Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start

I’m not one for New Year resolutions, they’re not worth the booze stained paper they’re written on. Whilst an arbitrary date might help some on the path to negating an annoying habit/chronic cake addiction, the reality is that most of us will fail to keep to those good intentions. Governments are not excluded from such foibles, especially when it comes to housing policy. Unfortunately, unlike the Konami games of old, you can’t just use a cheat code to solve a nation’s housing market problems. A pity really, given the way housing policy is currently heading we probably need all the ‘help’ we can get.

OK Time for Plan B

For all the positive vibes coming from the Barwell/Javid axis little has materially changed so far in May’s tenure as Prime Minister. The switch in rhetoric has been welcome, and you do genuinely get the feeling that Sajid Javid is sincere in his desire to improve the housing situation facing many in the UK. However rhetoric and reality have not quite met. At least not consistently. Indeed it seems at times that Mrs May is willing to do pretty much anything to help the housing crisis, apart from actually do things that will help on a practical level. Promises of a Britain that works for the many have so far fallen flat. That needs to change, sharpish.

Right to Buy, or at least its extension to Housing Associations, is seemingly getting kicked into the long grass (FYI check out Nick Atkin’s piece on why RTB has had its day here). Positive news over better regulation for parts of the PRS and the scrapping of lettings fees should help those renting. But policy and capital funding wise the Autumn Statement proved to largely be a bust. The vast majority of the £44bn earmarked for housing initiatives has been kept for demand side interventions. And of that all bar £15.3bn had already been announced.

A give away on Stamp Duty and a continuation of policies such as Help to Buy are not really what the doctor ordered. With Help to Buy being described by the Adam Smith Institute as being like throwing petrol onto a bonfire. Whilst the Stamp Duty cut is a great example of a policy that on the surface is great for individual households but is actually bollocks at the macro-economic level – a typical state of play for housing policy in the last 2 decades.

Elsewhere, although several million has been set aside to help with homelessness initiatives. Even here Theresa May has managed to piss me off. Her response at the last PMQs before Christmas showed just how little she understands the subject. She also showed that you can be right on a technicality, but utterly wrong on the bigger picture. Being homeless doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sleeping rough. But regardless, the lack of a safe, secure and affordable home has serious detrimental effects. Still, shout out to Theresa May’s researchers for finding the one technical point where the homelessness situation wasn’t total crap. But make no mistake, as a country we’ve been regressing alarmingly on this issue since 2010.

Here Comes the New Sound, Just Like the Old Sound

Since the clusterfuck that was the Brexit vote and subsequent change of personnel in Government I’ve been hoping for a significant departure, in practical terms, from the clueless/ideologically driven housing policy under Cameron et al. Sadly, some honourable mentions aside, what we’ve had so far is more of the same.  Plus ca change. Some improvements have been made, but it’s all a bit piecemeal.

Still, it could be worse, the Conservative Party’s attempt at revamping its social media presence is nothing short of alarming. Honestly, Activate is probably the shittest thing I’ve come across on social media since Mogg-Mentum. It sounds like the start of a fight on Robot Wars for fucks sake. Who are these clowns? Have they met real life people? One only hopes that Conservatives spend more time on fine tuning their housing policy in the upcoming Housing Green Paper than they have on their current social media engagement strategy. Otherwise we really are fucked.

As ever, you can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

Photo Credit – Emil Athanasiou (2015) Same Yet Different

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Grown Up Talk

Historically you’d barely have time to finish the “ue” in posing the question Does the sector provide Value For Money? when most housing associations would throw their toys out of the pram so violently you’d be amazed if those in the near vicinity got out unscathed. It is a reaction that has needed to change, and very gradually it is.

Play Time is Over

As businesses, housing associations rely on public funding for a very large proportion of the money that makes up their profits. Either directly from Central Government in Capital Grant, or indirectly via Housing Benefit/Universal Credit. Therefore it is not unreasonable for the public interest to be protected by a higher level of expectation regarding scrutiny over VFM than otherwise might be the case. It is an agenda we would do well to properly engage with. As in the long run damage to both the reputation of the sector in the eyes of the public, and of Government is at stake.

