The big interview: Rethinking social housing NI chair, Will Haire
CIH Northern Ireland recently launched the Rethinking social housing project. We spoke to the project's chair, Will Haire, who is also chair of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, to find out his hopes for the project and much more.
Rethinking social housing will explore some fundamental questions about social housing, why is it important we ask these questions now?
The project comes at an extremely important time.
In Northern Ireland social housing has always been a priority across the political spectrum, perhaps more so than elsewhere in the UK, but it is clear that given the scale of the crisis, and as a result of a number of events, including the Grenfell Tower tragedy, there is an even greater political will to take action.
I think it’s crucial that we make the most of that to answer fundamental questions about the role of social housing so that we can explore in detail what the contribution of the sector can be going forward.
The project is similar to one being run in England at the moment, but how important is it that this project takes into account the unique landscape in Northern Ireland?
I think it’s hugely important.
It’s true that there are some common themes across the UK when it comes to the provision of social housing, or lack of it, and in a sense many of the questions about what the role of the sector should be and how we move forward will be similar.
But in Northern Ireland there are some very specific considerations, especially around issues we have with significant poverty and, of course, historic political and social division.
This is ultimately about finding a way forward in the unique landscape here in Northern Ireland, so while the questions may be similar, the context is everything.
The steering group for the project is very diverse, with representation from the health, homelessness, infrastructure and a host of other sectors alongside housing, why does this matter?
It matters hugely, because ultimately if this project is going to make a contribution then it has to examine the role of social housing in its wider context.
We had our first steering group meeting recently and there was a great sense of inclusion.
That matters because one of the key questions we have to examine in the project is the contribution that housing makes in all sorts of areas in society.
What role can it play to help people out of poverty? How can it support independence for older people or those with health issues? These and other questions will be central to the debate and that’s why we need representation across the board.
How important do you think the voice of tenants will be in the project and how do you think it will make sure this is heard?
Tenants must be central to the whole thing and we will be looking to capture their voice throughout.
As well as going out and doing some work directly with tenants, we also have Supporting Communities on board which is a great organisation doing work to give tenants a voice and we’ll be making the most of their existing networks to reach as many tenants as possible.
What is your message to housing organisations in Northern Ireland about the project?
I think it’s that we really want to hear from you and have you involved.
Being part of a smaller network in Northern Ireland has its benefits and we are confident that we can involve a significant proportion of organisations. But we do need people to want to be involved and I hope that they will engage with the project.
There’s little doubt that we have some major problems that we need to address and we have no choice; we have to work together if we are going to find the solutions.
We’ll be releasing more information on how organisations and individuals can get involved very soon.
What would you like to see the project achieve?
I think above all I want this project to be about much more than the production of a report.
We will be publishing our own report, and there’s no doubt that reports have a lot of value particularly when they suggest practical action to resolve a problem.
But ultimately this is about provoking a lasting debate about the role of social housing in Northern Ireland – that’s what we want to achieve.
We want this to be the start of a concerted, sustainable effort to define the role of social housing so that we can build clarity among policy makers and gain the long-term support we need to provide this crucial form of housing.
I’d like us to be able to reach a consensus on what that future should look like and gain strong backing for that vision.
Will Haire is chair of the Rethinking social housing Northern Ireland steering group and the chair of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
- For more information on Rethinking social housing and to find out how you can get involved, click here