Housing Associations ‘Beacons of Hope’ to Disadvantaged
Published by Dawn Prentice for Dawn Prentice Communications in Housing and also in Communities, Education, Health
Midlands-based thinktank the Human City Institute (HCI) is calling for housing associations to renew their historic role as ‘Beacons of Hope’ in tackling poverty and disadvantage and abandon ‘creeping commercialism’. As the ‘age of austerity’ is putting social tenants under increasing stress, HCI’s research reveals that housing associations were often created by social action and faith groups to tackle poverty and disadvantage in previous ‘ages of austerity’. The report, supported by the Matrix Housing Partnership, also challenges a growing misconception about the role housing associations reputedly play in concentrating and perpetuating poverty and disadvantage. It interrogates the claim, showing that the deeper root causes of poverty are linked to the uneven and unequal historical development of the economy.
Looking back, the ‘Beacons of Hope’ report demonstrates that housing associations have been to the fore in improving not only people’s housing conditions but have also provided employment, training, affordable credit, support for the vulnerable, and facilities and services to support a higher quality of community life. They were literally ‘front-line’ agencies founded to improve specific geographical communities, and some of the original ‘Big Society’ actors, stretching back to the 19th Century.
Ian Austin, MP for Dudley North, former Housing and West Midlands’ Minister, who wrote the Foreword to the report said: ‘I have seen the wider work of housing associations first hand - both as Housing Minister and having worked in one of HCI’s case study housing associations - Focus, now Midland Heart - and seen close up the valuable work that housing associations like Matrix do in some of the country’s most deprived neighbourhoods.’ Housing associations are being accused by the Coalition of contributing towards entrenched neighbourhood disadvantage but HCI’s report and my own experience show that they are part of the solution not the problem, offering hope to often very marginalised people’.
James Tickell of Campbell Tickell, who wrote the report’s Introduction said: ‘The lessons of the past are clearly set out in the report, which demands reading by Board members, staff and others. As each housing association considers its response to the new world of housing, becoming a ‘Beacon of Hope’ will demand first of all a change of mindset and priorities. Precious resources will also need to be redirected to vital social investment. And the voice of communities will need to be heard, as new directions are set.’
‘I was left with one over-riding thought from the report: if associations don't step up to the challenge, who will? Indeed, who can? They may face serious pressures, but are still the largest local actors in many communities. Local authorities are preoccupied with implementing their own cuts. Most of the voluntary and community sector is under-resourced by comparison, and lacks human and technical capacity. Housing associations are, for many communities, the only game in town. If they can't become ‘Beacons of Hope’, then hope will, like homes, be in ever shorter supply.
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