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Opinion: The social housing brand is broken

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Opinion: The social housing brand is broken

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing

Opinion: The social housing brand is broken Opinion: The social housing brand is broken

Boris Worrall, writing in a personal capacity as someone with experience of campaign and lobby work, responds to Tom Murtha's social housing plea.

The recent debate with Tom Murtha at the NHF Midlands conference has sparked lots of discussion. And that’s a good thing. Because housing needs grown up debates like this about difficult decisions and tough choices we face at this time of challenge and change. So let’s resist the urge to ‘shut down’ people with views which some of us may find uncomfortable.

Life is rarely as black and white as we’d like it to be. As Mr Randall (history teacher, Aldridge School, Walsall c1987) so rightly told me, it’s usually more ‘shades of grey’. With that caveat, I chose to be challenging rather than tell people what they wanted to hear. We do too much of that in housing in my view.

I disagree with Tom’s earlier claims that housing has been ‘asleep at the wheel’. In Orbit’s case we have concrete commitments to building thousands of new social/affordable homes. We will keep innovating to deliver more homes, while also making the case for long-term investment.

Housing is at its highest in public issue polls for around a decade and we need to capitalise on that – with a big, bold, forward-looking ask of Government; solve the housing crisis in a generation. The whole housing market is broken and we need multiple interventions over the long-term so sort it out. Last time I looked, we were out of silver bullets.

So we need housing recognised as a key part of this country’s social, economic and environmental infrastructure. Simply focusing on calling for investment in social housing is too narrow. The NHF, CIH, Shelter, HBF and many others have done an amazing job in gathering the whole housing world around that single ask – solve the crisis in a generation.

So now we all need to get behind it, not splinter off into various competing campaigns. Together our message is far stronger.

Housing is high on the public agenda because of the wider affordability crisis – in London it’s currently the top issue. This is not just about social housing, it’s also about rents, shared ownership, and ownership. It’s about providing a range of housing choice to meet a range of incomes, needs and aspirations. Let’s not forget, 76% of people in this country want to own their own home. All of these factors are driving the current focus on housing.

And now the controversial bit. Or is it? Social housing as a brand – not a product, I want to make that very clear - is broken. That might be very wrong. We might need to challenge that perception. But right now, today, that is the brutal reality on the ground. And with nine months to go before the election, we need to focus on a powerful, single compelling ask which all parties can commit to.

A narrative that inspires and resonates with the public at large as well as the politicians, appealing to a wide range of experiences and views clustering around a complex and nebulous concern about housing.

Let me finish by being very, very clear about one thing. Social housing is critical. We need it. And we need investment in it. So yes we need to ‘shout’ – but in a broad, bold and positive way around the need for a long-term strategy.

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