A sea change

I wrote recently that I feel the same fear and trepidation as we enter 2019 as my parents must have felt in 1939. The only difference is that we have declared war on ourselves in trying to escape our place in Europe.

Social-Housing---SS

No one knows what the year will bring. I fear the worst.

Especially for those who have already suffered under nine years of austerity, which many now realise was motivated by political dogma and not financial necessity.

What does this mean for housing? Again, the answer is that we don’t know.

The signs are not good for those who need a decent home to rent at a price they can genuinely afford – i.e. social rent housing. But there is a glimmer of hope.

After years of silence on the subject, the sector is once again calling for massive investment in social rent homes.

The Shelter Commission Report marks a sea change in social housing.

Until recently, the term was no longer used by some notable housing leaders. According to them, it was a “failed brand” that “got in the way”.

Only SHOUT spoke up for social housing and its tenants, when most of the sector was silent.

Not only was it silent, some sector leaders even criticised and derided those who spoke out for and defended social housing. We have forgotten this too quickly.

Yes, there is now universal recognition that social housing is a good thing, and we need to invest in it to save lives and to save money. But why has it taken so long for this epiphany to happen?

The silence allowed government to ignore the housing crisis for too long and added to the problems of those in greatest need.

The Shelter Report also calls upon the sector to recognise tenants and genuinely share power with them. It adds that there should be stronger regulation to ensure this happens.

This again is at odds with some in the sector who only recently were calling for less regulation. A number of recent reports and commissions have highlighted the inability, on the part of some in social housing, to listen and reflect on what they do and initiate change from within.

It is disappointing that some are beginning to talk about working more closely with tenants, not because it is the right thing to do and because it is essential to our work, but because of external pressures from Grenfell, a Green Paper, and various commissions that have reported recently.

The implications are that some housing associations have failed to heed the warnings made in recent years. They were losing touch with tenants, and there was a breakdown of trust within many communities.

My wish for 2019 is that the sector does begin to accept that it has faults and accepts the need to change.

I hope also that it does begin to listen to its tenants, to the communities in which it works, and to those who make it feel uncomfortable.

More importantly, I hope for a bit of reality in its decision making.

Let us stop kidding ourselves that building any tenure, anywhere, at any price is really fulfilling our social purpose or helping resolve the housing crisis.

This development at all cost mentality must be challenged. It allows the government to claim they are investing in housing when they are not.

It is based on providing homes for people who reflect the government’s definition of housing need, not necessarily our own.

It does nothing to help those on low or no incomes who have no alternative but social rent housing. The very people we were set up to help.

These people will suffer the most from the fallout of Brexit and the disastrous policies of this government.

In a year that does not augur well, we should be listening to them, to change what we say and more importantly what we do.

If the sector does not listen and change, we should ask whether it is the right model to deliver the next generation of social rent homes at the scale envisaged by the Shelter commissioners.

We need to consider if the sector can change its culture sufficiently to enable a true sharing of power with tenants and residents as called for by the Report.

Shelter quite rightly identifies housing as a basic human right. If that is so, should the majority of social housing remain privatised if we are to deliver the numbers and benefits identified in the Report?

If a Vision For Social Housing is a sea change, do we need an equivalent sea change in the way we deliver, let and manage social housing?

Now, there’s a debate worth having in 2019.

And one that might bring some hope in what looks like a dismal year.

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