Whilst the Eye of Sauron attention of Government/the media has shifted from blaming housing associations for the housing crisis by not building enough, it is likely that the focus will once again return on what more we need to/why it’s all our fault. There are noises coming on VFM and the sector, ones we would be wise to heed as they offer risk, but also opportunity. Because it will be by engaging the agenda of Value For Money that the sector can own the teams of the debate and promote its own interests at the same time. The development of the VFM scorecard via a variety of organisations with the support of the DCLG is a welcome start in the process. Albeit with a feeling that the sector is looking to jump before being pushed*.

There are over 1,200 organisations doing essentially the same thing, inevitably some will be more efficient and provide better VFM than others

We are no longer the amateur-hour/slightly bent housing organisations that were set up in the 60s and 70s. Nor are we Local Authority housing departments. We cannot simply ignore outside scrutiny and hope it will go away and/or block it via meaningless bureaucracy. There are over 1,200 organisations doing essentially the same thing, inevitably some will be more efficient and provide better VFM than others. We need to recognise this and make improvements where necessary. The best way to do that is to have an methodology of measurement, which we currently lack. Something that ties into the legacy of crap benchmarking in the sector. But that’s a blog for another day.

Learning from History

Landlords must provide value for money – and they need to be able to evidence it.

As ever I’m not the first to write on this subject- check out Emma Maier’s piece in Inside Housing, as well as Mark Henderson’s, for further info/insight. In particular I agree with Emma when she notes that “Landlords must provide value for money – and they need to be able to evidence it”. The VFM Scorecard is potentially a way to achieve both this and to work more closely with Government. It increases the transparency of organisations within the sector. It gets on board with an element of the current Government’s agenda that is not a major impact on our finances. Fundamentally it helps to build trust.

If we, as a sector, want to be treated like grown ups in a relationship with Government, we need to act like grown ups. That means engaging and facilitating policy changes that can fit with our own agendas and policy preferences. The aim being to create a critical friend relationship, where the mutual benefits of working together, regardless of politics, can be seen. Only from that standpoint can we enact meaningful change. Pissing from the outside, whilst no doubt exhilarating, does not always enable one to move forward their agenda and influence policy.

As ever, you can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

Photo CreditMyXI – Tongue & Groovy (2009)

*It’s nice to see that we’re consistent in our approach to enacting change. Not so much ‘nudge’ theory in play, but ‘shove’ theory.

 

 

To Boldy Go Where No-one Has Gone Before

The pragmatist in me knows why voluntary Right to Buy has a significant amount of attraction. If I were in charge of a housing association I would probably have ticked yes myself. But that doesn’t mean a debate shouldn’t have been had. It doesn’t mean that we all have to like it. Being given a week to look over this is frankly unforgivable, it is a grade ‘A’ balls-up however you look at it. But before we all get busy patting ourselves on the back it may be worth reminding ourselves of some uncomfortable facts.

In 1981 England had 7 million units owned by either Local Authorities or Registered Providers, by 2014 this had dropped to 4 million.

In 1981 England had 7 million units owned by either Local Authorities or Registered Providers, by 2014 this had dropped to 4 million. The population in 1981 was just under 46 million, by 2014 it was 54.3 million. I.e we have less social stock for a larger population. Over the past 4 years those accepted as unintentionally homeless has increased from 42,390 in 2010 to 53,410 in 2014. Those living in temporary accommodation has increased from 48,240 (2010/11) to 64,710 (2014/15). Those found to be unintentionally homeless as a result of their assured shorthold tenancy ending has risen from 15% (6,150) of decisions in 2010 to 29% (15,420) in 2014. Those in work, yet claiming housing benefit, surpassed 1 million in 2014 (in 2008 it was just 430,000). In one of the most advanced countries in the world that is outrageous. It also highlights why social housing is needed.

