Putting housing back in its place

Thursday 25th of July 2019

Kevin Dodd makes a strong case for why housing should address the de-investment in essential public services and take it's rightful place to the fifth essential service - alongside the likes of health and education. 

A well worn phrase used by most who work in housing, but is it really meant or is it just lip service to appease. Is the sentiment measurable, valuable or indeed sincere?

We all know housing is a political football and our politicians are the tenants’ fair weather friends, but recently some of our national trade bodies and esteemed professionals are falling into the same bland rhetoric regarding the value of tenant engagement.


The mantra ‘homes for heroes’ was as true then as it is today, based on the progress that has been made from unsatisfactory and lack of decent housing to now unsafe and low supply of housing. A great success story!


We currently seem to be in an era where we are doing more to tenants without any thorough evaluation of how we can do more with, or understanding why, tenant involvement is at a low ebb.


What we seem to lack in all levels of our society is effective and galvanising leadership and a credible vision to challenge and improve the lives of all.


The stigma we continually apply to housing are the words ‘social’, ‘affordable’ and now ‘poor gate’ with the connotations it brings. The self-centred housing twitterati and Facetwits should reconsider their personal climbing ambitions and put more of their energies into delivering good quality and well managed housing to meet the needs of people in areas where it is being provided.


Do housing providers need a good wake up call? Some say it may be long overdue. However, the worry is that the infrastructure, required to do this, has been systematically dismantled and the current overseers change their names too often to be effective, seem aloof and act as political puppets.


So where is this ramble helping tenants? We have a saying in the north, a southern tenant is a northern owner; and with the exodus of London-based housing providers swallowing up the northern territories, it has shades of the Californian gold rush. I am surprised that some bright PR guru has not renamed their association the ‘49ers’! Obviously this expansion is being done in the best interests of tenants.


I think over recent times, successive government legislation has sucked the heart out of the consultative culture, to one of blame and indecision. The societal issues we are facing are creating a great deal of uncertainty and chaos. Whether we like it or not, rules bring structure, but ineffective ones bring chaos.


All tenants of any tenure need to feel valued by living in safe, well managed and maintained accommodation that allows them to lead constructive independent lives, not be choked by a digital first attitude.


Our current political elite are fixated by the B words; Brexit, Boris and baloney. So what are the five things that any new prime minister should do to help housing leaders lift their head above the new build parapet?

  1. Talk about housing conditions and not supply. Addressing the former will lead to the latter.
  2. Give more authority to councils to judge the quality and safety of local housing provider services.
  3. Create an unambiguous standards framework that encompasses service delivery and not just finance and governance.
  4. Address the de-investment in essential public services, this should relegate housing providers to their rightful place to the fifth essential service, not its premier position.
  5. If regional devolution is to mean anything make it happen consistently, fund it, regulate it. For a government that wanted to reduce quangoitus, it appears to have increased leading to inertia, indecision and ineptitude.


So if political glory is fleeting, housing professionals have to find a way to rise above this folly and the involvement, participation and consultation with tenants has to be tangible, consistent and not just a fad.