Solutions to the current housing crisis lie in the past
Published by 24publishing for 24dash.com in Featured and also in Communities, Housing
Solutions To The Current Housing Crisis Lie In The Past Octavia Hill
A service to celebrate the life and work of Octavia Hill took place in Westminster Abbey on Monday to mark the 100th anniversary of her death. Here Grahame Hindes, Chief Executive of Octavia Housing, suggests that the problems of her time haven't gone away.
London’s housing crisis continues to rumble on. Caught between increasing demand and a scarcity in supply many Londoners are being priced out of the market. Rents – already high – are expected to rise by 4%, but tenants are often faced with a shortage of good-quality properties to choose from.
These may seem like modern problems, but look back 150 years and they do not seem so new.
Octavia Hill – one of Britain’s most influential social reformers and founder of 4,000-home Octavia Housing – was commemorated yesterday at a service in Westminster Abbey. She grappled with similar problems in her aim to “make lives noble, homes happy and family life good.” Up until her death she was pioneering radical solutions to the lack of housing, sub-standard accommodation and extortionate prices, lessons that – one hundred years later – are still relevant today.
Octavia’s vision - was that people on all incomes should have access to affordable housing where they choose to live. To this day housing for low income families still exists in Marylebone near to where her first properties were located. But sky high property prices and changes to the welfare system threaten London’s unique patchwork of mixed communities which makes this such a vibrant city. Families are being priced out of communities. The result is the breaking of social support networks which families on low incomes can rely on.
Solving the housing crisis requires a renewed focus on the provision of affordable housing in London. This is difficult when land is at a premium. Most solutions focus on what the government or local authorities are doing to alleviate the problem, but housing associations have a part to play as well. Octavia used ethical investment to finance social housing, encouraging people she knew to use their capital to invest in housing for people on lower incomes.
Gift aid offers a modern way to continue this legacy. Increasingly housing associations are looking at models, like Octavia Living – our development arm – which can sell homes on the open market and gift aid profits back to be reinvested in the development of more affordable housing.
But it is not just the number of affordable houses which will solve this crisis. Octavia recognised the need to provide more than just bricks and mortar – she offered her tenant’s services supporting employment, improving skills, and increasing financial solvency. In the current economic climate these services are no less important to keeping people on lower incomes housed in their communities.
At a micro level this might involve providing access to debt advisers – like we offer our residents. More broadly, organisations might need to think more about novel ways of expanding financial inclusion. In Kensington and Chelsea for example, a number of organisations and institutions including the council, local hospitals and Octavia Foundation have created Your Credit Union, Kensington and Chelsea. This will provide finance to the 25% of people in the area that are excluded from do not have access to mainstream banking services.
It is these kinds of ideas, which are a continuation of Octavia Hill’s legacy of innovation which will help us solve the housing crisis. One hundred years after her death, there is still much of her work to be completed.