You will no doubt have seen I’ve been vehemently opposed to both Right to Buy (RTB) and ‘Voluntary’ Right to Buy (VRTB). It’s clear that my personal beliefs are quite opposed to a number of those in the sector. I am grateful for the open and frank debates that have been had. It is one of the things I admire about social housing. Difference of opinion is accepted, even encouraged (just don’t expect for your view not to be challenged). Though I must admit talk of a ‘re-set’ in our relationship with Government does nark. Had the sector been better at lobbying, at influencing i.e. had a better relationship with Government in the first place this wouldn’t need to be the case. I don’t work in PR but I doth my cap at those putting a positive spin on one of our greatest failures.

I am 1 of 4 brothers, but I’m the only one who has a permanent contract…

A significant part of my anger, of my unwillingness to accept the extension of Right to Buy in any guise is quite a simple one. Many of you will be talking from position of secure housing. Many of you will be talking from a position of home ownership. I am not. I have family who live in social housing, friends currently wholly or partially reliant on benefits to, you know, live. I am 1 of 4 brothers, but I’m the only one who has a permanent contract (and I was 27 before that beauty came along). Alongside my travails my ladyfriend was made redundant twice in a 6 month period last year. In total we’ve moved 5 times in the last 4 years (all were work and/or affordability related). My family has seen depression, cancer, job losses and death in an uncomfortably short period of time. But the backdrop to all of that was a secure family home. One I ended up living back at for most of 2014.

Out of all my friends (a disparate group of around 20 chaps and chapesses) a grand total of 2 own the property they live in. As such policy developments matter deeply to me. When life is as precarious as outlined above the potential removal of an invaluable safety net is highly alarming. Housing Association properties might be saved by VRTB, but truly social rent via LAs, I’m not so sure. I have been challenged to provide another way. I would politely throw the challenge back.

Whilst I support a true variety of housing; social rent, market rent, home ownership, shared ownership, and all the betwixt and between, from all types of providers. For many just a roof over their head is a priority, yes develop other things but we still need social housing, we still need that base. Because it is often the one secure/reliable facet in the lives of so many vulnerable households. When the dust settles, when we are all back being busily ‘inefficient’ and not building things that may be worth remembering.

You can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

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.

Rumour, Misinformation and Gossip

I’m not usually lost for words (I’m not quite Deadpool, but I’m not far off) however I do find myself at a bit of a loss at what to say following the utter hatchet job undertaken by The Spectator. As someone who works in a heavily performance/data focused part of a housing association I am well aware there is more than one way to skin a cat. The issue is you actually need a moggie in the first place. Alas the Spectator should have gone to Specsavers because whatever it has been skinning, it ain’t a feline.

Inside Housing has done a very good job of debunking a number of figures thrown about with alarming disregard for their origin or the context in which they exist (see below for my favourites). And as much as they are to be commended it would be nice to have seen slight sterner stuff come from the sector’s representative bodies. Something akin to “this is utter bollocks; we are not going to even dignify it with a full response because my 2-year-old child could have done a better job sourcing those figures” for example. Whilst the NHF has done well to rally the responses have lacked a certain punch.

Myths Debunked:

‘Places for People built 792 homes last year’- This is true although the piece does not mention the association’s plans to complete a further 6,631 homes over the next three years.

‘Housing associations managed [to build] just 23,300 homes last year’- As Inside Housing’s development survey shows, the top 50 largest associations alone completed 40,213 homes in 2014/15.

‘Over the last four years housing associations received £23bn* in government grants’ – This has already been corrected by The Spectator itself. In fact, housing associations received £4.5bn of grant through the affordable homes programme between 2011 and 2015.

