Opinion: How housing finally came of age
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Central Government, Development
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This afternoon housing finally arrived as a bona fide election issue. For the first time in decades housing appears to have cut through as a policy priority - although whether Labour can deliver the traction on the doorstep in 2015 remains to be seen.
Over the past 3 years I have followed (and occasionally been involved in) the efforts of the sector - led by the likes of the NHF, CIH and HBF - to get housing high on the agenda. By the start of this week's Labour Party conference it was clear a breakthrough had been achieved. For the first time, we seem to be part of the solution rather than the problem. So what changed? I see four key factors:
Critically, the @HomesforBritain (and related grass roots @YestoHomes campaign) for the first time enabled housing to speak with a single voice and a single message. The power of this unity - and the backing of influential advocates such as the CBIs John Cridland - created a momentum which has built steadily since the launch at last year's party conferences. Relentless behind-the-scenes briefings and engagement with senior politicians of all three main parties provided the platform over 18 months. Politicians find division much easier to deal with and a strong, single narrative slowly replaced our traditional individual self-interested messaging. The CIH, NHF and HBF deserve huge credit for succeeding in this incredibly challenging task. Herding my 3 chickens looks a cinch in comparison...
Secondly, many housing organisations have been on their own journey and have been able to convey a sense of trajectory , innovation & delivery which politicians find compelling. Yes it could have been quicker, better and it is still early days. But we delivered the AHP and got into new markets such as PRS and growing market sale, suggesting we could deliver. We got better at engaging more positively and with the right people. Housing association presence at party conferences ramped up. Our messaging has also improved got better - helped by an influx of senior communications and strategist at bigger associations - and we were able to deliver a broader, more commercially astute narrative. A long way to go on this, but housing was everywhere you looked at the last two party conferences - that 'background' noise helped establish housing as a key issue in the minds of politicians and the armies of policy wonks.
Finally, and most importantly, we cannot forget the housing market is failing. All parties recognise we have a major problem and although it plays our in different perspectives for them, they know they need to fix it. Ironically, the mainstream media cut through on Welfare Reform may also have helped the more positive narrative as it got journalists used to housing as a story and gave them a reason to build links with people in housing.
Labour's decision today to make housing a key battleground is echoed at least in part by the other parties. From a strategy perspective I think a major housebuilding programme is a strong message as part of a future vision for Britain. But it remains to be seen whether on the doorstep such a complex issue can be translated so easily into votes. As Ben Marshall @Ben_M_IM from Ipsos Mori so cleverly put it at last nights HomesforBritain event, public polling suggests 'Maybe to Homes' rather than 'YestoHomes' is how most people feel...