The social housing green paper – a new deal for social housing?
CIH regional manager Rebecca Clarke looks at what the green paper means for the London, South East and Eastern regions.
Well here we are… the new deal for social housing, or is it? When I first heard that the green paper could still be released during the summer recess I couldn’t help but think to myself “yeah, yeah of course it will”. No one really expected it and I think most of us, me included were gearing ourselves up for a September release at the earliest. Having said that, now it is here and I think we have an incredible opportunity presented to us to try and shape our future. We all know as housing professionals we have tremendous potential to transform lives because we do it every day. The frustration comes when so many other issues prevent us from achieving and doing more to tackle the housing crisis and help those that are most vulnerable. The green paper has been billed as part of the government’s plans to fix the broken housing market.
The green paper has been long awaited following the previous housing white paper where the government called on social housing providers, especially councils to do more. In what was fast becoming a fledgling housing market, private developers were backing off and we as a nation were nowhere near building enough homes to tackle the crisis. Things have arguably only got worse since, with still inadequate new build figures, a lack of affordable homes, a private rental crisis and homelessness continuing to rise, all before we got the Brexit vote which only exacerbated the pre-existing issues.
So it was common knowledge across the sector that we were and still are in the midst of the worst housing crisis since World War Two. Then, everything came to the forefront in the terrible tragedy at Grenfell tower. Housing in the last 18 months has well and truly been in the spotlight and the government simply had to respond. A recent Ipsos Mori poll showed that housing has risen to 4th in the most important concerns for voters after being as low as 11th prior to the 2010 general election.
This is without doubt, the biggest opportunity we have had as a sector to gain influence and make change happen. Ignoring the fact that we go through housing ministers like they are going out of fashion, all indications would suggest the government is in listening mode, wants to work with us and wants us to have a say and fundamental role in tackling the nation’s housing crisis.
So here we have it, the social housing green paper… is it really a ‘new deal for social housing?’
So what exactly did the green paper say and what does it mean for our regions?
To keep things short there are four main areas of focus to come out of the green paper:
1. Tackling the stigmatisation of social housing and celebrating thriving communities
During our CIH Rethinking Social Housing project our Ipsos Mori survey found that 65% of respondents felt that the view of social housing in Britain was unfair. Now for us working in and with the sector as housing professionals, we know that the stigma is wildly unfair and inaccurate. The very perception of who lives in social housing and what happens in areas where there are big estates dominated by social housing is often just wrong. Since the introduction of the Right to Buy policy and subsequent moves by consecutive governments to reduce all forms of support for social housing, we have seen the stigma grow and those that have been left behind by the property owning democracy are viewed as second class citizens, scrounging off the state and dubbed ‘CHAVS’ by the mass media. The only way in which this will change is if we as professionals working every day with these people celebrate success. Shout about all the good things that happen. All we ever see in the media is the bad stuff – well now the government is listening and here is our chance to champion everything that is good about our sector and most importantly, the massive impact it can have on people’s lives.
2. Expanding supply and supporting home ownership
So, the government hasn’t moved away completely from the home ownership dream. As mentioned above, consecutive governments since the 1980s have seemingly prioritised home ownership over any other form of tenure. We at the CIH, agree completely that the nation has faced and continues to face a massive supply issue. However, it is absolutely crucial that we look at the make up of the supply that is needed to solve the housing crisis.
The homes that are being built need to be more genuinely affordable for people. Across the Eastern, South East and London regions, even at 80% of the market rate, home ownership is still out of reach to the many. Research would suggest that this needs to be more like 60% and then still in London and parts of the South East, this would still be a distant dream. We estimate that the country needs 78,000 of the most affordable homes to be built per annum. Between 2016-17 this figure stood at only 5,000 – that’s some shortfall. In addition to this, we see the pre-existing stock of affordable homes dwindling and we anticipate that between 2012-20 we will lose 230,000 affordable homes. The final nail in the coffin that needs ripping back out is the imbalance in government funding which sees affordable housing take only 21% of the £53 billion available.
With this lack of supply in mind, we can’t help but welcome the review into Right to Buy receipts for councils. Surely they should be able to reinvest the money from this, back into building more homes in the same way a housing association would? We need to look at ways of enabling all corners of our sector to develop and not just rely on the bigger providers to deliver.
To quote our very own CIH policy and practice officer Faye Greaves – “we need to build the right homes, in the right places, at prices people can afford”. Nowhere else does this ring more true than in the regions I work with.
3. Ensuring homes are safe and “decent”
After World War Two, social housing was seen by many to be the pride of the UK housing market. It was seen as desirable, safe and most importantly “decent”. Of course due to reasons already mentioned this has now changed somewhat.
The Grenfell tragedy has fuelled the rise of health and safety to the forefront of government and sector thinking. Fiona McGregor spoke at CIH Housing in Manchester about the importance of this in the wake of the tragedy and how this would be a central feature of the then unreleased green paper – she was right. The green paper suggests that we should adopt all of the Hackitt recommendations, as well as review the decent homes standard and look harder at the private rented sector which still remains unregulated.
Whilst it is vital we look at supply, we too must constantly review and not lose sight of what we
already have. Ensuring that our homes meet the decent homes standard and are compliant is crucial. In the wake of Grenfell the whole nation said “never again” and we as a sector owe it to our residents to uphold our professional standards, providing a safe home for whoever needs it. We need to always be clear on our purpose as a provider and do our upmost as professionals to honour that, providing excellent service all of the time.
4. Empowering residents and the regulator
So what does providing an excellent service look like? Well a key part of that surely has to be the way in which we listen to residents, customers and tenants, but not just listening, but empowering them. All because the majority of people that live in our properties have no choice, does not mean that they should receive a substandard service and a service that can differ vastly from one provider to the next. After all, it is the people that live in our homes that know the most and should be the font of all of our knowledge and the power in our decision making. Empowering tenants doesn’t have to mean inefficiency. We need to be creative in making sure we listen to a greater percentage of our residents. How do we hear from more people? What does engagement look like? Would people speak up more if they felt it would make a difference and that they were being listened to?
It would be great for the sector to speak up about the innovative things that they are doing to support tenant engagement, but also it isn’t always about reinventing the wheel, as Phoenix Community Housing show, sometimes a cone of ‘chips and a chat’ can be very powerful indeed.
So here’s my rallying cry for all of us as housing professionals (because that is exactly what we are):
- Not all super heroes wear capes, some of them work in housing offices every day! Be proud of our sector, shout about the good stuff, never be scared to celebrate success
- Carpe diem! Sieze the day! The green paper presents us with an opportunity to shape our future and redefine our sector. This is the first time in probably the last 40-50 years that we have been afforded the ears of government – don’t waste it! You see those points above, own them, tell the government what that needs to look like, feed into our response via the member opinion panel, watch the webinars, read the content, speak to colleagues, whatever you can do to OWN IT.
- This is our time – help to break the stigma, start to do that and who knows, we might start to see some real investment not just financially and legislatively from government, but also importantly, emotionally from the general public.
Without wanting to sound too much like a cheesy Facebook meme – “do something today that your future self will thank you for.” Now is our time, so let’s do this! Let’s make sure that this green paper does turn into the new deal for social housing that we have all been waiting for.