What a difference a year makes

It’s been a year since I took up the role of Director of CIH Cymru.

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I joined the sector because I believe housing provides the starting point, the foundations of a better life for many within our communities.

I thought I understood the impact the housing crisis was having on the lives of tens of thousands of people across Wales, and wanted to make a difference. In reality, the scale of the problem is far greater than I had ever imagined.

I came quickly to understand the merits of Housing First, creating better links between the health and housing sectors, and the need for more innovative solutions to increasing housing supply.

I have come to understand better the commitment and dedication of housing professionals, and the positive impact that their work has on the lives of so many.

But in February last year, when I joined CIH Cymru, the housing crisis wasn’t being widely discussed by the public at large; and didn’t appear to be a key priority for government at either end of the M4, particularly in Westminster.

But on 14 June we awoke to those images of Grenfell Tower engulfed by flames, and the human tragedy that unfolded therein – and everything changed.

Grenfell has come to symbolise something more deep-rooted than questions about fire safety and building regulations.

For every high-rise tenant living in fear that this could happen to them, there are many, many more who simply cannot find a home in their community, who are battling to keep their home or sleep on our streets every night.

The mainstream media has also now cottoned onto the fact that homelessness is on the rise; rough sleeping is on the rise; and that the number of families being housed in temporary bed & breakfast accommodation is on the rise.

And this is the fundamental conversation that we must have as a nation.

Not only as a result of the tragic loss of human life at Grenfell, but also because it cannot be acceptable that people don’t have anywhere to live when we have around 23,000 empty homes in Wales and acres of vacant land, with Finance Secretary, Mark Drakeford, claiming that a recent sample survey of land set aside for development showed no progress had been made in 25% of cases.

As a society, therefore, how much of a priority do we want to place on social housing in order to ensure that all of us have access to that most basic of human rights – a safe, secure and affordable place that we can call home?

It is a conversation that is beginning to gain momentum and, were it not for Brexit, that focus would, quite rightly, be even more intense.

It means we still have a job to do to put pressure on the decision-makers to better understand the difference that housing can make, not only in providing that basic  human right of shelter, but also the positive impact it can have on other areas of the public sector.

We also need to keep the issue firmly rooted in the minds of the general public.

At TAI 2018, CIH Cymru will officially launch Tyfu Tai Cymru – a five-year Oak Foundation-funded research project into the root causes of, and the solutions to, our housing crisis in Wales.

We will kick this off with a public attitudes survey, being undertaken in partnership with Professor Roger Scully from the Wales Governance Centre, looking at how the people of Wales view social housing and the contribution it makes to society.

TAI 2018’s unifying theme “ALL OF US” underpins the need for a joint response from society as a whole to the shared challenges we all face.

We have an agenda brimming with learning from a range of sectors at home and aboard which we believe will add to the rich opportunities to learn, share and connect at the development seminar, exhibition fringe and social events.

Who can solve the housing crisis? Who can help the people who need it most? Who has the answers? Who can be part of the positive response to the challenges we face? The answer is very simple: ALL OF US.

It has been, and remains, a privilege to work with all of you.

Your commitment and enthusiasm to deliver on the promise of good, safe and affordable housing for everyone is one that continues to inspire me, and I hope to catch up with as many of you as possible at TAI2018.

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