Challenging social housing stereotypes
For some people social housing is synonymous with benefits, for others the image of a run-down community or of problem tenants instantly springs to mind. What can we do to challenge these perceptions? We've summarised the ideas and views of three speakers from our North East conference earlier this month.
Real people, true stories
Catherine Little, assistant director of strategy and governance at Soha Housing, is challenging the stigma with a new campaign, #RealPeopleTrueStories.
The media implies that all social housing tenants are the same, Catherine thinks, and Soha wants to fight this unfair assumption. "The stereotypes found in programmes like Benefits Street are not correct," explains the organisation's Youtube channel. "It’s time to meet the real people."
So in our day-to-day work, what do we need to do to change things? First, we need to consider whether we might actually be part of the problem, Catherine says. Then ask ourselves the following questions:
• How do we represent our tenants?
• How often do we talk about anti-social behaviour instead of volunteering or other positives?
• How often do we talk about turning tenants' lives around?
• When do we simply step back and support our tenants to do the talking?
"The most important thing we can do is support our tenants and give them the chance to get their voices heard," Catherine says.
Rob Gershon wears many hats. He's a full time carer for his wife, who has MS, he started blogging about the bedroom tax several years ago and has written for publications like 24housing, and he's also part of HQN's residents' network.
Although it's great to share positive stories and exciting examples of lives turned around, Rob doesn't like the pressure on social housing tenants to somehow live a perfect lifestyle. "Why can't we just be people? We only tend to judge people on how they spend their money when we believe that money came from taxpayers. No-one else is vilified for not making 'wise' choices,” Rob said.
What does Rob suggest we do to help things? "Be honest. A lot of the stories we send out or focus on are either very positive or very negative - and sure, there's a place for both, but let's not forget that it's okay for people to have faults. Let's let social housing tenants tell their own stories and just be people. We're no different to anyone else."
Representation in the media
Martin Hilditch, deputy editor of Inside Housing, echoes Rob's thoughts. Remember Doctor Who’s Rose Tyler? "Rose lived in a council estate," says Martin. "But this was just a representation of a person - it was just another part of her story. We need to see more of this. We need to allow people to be ordinary."
Inside Housing wants to focus on these ordinary people in its research and reporting: "We don't want to simply use them as an example - we want to base our work around their lives, giving them a voice." And what should people do if they ever feel social housing tenants have been represented negatively? "Give us a call," says Martin. "We always want people to engage and debate with us, and if you feel as if we've made a mistake or shown tenants unfairly, we'd like to know about it."
With thanks to:
Catherine Little, assistant director of strategy and governance, Soha Housing
Rob Gershon, housing blogger @Simplicitly and council tenant
Martin Hilditch, deputy editor, Inside Housing