Opinion: Housing is very good at talking but more need to SHOUT
Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing
Opinion: Housing is very good at talking but more need to SHOUT
Rob Gershon, a council tenant known in the Twittersphere as @Simplicitly, wonders why all housing associations aren't supporting the SHOUT campaign.
I was incredibly pleased with the responses to my opinion piece on how two entirely separate conferences, which were both about housing and were both in Manchester on the same day presented themselves on Twitter. I was pleased to hear from people who’d been at the conferences, and moreso from other people who hadn’t been at the conferences who had also puzzled a little over what the similarities and differences were in the communications emanating from each conference.
I had the privilege of a university education, and as part of the subject I studied from 1991 - 1995, “Information Technology and Society”, we talked a lot about the impacts technology and its uses can have on society. We discussed the imminent takeover of the workforce by robots, post-industrial societies and the revolution about to take place as we stormed into an imminent Information Age. These discussions happened twenty years ago, but they were framed in the context of Alvin Toffler’s 'Future Shock' - a book he published in 1970 about similarly urgent changes sparking an imminent techno-sociological revolution. This book came about from ideas Toffler had been discussing between 1963 and 1965. I hate to break it to you, but fifty years later, we’re still talking about imminent novelty, while the issues we should be talking about - the provision of housing for people who can’t afford their own homes, rings a deathly note of quiet in the wake of the CIH 2014 conference.
None of that tech stuff is as important as the things I’ve learned about housing over the last year and a bit. I won’t bore you with regurgitating my bedroom tax blogs. In short they were the catalyst for me communicating with “housing people”. I was (incredibly) flattered to be name-checked by Michelle Reid during her presentation at CIH 2014 on campaigning and media perceptions of social housing and it’s difficult to describe how liberating it feels to have positive stories told about social housing through Council Homes Chat when everything on TV, and a great deal of stuff in politics, and a swathe of stuff coming from Housing Associations themselves seeks to undermine what is good and great about homes that people can afford to live in.
So this is where it seems to me that communications have gone wrong before, and since the conferences. For an industry so very good at talking, the silence around the way that housing will be funded in future seems uncharacteristic.
I still haven’t seen a cogent rationale for why all housing associations aren’t supporting the SHOUT campaign. Whether sleep-walking into accepting the HCA pattern for funding is politicised or not, the Westminster launch of the SHOUT campaign featured politicians from all parties highlighting housing as a form of infrastructure - physically and in the form of communities. In keeping with my “I’m just a tenant….” theme, I wonder where we fit in all the discussions about investment and economics. Not because we need to be involved in Board decisions, but because ultimately we’ll be the people funding the future of housing associations through our rents. Sure, some of you will build houses for market sale using money that could have helped address the homelessness crisis. Some of you will be charging rents set at a level where the state will have to pay because tenants will never find them affordable, but in the long term, your businesses are about tenants, and the best thing you can do for us is keep our rents as low as possible.
Lobbying for cross-party support for Housing Grant Subsidy is the most meaningful thing you can do to achieve this. This has the added benefit of being the most likely way to address the shortage of housing in the UK will free up your other resources for helping with all the other peripheral things you seem keen on helping tenants with.
I don’t know if SHOUT are taking funds yet, but after a quick bit of Googling I estimate that each Housing Association would have to find between £1 and £2 each in order to fund representation for social housing at each of the main political party conferences ahead of the next General Election.
I’d love to know why anybody would think this isn’t a good idea or isn’t possible. I’d love to read any argument about why capital grant subsidy isn’t good for tenants and the economy. To me, this isn’t about isolating ‘social housing’ as discrete developments that continue separation and stigmatisation, because it is, recent neutering of s106 criteria aside, perfectly possible to build mixed developments of mixed tenure. I’d just like to know what the argument against government funded housing infrastructure is, other than the short-term, unproven notion of austerity, and a desire to adhere without question to the terms of what the HCA is willing to offer.
To revisit briefly the themes of the two conferences, I’d like to know how they’re going to make better use of each other in the run-up to the General Election. There appears to be a pressing need for serious investment in housing as infrastructure, which needs some help transmitting the underlying message of good that social housing represents. There is also a rip-roaring bunch of talent in communications bubbling to the surface, which to be frank could do with some issues to promote that aren’t all about speculative opinions.
There are always going to be things that need to be discussed. There are always going to be things that it might seem uncomfortable to discuss. As somebody at the business end of what you do, I must urge you all, from wherever you think you hail under the broad church of housing, to sit down and work through the economics of calling, or not calling for capital grant subsidy. I just don’t believe that you aren’t powerful enough as an industry to get it reinstated. This isn’t a matter of ideology or entrenched positions, this is about the future of your tenants. We’ve already borne the brunt of welfare reforms, not least because of an unchallenged perception that we’re to blame for spiraling housing benefit costs. The arguments of dependency and stigmatisation stems from policies that paint us all as living in subsidised luxury, with spare rooms to boot.
Please, read the SHOUT manifesto. It’s quite short, it won’t take you long. It’s a campaign at a corporate and political level. Then, if you have one, provide a view on what is right or wrong about it. We have to have this discussion now, it’ll be too late to wait for CIH 2015 to make the case for investing in your future tenants. I won’t mind if the manifesto turns out to be 100% wrong. I won’t mind if it turns out to be 100% right, but let’s not turn away from the conversation, to follow models that will only stigmatise your tenants further.