Landlords pledge to continue community work
Pressure on social landlords to support hard hit communities is set to increase further even though housing budgets are being squeezed.
Michael Newey, chief executive of Norfolk-based Broadland Housing Group, told the Chartered Institute of Housing's annual conference that landlords must not retreat into providing only a core service at a time when the number of organisations helping communities was likely to shrink.
Helping tenants find work, or supporting people with health problems, must continue to be among the services offered by housing associations and other landlords, he told delegates in Harrogate on June 23. “We don't provide people with homes. We provide them with places where they can make a home,” he said. “Giving people a box [to live in] is a solid foundation but it's not fulfilling our core mission statement.”
Simon Harris, chief executive of Stoke Citizens Advice Bureau, appealed to housing providers to assist communities during what are bound to be difficult times, with unemployment rising and cuts in housing benefit looming following this week's Budget.
“Housing organisations are ideally placed to work with communities if we accept that it's not just bricks and mortar that are important,” he said. “They can make these hard times slightly less hard for some people.”
Mr Harris outlined how regeneration has stalled in areas such as Stoke since the recession. “It entrenches poverty in a city that's already poor,” he said. But mortgage possessions were not as high as during the early 1990s, mainly due to the “forbearance” of providers and the assistance families receive from the government with paying interest on their mortgages.
Ken Perry, chief executive of Merseyside-based Plus Dane Group, said housing providers were going to face tough choices over how they support communities and neighbourhoods. “Are we going to hunker down and provide a minimum service with some development or is there a role for housing associations to fill gaps and provide services in a different way?”
Investment decisions should aim to support the vitality of neighbourhoods, he added, with social landlords working closely with councils and primary care trusts. “This is particularly important when you consider the savage cuts that are being proposed,” said Mr Perry. “If you are going to have a coalition of the willing, then we have to be clear about why we are here and not be obsessed by process.”
Richard Capie, director of policy at CIH, appealed to Iain Duncan Smith, Work and Pensions Secretary, and Frank Field, chair of the government's Poverty Commission, to listen to the voice of housing providers. “If they want to reach out to vulnerable people and communities, then housing organisations can play a key role,” he said.