Over the last three decades, the BMENational collective, which was founded as the Federation of Black Housing Organisations (FBHO), has witnessed many changes in the operating environment.
But our core commitment to providing housing, culturally sensitive services, promoting cohesion and investment in BME communities, continues and advances.
Origins – fighting racism in housing
When the Windrush Generation came to Britain, followed by people from south-east Asia, on the heels of earlier migrations from Ireland, they faced rampant racism in the housing system, immortalised by the “No Irish. No Blacks. No Dogs” in the front windows of cheap board and lodging houses.
This form of low-end private landlordism in the 1960s and 1970s, of which Peter Rachman was the emblem, exploited the new arrivals, who usually had very little choice but to accept the low quality accommodation, intimidation and harassment that was on offer.
That these communities still experience racial harassment, as witnessed by today’s Windrush Generation immigration scandal, is deeply worrying to BMENational, which continues to make the case for the valuable contributions these migrant communities have made to the economy, public services and culture of Britain.
Mobilising BME communities
Yet racism has always provided the basis for community mobilisation in BME communities. For example, in the 1980s, urban disturbances in Liverpool, Birmingham and Brixton were a catalyst for action culminating in the creation of around 100 BME housing associations between 1986 and 1992.
BME housing organisations, generally defined as letting to more than 80% BME applicants with a similar proportion of board members, have deep roots in the communities which we serve; mainly in London and the conurbations of the Midlands and the North.
Larger housing associations were, because of regulatory and funding conditions, encouraged to work in partnership with the first BME housing associations, created by the Housing Corporation’s BME Housing Strategy in 1986. Previously, BME housing organisations had been associated with community action and the Black Hostel Movement.
Alongside social regulator support, many mainstream housing associations, especially those working in areas of high BME concentration – typically inner London, Birmingham, Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield, Bradford, Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol – formed housing development and management partnerships with BME housing associations.
The FBHO was an umbrella body for BME housing and community organisations, which represented the embryonic BME housing sector and lobbied government on its behalf. The FBHO was a highly visible, respected and largely effective advocate for the BME housing sector.
Through conferences, newsletters, research, lobbying and advocacy the FBHO enabled BME housing organisations to develop a high profile and secure ongoing funding from the public purse to support continuing expansion of housing and service provision.
However, the FBHO folded in 2008 for a variety of reasons. Before, during and after this time, a number of BME housing associations, such as Presentation in Notting Hill, HAMAC and Harambee in Birmingham, and more recently Ashram, were subsumed into larger mainstream housing groups.
BME housing – still here
Yet we are still here. There remain around 60 highly active BME housing organisations, of which about two thirds are members of BMENational, managing 60,000 homes and working as a bulwark against poverty in the nation’s most disadvantaged communities.
BMENational, formed in 2010 as a successor representative body to the FBHO under the auspices of the National Housing Federation, has resurrected the sector’s annual conference, has published a BME Housing Year Book to promote the sector alongside a new website and well-followed social media; and has launched the Migrant Rights website with CIH.
More recently, BMENational has partnered the Human City Institute in sector-wide research into the past, present and potential future of BME housing. The research sparked a high profile national campaign to promote future roles for the BME housing sector.
We are now engaged in extending our work as a collective, working in geographical and common interest clusters, often with local government and other housing associations, to ensure that the BME housing sector flourishes long into the future.