing, of all tenures to meet the demand.

4 – Councils provide very little grant funding to housing associations

Yes some Councils do provide capital grant to housing associations in order to ensure the building of social housing within their localities. But on the whole capital finance comes from the DCLG via the Homes and Communities Agency or from the private sector. However Councils do provide a very large sum of money to us via housing benefit. Though this is ultimately paid for by central government coffers (in the end), Local Authorities merely act as the middle men. However, I fully agree with you that this should be reduced. Given that one of the largest growing group of claimants of housing benefit is those in work (see graph below) I guess I have your support for a living wage for all UK workers? What about a reversal in the 60% cut in capital funding for social housing builds since 2011? More houses means lower rents, means less housing benefit being paid. What you say Mike? We might even get those pesky housing waiting lists down.

Housing Benefit Claimants in Work

HB Claimants in Work

Source: Single Housing Benefit Extract (SHBE), Department for Work and Pensions

5 – What on earth does your last paragraph mean?

At one and the same time you seem to lament and support Right to Buy. Bemoaning council housing being sold off cheaply but then stating the private sector is doing a good job? I find this paragraph odd because A) your party, the Conservatives introduced the policy and is trying to extend it to housing associations. And B) it makes no fricking sense, literally what are you trying to say?

Anyway I hope I have cleared a couple of things up. If you ever need some help on things to do with housing just holla. Failing that, there are some lovely chaps and chapesses at the National Housing Federation or Chartered Institute of Housing who would be more than willing to help. Toodle pips.

If you feel so inclined (I wouldn’t advise it, you will be disappointed) you can follow me on Twitter here or find me using the handle @ngoodrich87, you can view the rest of my blogs here.

Advertisements

Das Capital

Right to Buy, the Russians acting like an empire (again), big hair, leggings and electro music being popular amongst the ‘yoof’, a Government pushing policies that continuously undermine those further down the food chain.  You’d be forgiven for thinking this is the 1980s with Thatcher in her prime.  Regrettably it is 2015 and it’s an election year.  Whilst Cameron and co may be stopped I can’t do a lot about the fashion choices and poor taste in music amongst the hell spawn younger than even I, sorry.

As if it needs spelling out Right to Buy is a bit like kryptonite to our beloved sector.  It is the perfect political weapon to decimate social housing.  In a country obsessed with home ownership and asset based capital it is a highly potent mix of aspiration and access to cold hard cash.  It’s better than Help to Buy, it’s better than Shared Ownership and pretty much every other initiative designed to assist those with lower incomes acquire a property.  Why?  Because you can buy the property you are currently living in, in the neighbourhood where you have built up substantial local networks.  More importantly you can do so for a fraction of the cost of even the best low cost home ownership products out there.  Though frankly as a sector we have been bumbling through the provision of those products for years.  Even better you can sell it on for large profit after a few years, especially if you are in the right part of London and the South East.  It’s the postcode lottery (the good kind, not the one where your local hospital is shit).

Unsurprisingly it is bloody popular.  The figures below show just how many people have bought their council/housing association property through Right to Buy (and it’s watered-down cousin Right to Acquire).  So it is no surprise that the announcement last week that Right to Buy may be extended to include Housing Association properties has caused nothing short of alarm.  Though nowhere near its heyday peak of the early 1980s allowing Housing Association tenants to purchase their home under Right to Buy will give the figures below a significant kick up the bottom.

On a side note for a beautifully biting critique of our reaction as a sector and attempts to nullify other policies of the Coalition I do suggest you read Rob Gershon’s piece in 24 Dash.  The chap has a wonderful way with words.

Depressing Chart 2 – Right to Buy Sales – England

Right to Buy SalesIn addition to decimating social housing stock (see depressing graph 2 below) Right to Buy provides piss poor value for money to the tax payer.  As a policy it has the dubious honour of being paid for by the taxpayer twice.  The first time to build the property then, after it has been sold, we pay again as the property is rented back by the Local Authority that sold them, at higher rents.  For a (slightly) oldie but goldie report on this utterly stupid situation please see Tom Copley’s report.  His report, a year old today (Mazel Tov my friend) highlights the cost of Right to Buy in London, but it is a situation likely to be repeated up and down the UK.  You know this, I know this but does the general public care?  Probably not.