*I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who went ‘eh!?’ at that particularly erroneous figure…

What the article does show is two things 1) Not many people outside of the sector have much of a clue on what we actually spend our money on – it ain’t just new homes kids, unlike a lot of private landlords we reinvest in our properties. Though occasionally we do balls this up, like really bad. 2) We need a new PR agency… stat. Maybe not so much #ImInWorkJeremy more like #ImDoingMoreThanJustBuildingNewHomesYouDicks. An excellent example has come via Phillipa Jones and Bromford (sorry I know I use these guys a lot but this is a simple, easy to use eample to prove my point). This is the kind of detail we need to set out – publicly, not just in our annual report, because who reads them, honestly?

I think what really narks me is that despite the utter shitness of the article (#sorrynotsorry it really is shit) there is a grain of truth in what is being said. We do need to build more, we do need to be more mindful of how much the upper echelons get paid. We also need to be far more proactive in the PR game. Because it ain’t even half time sweethearts we’re 3-0 down and we’re not looking pretty.

What I’ve also been saddened by is the lack of people pushing the wide range of activities we undertake. Admittedly only in the short 8hrs or so since the article hit. But Housing Associations are essentially mini-welfare states in the communities they operate. Money advice, debt advice, day care centres, training/skills classes, community regeneration are just the tip of the iceberg of what we do. For fuck sake we do so much unheralded work with the people who live in our communities (with being the operative word) but because we can’t pull our fingers out and highlight what we do (outside of 24Housing and InsideHousing) we’re getting smashed.

I will be watching Channel 4 tonight to see what is occurring; honestly I hope it’s better than the preamble that have so far been put out. If its not, I’ll be doing what all middle class people do and write a strongly worded letter…

If you feel so inclined you can follow me on Twitter here or find me using the handle @ngoodrich87, you can view the rest of my blogs here.

Time To Go Out Swinging?

The non-emergency, emergency budget has seen the last vestiges of hug-a-hoody, compassionate Conservatism washed away in a tide of ideologically driven cuts. Housing and the communities we patronise serve will bear a significant proportion of the associated burdens in this round of fiscal belt-tightening. The future is grim, which ever way you want to spin it. Indeed so dour is the result of the latest budget that it makes the subtext of your average Charles Dickens book seem downright cheerful. A pocket or two is being picked, alas it is the pockets of those who can least afford it that are being rifled through. Though instead of an old man leading his gang of young rascals it is George Osborne, the Treasury and the DWP doing the dirty, so to speak.

Still, the sector perseveres, today saw the NHF hit up  #aplanforhomes in a further attempt at talking some sense into those poor souls who operate in that black hole of logical thought/pit of despair more commonly known as the House of Commons. One of the tweets coming from the event was that the ball was now with Government and that they needed to work with us to deliver it (the aforementioned plan). It is probably the deep cynic in me but being brutally honest they don’t just have the ball; they have all the rackets, the courts and the viewing public as well. And frankly it is here that our fundamental issue exists, for all the fluff, for all the bluster we have not managed to sway public opinion.

When a Government so opposed to the provision of social housing exists the ony real option is to win the popular argument. Regrettably we are still struggling to get our voices heard where it counts. Admittedly it really doesn’t help that our central message is, give us lots of your cash and we will build homes for poor people. Oh yea and whilst doing so we will be charging them rent at a lower level than you will be paying either on your mortgage or your privately rented home/flat/hobbit-hole. Even if the figures stack up in terms of fiscal policy; that my friends is largely beside the point. We’re talking politics here, not sound economics or evidence based policy.

If you have the time I would highly recommend reading The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein. A bit of an opinion splitter this one, it won’t give you ‘the’ divine truth but will hopefully provide some context as to the current Government’s thinking. The book highlights how various neo-liberal movements have used existing crises to advance their own ideological agenda. Typically this involves radically shrinking state spending, pulling back social security assistance and pushing market reforms favourable to private sector enterprise at a time when the general public is too shell-shocked to resist. Sound familiar?

