Today (Wednesday 13th July) Starter Homes, I said a few words at the Housing Quality Network (HQN) Annual Conference. I was on a panel discussing whether housing associations and local authorities are doing enough to tackle homelessness. Here are a few of the comments I made:
Earlier this week I heard of the surprised response of a representative of a Danish housing association when asked whether housing associations in Denmark still housed homeless people. “What else would we do?” he replied.
Housing association’s roots are in tackling poverty and alleviating housing need. Parts of the sector is now judged, and judges itself, on being volume house builders, not for those who are homeless, or in overcrowded accommodation, or escaping domestic violence, or with special needs or under 35, or who are poor, or even who are ordinary and just can’t afford today’s rents.
In noting the departure today of David Cameron from No 10, it is worth noting that when he came to power 61,468 households depended on food banks. Today 1,109,309 do.
Starter homes, shared ownership products, homes for outright sale, might be the order of the day for large housing association. But for those who rely on food banks, for the poor and the ordinary, this manifestation of ‘social housing’ is no more than a cruel hoax..
Where is the passion, the compassion, of the Octavia Hills, the William Suttons, the George Peabodys – not the Corbynistas of their day, but reforming capitalists.
We now see housing associations p, because of the Local Housing Allowance benefit cap, refusing to house those under 35. What would our founding parents think?
Fortunately, we have others, including small associations, who still have roots in their communities and who still tackle homelessness, poverty and their causes.
We still house those whose needs are complex, or who simply cannot compete in the housing market.
We still innovate and we still take risks. BHT, for example, developed a block of 36 studio flats from converted shipping containers, with rents well within LHA limits. We house the most challenging, deliberately.
If they are interested in combatting homelessness, government at national and local levels should nurture and cherish smaller, specialist, local housing associations.