Orr wants housing sector to go from ‘game-raising' to ‘game-changing’
Published by Brian Church for 24dash.com in Housing
Cutting social housing budget will 'increase welfare bills'
National Housing Federation chief executive David Orr has challenged delegates at its annual conference to be “the makers and deliverers of our own destiny”.
"What I want to do in my speech is to think about how we move from raising the game - that I think we’ve done very successfully - to something that’s genuinely game-changing,” Orr had told 24housing ahead of his speech at the ICC in Birmingham. “I think that housing associations have the potential to make a really phenomenal contribution but we’re not going to make that contribution if we carry on doing things the way we’re doing and in the same context."
In the 40-minute speech itself, Orr said it was time for housing associations to issue challenges back to government, rather than just being the recipients of one-way traffic. The NHF had started 'HotHouse' as a space for futures thinking with the first topic for debate being 'Towards a Vision for 2033'. HotHouse roadshows had been planned and he wanted all feedback - praise and criticism. “If you think, 'I' not sure about this,' say it.”
Orr said it was indisputable that “come 2015, general election, comprehensive spending review, there are going to be changes”. On the switch from game-raising to game-changing, Orr stressed his suggestions were not "worked-out propositions” but threw these out “just to start the ball rolling”:
- Look at capping private rented sector rents, citing Sweden and Germany as successful examples. To blanketly dismiss the idea from the get-go was “incredibly stupid”.
- More control on the private sector, suggesting 2 year contracts with 2 months notice, 3 years and 3 months notice and so on up to 6.
- For local authorities, “we have vast untapped assets in retained stock”. He acknowledged problems of public debt accounting but said thought and solutions were needed, such as “municipal housing companies”.
- For planning, he touted a community right to buy on unused land after a period of time. “It that a good idea? I don’t know but at least it’s worth having a conversation about it.”
There were challenges for housing associations too, with a new independent status needed. Orr cited rents as a difficult but manageable area where social landlords could work out what was best.
For the bigger picture, and the overall role and purpose of housing associations, relationships with others needed to be recalibrated. A “big conversation” was needed.
“We’ve all avoided it but we have to have it," said Orr, adding that one reason was “because we don’t know how we’re going to house the very poorest.”
Earlier, while praising members for working with 'affordable rent', Orr said he was “still trying not to laugh when I say it”.
He reserved some of his harshest words for the bedroom tax.
“I don’t obsess about the bedroom tax, I just despise it,” Orr said to laughter. He noted that Lord Freud was worried about the language being used in opposition to the tax.
“He said to me, I kid you not, he said ‘that rhetoric is making people’s lives miserable’. I had to get a crane to get my jaw back up on the table. I said, ‘David’, I know him well, I can call him David, ‘it’s the policy that’s making people’s lives miserable.”
Orr pledged the NHF will keep up the rhetoric and pressure to “reach a point where they understand the only rational thing to do” is to axe the bedroom tax.
He praised the sector for its resilience and continued successes.
“You have an everyday long-term relationship with folks that almost nobody else has,” and he was pleased that the sector’s pledge to have 10,000 apprenticeships by 2015 was on course.
“You make people’s lives better and I’m going to give you a round of applause for that because I think it’s fantastic.”