Depressing Chart 2 – Dwelling stock by tenure, UK, 1980 to 2012
Dwellings by Sector

As Colin Wiles notes (I really do need to write my blogs quicker) Right to Buy is bollocks on a number of levels.  It is an ideological weapon to suit the needs of those who wield it, a means by which to rid the country of a housing sector that has no real place in the vision of the UK held by those in Government.  Interestingly, for me at least, Right to Buy’s second lease of life raise a number of questions in relation to the long term direction of our sector.  Is this another nudge towards going it ‘alone’?  How would it work if housing associations were allowed to buy their way out of historic debt/grants?  Will this serve to discourage future uptake of grant (no grant, no strings, no Right to Buy)?

So what do we do?  Fight the inevitable an uphill battle, because in essence we need to convince the general public that social housing is worth fighting for.  But more critically that they should sacrifice the opportunity to make a quick buck in order to maintain it.  Telling the Treasury to keep its dirty mitts off the Right to Buy sales receipts would also be worth doing.  Cheeky sods.

If you feel so inclined (I wouldn’t advise it, you will be disappointed) you can follow me on Twitter here or find me using the handle @ngoodrich87, you can view the rest of my blogs here.

Talk less, listen more, stop with the biscuits and coffee!

The fluffy stuff might not always grab the headlines but it is an important part of who we are as social landlords.  We just need to get a little bit smarter about how we go about it.

The chances are when resident involvement is mentioned in a housing office eyes start to role over.  I can actually hear yours going now…stop, come back to me, this is worth it.  Just as hippies have often been bemoaned for having their hearts (if not their hygiene) in the right place, but ultimately being a bit ‘out there’ so too have all things involvementy (not sure that is a word but let’s go with it) been given the “ah bless ’em” treatment.

The notion of involvement in social housing is an incredibly woolly and vague concept.  This doesn’t help its perception as largely being a bolt-on to the mainstay of a landlord, i.e. rent, housing, repairs and maintenance.  Does involvement mean allowing residents on the board of the organisation (they often are)?  Does it mean residents taking part in procurement exercises (my pet hate)?  Does it mean dragging a few out to sign off the yearly annual report to residents (another bugbear of mine)?  Does it mean paying lip-service to engaging with residents in the hope that they stop all that moaning (depressingly this is occasionally the case)?

For me, the main problem with resident involvement is not so much the end game i.e. an organisation that is responsive to the needs and opinions of its customers.  But the way we go about it.  As a sector we still rely far too heavily on cost heavy, labour intensive approaches by which to engage and involve our customers.  With offices only open 8am – 6pm (give or take…) we seem to think that we will get a representative group of people to hold us to account and drive service improvement by having meetings mid-afternoon on a Wednesday (or any other week day for that matter).  This is of course utter bollocks.  What happens is that those who largely have the time, space etc to come along, do.  Consequently, residents groups are made up heavily by the grey brigade with a few out of work and long term sick customers thrown into the mix.  All bring valuable insight into the way in which we operate and how it affects them.  But they do not provide the whole picture, nor should they be expected to.  Just as I couldn’t possibly represent the voice of a generation neither can the the grey brigade fully speak for the people who so kindly keep us in our respective jobs.

That is not to say we should shut up shop and stop trying to engage and involve customers, quite the contrary.  We do however need to be more open to different ways of going about things.  A fine example of a non traditional approach can be seen at the Mecca of social media in housing, Bromford.  Although on paper not a great PR episode for the chaps and chapesses over in the Midlands, with long term issues of damp resulting in a resident driven online campaign.  The fact that a group of residents identified a problem, held the social landlord to account and ultimately set in motion the wheels to rectify the said problem (without the need for a midday meeting organised by the organisation) highlights my point.  We do not always have the answers, we should not always be the guide.  We should however listen.  The best companies in the wolf pit of the private sector adapt their offering according to feedback (both company and customer initiated).  We would do well to follow suit.

So how do we go about avoiding the old pitfalls of relying on a largely unrepresentative body of guys and gals?

  • Targeted communications – use the data your organisation has on your residents, want to know what first time customers think about their new property and the issues they face? Ask them. Look at who is involved and target the exact opposite.
  • Non meeting reliant feedback – you do not need to have residents in a meeting to get their opinion, facilitate remote working within your involved customer base and reap the results.
  • Do not just do 9-5 working – this means more weekend and evening meetings and yes more online based communication.
  • Expand your customer surveying approach(es) – it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that if loads of negative feedback is filtering through about a particular service area then you should do something about it.  But you have to ask people in order to get their opinions, or better yet listen when the phone/text/email/tweet their issues.  For god’s sake though do not just rely on paper surveys when asking people what they think!

