​Part two - reflections from my home town of Manchester and the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) Conference

In this article David Zussman reflects on some of his insights while in Manchester and the United Kingdom for the CIH conference over June this year.

Faced with a housing crisis the United Kingdom has its 15th Housing Minister since 2000 and Brexit is set to dominate the bureaucratic resources of government. In the recent UK election housing tenure was seen as an influential guide to voting and not surprisingly, renters voted 50/30 in favour of Labour while home owners voted 50/30 for Conservative. Of more significance is the additional 8% of renters who voted in this election.

Shift from social to affordable housing

There has been a big shift towards the provision of affordable housing, considered as rental at 80% of market rent, and away from social housing. This is driven by lower grant subsidies for building new houses and a 1% a year rent reduction for Housing Associations driven by the increasing cost of Housing Benefit.

New social housing for rental are at the lowest level on record. For 2016 944 social rentals were funded by the HCA (Homes and Community Agency) and the GLA (Greater London Authority) - a 98% drop over the last seven years. Overall, the total number of affordable housing completions increased by 25% to 27,792 as homes available as affordable rental replace homes for social rental.

A visible increase in homelessness

Combined with a whole raft of welfare reforms and austerity measures there has been a massive increase in homelessness, doubling since 2010, and very visible on the streets of Manchester.

Mergers and retaining social mission

There has been a trend of Housing Associations merging together with one of the largest mergers being between Affinity Sutton and Circle Housing. This created the Clarion Housing Group managing 115,000 houses and with a development plan to build 50,000 new homes over the next 10 years,

“Clarion Housing Group will be the largest housing association in the country and one of the largest house-builders in Britain. It will more than double the supply of new homes that the two former organisations could build - without relying on any government subsidy. The Group will prioritise affordable housing with around two-thirds of its programme for affordable rent and low cost home ownership, helping to tackle the housing crisis head on.

The Housing Association sector has been challenged about losing site of its social mission and core values as it moved to affordable housing and left its social housing tenants to become “demonised” by the Conservative government, according to Tim Murtha’s blog at https://tommurtha.wordpress.com/ and here: Dispossession – The great social housing swindle trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AB7WR97p7s

Digital Platforms and customer service

Customer service and digital platforms remain at the forefront of service delivery. Even the smallest Housing Associations (2,000 units) have their own app allowing tenants to check their rent statements, pay rent, report and track a repair and provide feedback. The introduction of Universal Credit (one monthly payment of all benefits to tenants and direct rent payments only in exceptional circumstances) means that money management is becoming a core front line service.

Tenant Scrutiny Panels

Tenant involvement has always been an integral part of social housing in the UK and tenant scrutiny is taking this to another level. This has been driven by the move towards co-regulation requiring social landlords to monitor themselves and to be held to account by tenants. It is a way to give tenants and customers greater influence and establishes landlord accountability. This is an opportunity to develop active partnership between tenants, other customers and landlords to deliver excellent services.

Mutualisation – co-ownership by tenants and employees

This new model of ownership for community housing appears to be at the leading edge of tenant empowerment and an emerging trend in the sector. Phoenix Community Housing (Lewisham, London) provides an example of the benefits of a large scale voluntary transfer and of an organisation that encourages residents to become shareholders – both the chair and vice chair of the board are residents.

Bromford is a social enterprise organisation that has replaced tenancy managers with neighbourhood coaches.

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