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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

'Housing organisations must be the driving force behind social mobility.'


In a challenging society housing organisations must be the driving force for social mobility, explains CIH Rising Stars winner James Sanderson.

Since I began working in housing in 2012 I have held a strong belief that social landlords have a role to play in empowering their residents socially and enabling them economically. I hold this view because not doing this makes us complicit in the creation of dependency within the communities that we serve.

None of us came into housing to do that and I was heartened by the level of discussion at Housing 2017 around social purpose, how we can work to renew this within our organisations and how we can get past the business head vs social heart dichotomy that has dominated proceedings in recent years.

Along with education and health, the home is one of the three foundation stones upon which lives are built and transformed. These foundation stones are interdependent, remove one and there will be consequences for the others. In the real world this can be seen in tenancy failure being one of the largest cost drivers for health and social care services nationally. The natural interdependence between our organisations is therefore self evident.

When I started my current role it struck me that I work in a borough where 45% of households rent their home from a social landlord but despite this, housing colleagues would regularly experience situations where they appeared to have been an afterthought in discussions involving health and social care professionals relating to individual, household or community wellbeing. Similarly, many colleagues in health and social care seemed to approach housing as if it were an impenetrable blob, a perception that wasn’t entirely unjustified and may have explained why aspects of cross disciplinary engagement were so patchy.

At the same time there was undoubtedly a recognition across services, organisations and agencies that the lived environment is a significant contributing factor to overall household well being. Most professionals that I have come into contact with know all too well that when conditions within and relating to the home break down, it doesn’t take long before we find ourselves with a crisis on our hands. A crisis that will inevitably involve a vulnerable individual or household that has fallen between the gaps in services and dropped off the radar.

Crises aren’t good for anyone. Residents, the community, professionals, organisations and society as a whole. They are costly in social and economic terms and the resources required to manage them impact negatively on our collective ability to undertake proactive and preventative work. As social landlords we have particularly close proximity to our residents and there are a range of indicators that we can use to identify when things may be going awry in a household. It’s my view that implicit in this proximity is a duty for us to work to prevent crises and, where possible, avoid the need for other services to come onto the scene at all.

So what is to be done?

I don’t have, or pretend to have, all the answers and I don’t think for a minute that this is a challenge that is unique to where I work. I do know that in Hackney, the intensive work that my fledgling team of Resident Sustainment Officers has been doing in partnership with local health, social care and voluntary sector teams since October is starting to yield some positive outcomes for many of the households that we are working with.

I’ll be honest, the type of work that we’re doing isn’t particularly radical, indeed many other social landlords have been doing it for some time. But for me, doing something radical as an end in itself has little value. What I’m interested in is if by doing something simple, we can radically transform the lives of our most vulnerable residents in a way that empowers and enables them.

The initial feedback that we have had from residents and partnering organisations so far has been positive and my experience is that housing is now increasingly being invited to the table in areas where it wasn’t always before. This is a step in the right direction for us that has taken a significant amount of hard work to achieve but we aren’t there yet though, and it’s still too early for us to see the bigger picture impact.

During the Rising Stars process I spoke about social enablement, the need for us as social landlords to use our position to fulfil our potential in this area of our work and how we can let the world know about it in the process.

Over the course of the next year I’d love to meet with, speak to and learn from colleagues about the work that they are doing to empower and enable their residents and think about what we can do together to move beyond our image as the wobbly pillar of the welfare state towards being a driving force behind social mobility.

James Sanderson is the 2017 CIH Rising Stars winner and resident sustainment project manager at Hackney Council.

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