Or maybe I’m just talking a load of gibberish and we should just make the same old mistakes (pro tip, we shouldn’t). For an interesting blog on this subject I suggest seeing Mr Paul Taylor’s latest offering.  Thought provoking as always.

If you feel so inclined (I wouldn’t advise it) can follow me on Twitter here or find me using the handle @ngoodrich87, you can view the rest of my blogs here.

New Year, Same Issues

A new year has arrived but the omens already look bleak.  It is time the housing sector made a few changes before we really are up the proverbial creek with no wooden implement.

It’s a new year but it is not a new dawn and I am definitely not feeling good. Though in fairness that might be the post Christmas come-down.  Those of you who keep an eye on such things will have noticed the pre-election bollocks is in full swing. As predicted by none other than yours truly (and pretty much every political commentator in existence) the rise of UKIP has seen Mr Cameron and co shift to the right.  Talk of a coalition with the ‘live off EU brigade’ has been left in the air, further budget cuts are looming large and there may even be a referendum on membership of the EU earlier than planned. Goodie, haven’t had a proper white elephant in politics for a while.

On the subject of white elephants, the notion of rent controls appears to have gathered momentum again.  I have blogged on this before and without wanting to sound too Milton Friedman-esk, as that guy is a monumental bell-end, this sort of state intervention is not the answer, at least not on its own.  I have sympathy with Civitas, the think tank whose report  promotes rent controls (as well as Generation Rent) and certainly there appears to be public support for such measures (see Mr Birch’s excellent article on the subject).  However as Civitas notes, ultimately it is more housing that is needed. On its own rent controls will merely act as a mild dampener on a housing market that is only working for those already in an advantageous position.

One of my new year’s resolutions was to be bit more helpful in my criticisms, so after slagging off housing policy for the umpteenth time here are a few of my suggestions for a glorious new world.  You can thank me later, or even better pay me.  Some of these are for the housing sector as a whole, others for the incumbents in power, enjoy.

  • Stop with the brooding introspective bollocks.  The social housing sector is not Ryan from the O.C #mancrush, whilst I have also been guilty of bemoaning the fact we aren’t the most popular kid in school it is time to stop looking moodily in the distance and go talk to somebody, anybody.
  • Find a friend.  Campaign under one unified banner (Homes for Britain is the closest to doing this) a splintered set of competing pressures groups is about useful as a chocolate teapot (at least I could eat the teapot…).  Though whoever thought of the Ho Ho Homes for Britain bit please don’t do that again, ever.
  • Grow a pair (of balls or boobs, I’m an equal opportunity muse so take your pick) and get over providing properties for private rent and sale.  I’ve lived in private accommodation, I’m about to go back into the sector.  The majority of the muppets currently pretending to be landlords know as much about renting as they do astrophysics.  Get into the sector, outperform the rest of the competition and reap the benefits for all your customers.
  • Scrap Right to Buy. Because this policy provides about as much value for money to the tax payer as throwing fifties off a tour bus in central London.
  • Scrap the bedroom tax and the benefit cap.  Neither would pass the so called ‘family test‘ supposedly being carried out against new Government Policy and because fundamentally they don’t do what they are meant to do.
  • Pay a living wage.  Whether you are a social landlord, investment bank, social enterprise or a high street store pay your staff a living wage.  Aside from the fact to not do so is a total d**k move.  The number of working households in receipt of housing benefit is sky-rocketing because the cost of pretty much everything is outstripping wages.  In addition cycles of low pay, no pay are key part of poverty and failure to act will mean further reliance on the state to make up the shortfall.  Make profit through good products and efficiency savings, not through underpaying your staff you cheap son of a rabid water vole.  Invest in the people who work for you and reap the benefits.
  • Scrap affordable housing (the type of rent not social housing in general!).  Or at the very least call it Intermediate Market Rent and let those properties out to people who don’t qualify for social housing.  Because it damn well isn’t affordable for the people who need it the most.  And for the love of Michael Flatley don’t complain that the housing benefit bill is going up when a policy as stupid as this is in place.
  • Invest in social housing, whether the economy is in good nick or going the way of Old Yeller there will always be a need for social housing.  Invest in it, it is a cost we can all share.

Positive rant over, I feel like a new me already…

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.