'We have a unique opportunity to define the future of our sector.'
Improving people's understanding of our sector is crucial, says Incommunities chief executive and former CIH president Geraldine Howley in the latest of our exclusive Rethinking social housing comment pieces.
When asked why we decided to take part in Rethinking social housing a number of answers came to mind; I’ve worked in housing for over 30 years and I think we’re entering a period of huge demographic and social change. Housing is high on the agenda driven by a lack of affordability for many and the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower. In many ways I think this is our own Cathy Come Home moment.
This has led to questioning who we are and what we are for. What is the role of social housing? What are the perceptions of people who live in social housing? Is this an accurate reflection? How can we challenge this?
Primarily, social housing is about providing accommodation that is affordable to people with low incomes. However, it’s fair to say that social housing can provide much more than just bricks and mortar - so where does our sector need to go?
I think that we have seen positive steps from the Government, specifically with the LHA cap being removed for social housing and the rent settlement; we now have a unique opportunity to define the future of our sector. To do this however we need to really understand our customers and their needs – now and in the future. For me, it is really important to be involved in projects like Rethinking social housing as we can genuinely change lives and also help policy makers and politicians see the reality of how policies impact at a grass roots level.
With more and more people priced out of the market and a desperate need for more housing across the country I think we need to really understand how best to meet the needs of our customers and our communities. During my CIH presidency I was lucky enough to visit China and see how they are developing new cities. This was not just structures it was about building neighbourhoods, districts and identities. It helped cement for me the importance of the place making that we, as a sector, do. This was why we decided to get involved in this project – to help improve public understanding on who lives in social housing, the value of social housing and the power of our sector to improve people’s lives.
Geraldine Howley is chief executive of Incommunities, a sponsor of Rethinking social housing