This is pretty much what has occurred in the past 30 5 years. It is also why I very much doubt that in the long run we and the boys and girls in blue will be bosom buddies. We are an affront the very idea of neo-liberal economic thought. A monolithic extension of all that is bad with Government intervention in a market. Let the invisible hands of capitalism work its magic and all will be tout sweet, so goes the thinking (the obvious caveat being that this is utter bollocks).

Some have argued that this could be a new dawn for housing.  Others, that the sense of community spirit will be key. And some, well they are just interesting to read. Whilst I admire the generally positive sentiment I can’t quite gee myself up to be as chipper, sorry kids, I just ain’t that guy. Still, I have been proved wrong before (I had my money on Federer beating Djokovic) and I may well be again. In the meantime I’m going to fetal for a bit, wake me up when it’s a little sunnier.

If you feel so inclined you can follow me on Twitter here or find me using the handle @ngoodrich87, you can view the rest of my blogs here.

First as tragedy, then as farce?

One of the greatest frustrations I have with housing is its lack of unity when seeking to influence policy. In everything we do there are a myriad set of interests that are often directly competing against each other. If there is a means by which to do the same thing over and over in a million different ways you can bet your bottom dollar housing will find a way to do it. This is one of our great strengths, but also one of our biggest weaknesses.

Hell you just need to see the number of different award ceremonies there are to see this in action. Sometimes I wonder how the fudge we can actually get any work done. Awards don’t just occur, you bid for them, the same way you do for a contract or a piece of work. The only difference is you get a fancy dinner (that you pay for) a nice evening (that you pay for) and a chance to swan around with an award (that you have paid for in work hours putting the bid together). Don’t get me wrong, as a lad born and raised in a land distinctly lacking in diversity I appreciate the need (and benefit) of/for difference. But we seriously need to stop replicating crap for the sake of it.

I was intrigued by Hannah Fearn’s piece on the sector’s reaction to right to buy. Yes, there are some elements that have been a bit hysterical. There are some that do need to be slapped with a wet plimsoll and told to pull themselves together. However, you can’t blame a sector for reacting passionately against such a poor policy that (regardless of whether it will come to pass) would devastate the sector. In his book, this blog post gets its title from; Slavoj Zizek highlights Marx’s contention that history repeats itself. First as tragedy and then as… well, you get the idea. After the last 3 decades of leeching vital social housing via Right to Buy we need to ensure that this tragedy is not repeated as a farce. Though [insert deity of choice here] the guys and gals at CCHQ are giving it their darndest.

What we must be more aware of is that screeching about how crap a policy is will do next to nothing to change it. It is the equivalent of Evangelicals turning up at your door to convert you. You are polite, you listen and (if you are like me) you then point out all the absurdities of the bible/their faith (yup, I’m that guy). In the end you despair and say, “Yes heaven and eternity with you guys sounds swell but I’m happy to be an atheist. At least if I am damned to an afterlife in hell it’s where all the cocaine, hookers and decent music will be…” They go away having achieved nothing and frankly so have you.

Realistically the best way to defeat the extension of Right to Buy will be via the complexities of its implementation. I can’t see this getting through the House of Lords intact, even if it does there is a very strong case for legal action. Though if anyone can get that damn impact assessment released (open government my arse) that would be ace. Any move against Right to Buy will need to highlight the cost of the status quo (i.e. the horrifically bad housing policy in this country) and the value for money we provide. Because at the moment people essentially just see us giving houses to Jeremy Kyle rejects (or foreigners if you are UKIP) paid for by their taxes. Lose public opinion and you’ve already lost the battle.

SHOUT, in conjunction with Capital Economics and the National Federation of ALMOs has put forward a strong argument to highlight our true value. They have also shown some grim figures around the potential cost to all concerned if we carry on our current course and the absurdity of some of Central Government’s thinking. The good ship ‘Make it up as you go along’ needs to change direction. I won’t go through the nitty gritty, Steven Hilditch has already done a cracking job of that. But if you wish to read it you can get your grubby mitts on here.

In the meantime calm down dear, it’s only a bullshit policy. One we can stop.

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