Housing organisations have crucial role in a society 'more divided than ever'
Housing organisations must play a central role in a society which is more divided than ever – the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing has said.
Events of the last 12 months have shown that the role of the housing sector ‘is more important than ever’, said Terrie Alafat today (Tuesday) as she opened Housing 2017 in Manchester.
Ms Alafat also used her opening speech at CIH’s annual conference, which takes place at Manchester Central until Thursday, to pay tribute to the victims of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and to call on the government to address an imbalance in housing funding, to review unfair welfare policies and tackle homelessness.
“The result of the election just a few weeks ago adds further uncertainty into an already very unpredictable and challenging environment,” Terrie Alafat said.
“If the shock general election result and the last 12 months have taught us anything, it’s that our society is more divided than it has ever been. Divided politically, financially, by generation and by ideology.
“People in our communities face challenges every day, and those challenges are different for each person.
“In such times our role at the heart of our communities is more important than it has ever been.
“Because one thing that unites us all is our need to have a place to call home.
“To have shelter, security, safety, happiness and warmth: a place from which we and our children, and their children can flourish and thrive.”
A minute’s silence was held at the start of the conference to remember the victims of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and new sessions have been added to the programme to explore fire safety issues.
Terrie Alafat said: “At times like this the most important thing is that we come together and use our collective knowledge and resource to help in any way that we can.
“We were part of a group of organisations which met with the housing minister following this terrible incident to look at what the response of the government and the sector should be, both in the immediate aftermath and in the long-term.
“I want to make one thing absolutely clear – we will be doing everything we can to play our part in making sure this never happens again.”
New research launched by CIH on the first day of the conference reveals in some areas of the country rents have risen dramatically compared to earnings between May 2011 and May 2017.
In London rents increased 22% over the period, nearly four times faster than the projected increase in average earnings of just 6%. While in the South East rents increased 15% compared to a projected 7% increase in average earnings.
In other regions in England rents went up in line with earnings or slower than earnings. But a new survey by Ipsos MORI for CIH has found that 52% of private renters across the UK are concerned they will not be able to afford their housing, 56% report a great deal or fair amount of stress being caused by housing costs, and 44% think they might have to move from their area in the future because the cost of housing is too high.
Referring to the research in her speech, Ms Alafat said: “Taken together, the polling and the results of our research paint a very stark picture of the choices facing many people today.
“Too many people are struggling. Too many are trapped in a situation where housing they can afford is simply inaccessible in their community and, in the worst cases, they are becoming homeless.
“This has to change. We have to build more of the right homes, in the right places and we have to do it now.
“Even with the new funding announced by the last government our analysis shows that of the £51bn earmarked for housing until 2021 just £8bn, or 16%, will directly fund the building of affordable housing. The vast majority of the rest will support private housing - particularly home ownership.
“We’re calling on our new government to take another look at this imbalance, because the simple truth is, we need direct investment in genuinely affordable housing if we’re going to solve the housing crisis.”
Ms Alafat also reiterated CIH’s calls for the government to review a number of welfare policies which it says undermine efforts to tackle the housing crisis.
She called on the government to review its entire approach to the local housing allowance – including the LHA cap and the local housing allowance levels - and to reverse the decision to lower the benefit cap.
“We know that the government has finite resources but this is not about spending more, it is about being more strategic about spending,” she said.
“Not investing in affordable housing and saving money on benefits may reduce spending initially.
“But it will come at a very severe cost for the government, our health and social services and for society if more and more individuals – many of whom are vulnerable – are not able to access suitable, affordable housing.
“We need a long-term, strategic plan if we’re really going to solve this crisis.”
Ms Alafat also used her speech to urge the government to act immediately to tackle homelessness.
“I was privileged to play a key role at the Department for Communities and Local Government the last time we brought down homelessness.
“It only happened because every department played a role and there was a real focus.
“For a number of reasons we’ve lost that over the years. We desperately need to get it back.
“We know what we need to do – we just need to make it happen.”
Housing 2017 is Europe’s biggest housing conference and takes place at Manchester Central from Tuesday 27 June to Thursday 29 June. Around 300 exhibitors, 1,500 delegates and 8,000 visitors will attend Housing 2017.