'Social housing must not be seen as a place of last resort.'
It's time for us to redefine social housing, says Sovereign's divisional director Stuart Davies, in the latest of our Rethinking social housing comment pieces.
Finally, the public are beginning to see beyond the TV and tabloid headlines about 'council house scroungers' and seeing real people, with complex lives, jobs, aspirations and relationships.
They can see, as we’ve done for decades, the people that live in our homes are normal, everyday people.
It’s a tragedy that it needed something as devastating as the fire at Grenfell Tower to open many people’s eyes.
It’s shone the spotlight on social housing and asked some fundamental questions about what it is, and what its future should be.
Time to talk, time to listen
Our sector provides homes for just short of one in five households. It’s their voices that we need to listen to, along with the passionate and experienced people working in the sector. We have those relationships and see the realities of our estates day to day.
Together, that’s a powerful voice. We can challenge and champion social housing, what works, what doesn’t and the difference quality, affordable housing makes.
At Sovereign, as one of the sponsors of the CIH Rethinking social housing project, we’re particularly concerned about the affordability of our current and future homes.
There’s something about the nature of the low rent which is fundamental to the character of the sector and the ability for residents to earn a wage without having to rely on revenue support or benefits. Sometimes I feel we can lose sight of this when we talk affordable rent, intermediate market and so on.
We also need to talk about how we provide long-term security for residents, and the difference a responsive and responsible landlord makes.
Building on strong foundations
As a sector we can often be quite hard on ourselves. But we’ve made progress and we shouldn’t underestimate the impact of the PM dedicating her Premiership to solving the housing crisis.
Neither should we discount the signs of a future relationship which come from a commitment to extra funding of social rent and the ambition and understanding shown by the Housing Minister in his recent trips talking to professionals and tenants about what they value and what they feel the future should be about.
With the opposition making equally encouraging noises about the good we do backed up by promises of future investment, are we building a new political consensus in support of social housing? I hope so.
However, there is still a long way to go and for me the recent Budget did not provide any sense of a ‘game changer’ that the wider mood music had heralded.
Rethinking social housing
And so we need to keep the pressure on, we need to challenge some of the myths about social housing and embrace our relevance to the full range of people that are struggling in the current housing market.
To do so we need to be seen less as the sector of last resort, something the policies of more recent times has pushed us towards. And more as a sector with an offer across a range of homes and services, an offer which meets the aspiration of current and future residents helping them to live fulfilled lives, an offer of short term support when needed and long term stability when not.
Stuart Davies is divisional director at Sovereign Housing
- Find out more about Rethinking social housing and how you can be involved here