Tenants should be respected and not stigmatised
Monday 15th of January 2018
Open your wallet! What membership cards are in there? My National Trust card drops out and I’m reminded of the enjoyment I’ve had visiting the many fantastic properties that are open for us and future generations to view.
I’m also treated with respect and viewed as a valued funder. I’m yet to hear of any negative stigma surrounding membership of the National Trust.
About 18 months ago, a number of tenants and staff gathered near the Housing 2016 conference in Manchester to talk about whether there was an issue with negative stereotyping of social housing tenants in the media and elsewhere – not forgetting our own housing organisations.
That conversation, which included Professor Danny Dorling and Carl Austin-Behan, then Lord Mayor of Manchester, feels like a long time ago.
But since then, the Benefit to Society campaign, which is supported by Inside Housing, has started to gather support from tenants and landlords across the country, as well as outside of the sector.
That campaign has carried out research with tenants and has already produced a tenant-led guide for journalists who want to write fairly. It will launch towards the end of February with a report from the London School of Economics and a social media campaign telling the stories of real people who live in social housing.
It strikes me, though, that there’s a wider question here about where the stigma of living in social housing comes from. Alan Johnson has recently blamed Right to Buy; it seems to me that the residualisation of social housing must share a large part of the blame.
“Far from ‘taking’ or receiving something, our tenants pay for every service they receive through their rent money.”
Alongside this is a narrative of people getting something they should be grateful for, a sense of subsidy. Well I see housing associations and tenants very differently.
Put together, housing associations form the largest housing charity in the country. And while our tenants are the main beneficiaries, they are also effectively the main funders.
Far from ‘taking’ or receiving something, our tenants pay for every service they receive through their rent money.
Of course, some people get a personal subsidy through housing benefit – as they do in the private rented sector or as support to get into homeownership through help-to-buy schemes.
But the rent that tenants pay not only covers the services they receive; it allows investment into existing stock (charitable assets) – homes that will be there not just for today’s tenants, but for future generations.
On top of that, tenants pay towards the building of new affordable housing through the surpluses generated by their rent. Their homes provide the security and leverage needed by organisations to borrow in order to build the housing this country so badly needs.
“Tenants pay towards the building of new affordable housing through the surpluses generated by their rent.”
Octavia Hill has two great legacies: social housing and the National Trust. Perhaps we could learn a thing or two from the latter and encourage people, including ourselves, to view social housing tenants in the way that the National Trust views its members.
We provide a service for the rent money paid, but acknowledge that they are also helping to preserve a crucial national treasure: social housing.
It seems to me the dominant narrative ignores this truth. Maybe we ignore it too.
So next time a development hoarding is being prepared, as well as stating any support through grant funding, perhaps we should also give a nod to the people funding it through their rents and homes: our tenants.
Richard Peacock, chief executive, Soha