The Little UAV That Could

Talk about housing to people outside the sector and they’ll eventually go comatose, well maybe that’s just the way I talk to them about it. Perhaps unsurprisingly talk about tech to the uninitiated and a similar outcome occurs. For the record I’m not fluent in tech, I just speak it conversationally, but again I can easily put people to sleep chatting about it, oh dear. Put the two together and something beautiful (occasionally disastrous) happens. I’ve never known a couple of topics clash so readily, so reliably, so unintentionally.

As with many issues a large part of the problem appears to be around existing mentalities, rather than the technical/practical issues at hand. Previous reactions by organisations, housing professionals and tenants (a historic term for housing customers m’lord) to the use of new tech like UAVs (Drones) has been erm, mixed shall we say. Coincidentally some of the most representative quotes from previous pieces by Inside Housing* on housing and the use of Drone/UAV tech are:

The Ominous/Not a fan

How sick can it get in Cameron’s Britain, this outstrips George Orwell’s 1984 and these two HAs should be striped of their licence and the homes handed back to the councils . I can see someone with RC experience launching a radio controlled aircraft to bring this drone down…

The Spot On

What nobody seems to be saying is that you actually need a licence to fly these, even the small ones, and their use is covered by the CAA, so no, staff won’t be queuing up to get a shot unless they are breaking aviation law.

And the downright scary/witty

Every housing association in the land managed by a single General Jumbo figure in control of a vast mini armoury controlling its affairs on land, air and sea from a single controller on his forearm. I have seen the future!

Joking aside the above highlight the need to better engage and inform around what we do in social housing (not heard that one before…). Don’t get me wrong, we’re not about to build mini tech armies anytime soon. For the most part the practical applications of UAVs in social housing will be around surveying properties or 3D mapping potential areas of development. Though some may want to use it for ASB/surveillance work. I suppose this would be interesting as it would give the guys and girls who normally throw stones at stationary CCTV cameras with bricks a moving target. As a side note, check out this little beauty of a video. I would highly recommend not doing this, but it is tres amusing to watch.

For many though it’s probably outside a life of crime/ASB fighting that housing may well find the best use for UAVs. Particularly as it’s possible to get from 3D mapping (via aforementioned non maned flying vehicles) to 3D printing. Booya, tech-boner! You could also hook up your mapping/surveying results to Minecraft and digitally recreate estates and offices, if you so wished, as even Ordinance Survey have got on the Minecraft gravy train. And that’s before mentioning the ability to check heat insulation in roofs without entering the property. The possibilities aren’t endless but there’s a lot of them.

However, whilst UAVs will interest some in the #UKHousing sector – contracting in, rather than operating in-house may well prove the most cost-effective means of making the most of an intriguing bit of tech. Something highlighted by Paul Taylor in Inside Housing’s latest article on all things drone. The pricing of these bad-boys is a bit like RyanAir, seemingly cheap at the beginning – but things soon mount up when you want more than one item of luggage. And with oorganisations like fireFLY Aerial Innovation* (who are pretty typical of what is currently out there) offering a mix of surveying, photography, mapping and consultancy services. It’d probably be best to dip one’s toes rather than dive right in on this occasion.

*All quotes can be found in the comments section of Carl Brown’s piece for Inside Housing, Housing Associations to trial drones 03/09/14.

**Full disclosure, I know these chaps, other UAV Operators are available. Further disclosure, the use of FLY in capital letters was their idea…

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S is for Social

Housing Association decides to make the most of its historical mission to help the most disenfranchised by totally abandoning its raison d’être.

So I’m a little late to the game. Sadly life events are getting in the way of blogging as much as before. However the beauty of being a perennially pissed off chap (Churchie Chats, you ain’t got shit on me grump-wise) is that eventual something will bring the Wrath of Khan Me into focus.

You Can Go Your Own Way, But we don’t have to like it

If you have haven’t noticed Genesis under Neil Hadden, their Chief Executive, has made the decision to move away from social/affordable rent i.e. abandon the fundamental purpose of being a Housing Association. Apparently poor people are no longer his organisation’s problem, well those who can’t afford home ownership at any rate. More specifically he stated:

“We are not able, or being asked, to provide affordable and social rented accommodation to people who should be looking to the market to solve their own problems. I do think [the Budget] is a watershed in all sorts of ways.”(Inside Housing 30/07/15).

In stating that we (as Housing Associations) are not being asked to provide social rented accommodation Mr Hadden is correct. But then again we weren’t in the 1960s, or the 1970s, when LSVTs came along in the 80s and 90s again this wasn’t a Government backed program, well not at first. Back then groups of individuals and organisations identified a real burning need within the communities they lived and sought to do something about it. No-one asked them to, they just did it. That situation hasn’t changed to this day. No-one asks for social housing, but there is one hell of a need for it.

That quibble aside, no worries Genesis, I’m all up for supporting new entrepreneurs. I’m sure we can set up a Crowd-Funding page for you to get you all set up in your brave new world, hell I’ve even sorted out your new organisation’s name ‘REvelations’ – the first E will be backwards, ‘cos that is apparently what all the cool kids do these days. The pay-back is that you give us your social (and affordable) rent houses, your historic grant and charitable status and you can kindly jog off into the sunset.

Jokes aside I do have some sympathy with Genesis, after all the sector, following years of relatively easy-going and achieving fuck all influence in Central Government, has been seeing some rough times recently. This could be an attempt at wrestling back some control/autonomy in interesting times. However, I don’t believe throwing in the towel is the answer, especially when you help to fund the research piece which has facilitated tougher times coming about (tut, tut). But as Tom Murtha has noted (I must get that chap to do my Lotto numbers) mission creep and now outright jumping ship will be the long-term death of social housing. Just a cursory look at the figures of Social, actual Social housing new builds and you can see Tom’s point.

However, for all the ills of providing housing other than Social rent I fundamentally believe a diverse portfolio is needed and that social and Low Cost Home Ownership products can co-exist. Not everyone wants to rent, not everyone wants to own. Not everyone can afford to do either privately. This means there is an opportunity here for Housing Associations to assist those at the bottom end of the money scale to fulfill their housing pathway of choice. It also means that if you ain’t building or expanding, time to go sister.

The Elephant in the Room

What this sorry state of affairs does reinforce is the monumental diaspora that is the Social Housing sector. A bit like the Labour Party there are those that would love Hippy-Esk communes (hard lefties), those who want Co-op housing (moderately hard lefties), those focused on social care, those just on General Needs (Centre Lefties), and those who are selling their souls to Tony Blair the devil (Centre Right/Genesis*). Our message/purpose is lost in a haze of BS and mission statements. A culling/merging of organisations is required. Handily a lot of first generation housing chaps and chapesses are coming up for retirement in senior positions. That should help the process a bit…

Wrapping it Up

I can understand why Genesis are looking to move the way they are, I just believe it is fundamentally wrong. No doubt the reaction of myself and a number of other in the sector will be seen as nothing more than the “depressingly predictable howls of protest” by Mr Hadden. But that is the joy of this sector, you can present a bad new idea and we can poo poo it.

*I of course speak in jest here.