Since we’re almost at the time for the award – and my reintroduction into the world of blogging was so positive, I thought I’d take a leaf out of the fabulous @AliceSmith‘s book and share my entry too.
You could argue that Octavia Hill’s individualised, person-centred approach is the most important lesson for modern housing professionals. But perhaps, the wider lesson is that without the legacy of her – and others – millions of people would not have had a decent, affordable place to call home.
That ‘hand-up’ for those most in need has shaped an entire sector. We still want to improve lives; our core business is still to rent homes. We’ve simply evolved – and now we must use our commercial head more to make sure our social heart remains intact and effective.
We’ve continued the pioneering legacy to go above and beyond: quality homes and broader services as our customer base changed, just like 100 years ago, only smarter.
Policy changes over the coming months are set to force additional strain on organisations up and down the country who exist to support and house those most in need. The capacity to merely exist is suddenly top priority as government austerity measures begin to really bite.
The governments who followed World War I and II took huge responsibility for the welfare of citizens. Government-funded build programmes started across the UK and for the first time, quality housing was available to low income households.
For the first time in several generations, there was no shortage of housing and the quality was better than ever. Council housing was king and it was available to everyone. In 1980, the UK was cemented as a national of aspirational homeowners with the introduction of the Right to Buy – which, despite its catchy title, was only a right to those who could afford to exercise it.
A failure to replace the stock sold led to a housing shortage which we are still feeling the effects of today. The last 30 years have seen social housebuilding at an all-time low as efforts were instead invested in home ownership. For every £1 spent on social housebuilding, £5 is spent on rent and mortgage subsidies, compared with £1 to £1 back in 1979.
The UK Government opts to boost home ownership while council and RSL waiting lists creak with millions desperate for homes . Housing associations in England must cut social and affordable rents by 1% each year for the next four years. As a result of these cuts and other efficiencies, experts estimate 14,000 fewer new homes will be built due to financing difficulties.
The commercial head needs to take control and respond to the demands of the modern marketplace. Offer choice. Who knows more about what a tenant wants than the tenant themselves.
In Scotland, arguably we’ve already learned the lesson of 100 years ago, providing a mixed economy of housing on albeit a less grand scale. Quality social rent is available for those who opt for it. A mid-market rent scheme is in place across the country, the Scottish Government even offers low cost home ownership for as little as 60% of outright purchase cost.
The Scottish Government is set to abolish Bedroom Tax and aims to build a 50,000 new homes over the next five years – with a high provision of social housing and affordable homes.
The Right to Buy ends this year, in a move dubbed by Nicola Sturgeon as ‘safeguarding Scotland’s social housing stock for the benefit of citizens today and for our future generations.’
Since the birth of the sector, our door has been open to anyone. Housing management solutions have grown in complexity as society changes and more gaps are plugged by housing associations up and down the UK. Some of the most socially marginalised in society are living in our homes – and sometimes, our teams are the only thing keeping them successfully living independently.
Even at DGHP, we’ve had to radically adapt the way we deliver frontline services to help us prepare for future challenges. Support services have evolved into a huge arm of the business, with sustainment officers delivering intense bursts of assistance, housing support workers for the vulnerable and now even pre-tenancy teams to give tenants the very best start when taking on a new home.
Tenancy failure is not only bad for our tenants, and for business – but the impact on morale of our teams is massive. We can’t underestimate the part that our people have to play in the sector in the future.
Investment in their skills and development is vital to rise to the challenges of the future. This year at DGHP for example, we will all become ‘dementia friends’ to help us best understand our customers of the future.
The passion to do what’s right for the people we serve will be a key attribute of the housing professional of the future. This value on the wellbeing of our tenants originates from the days of Octavia Hill – ultimately a great relationship with customers and a localised presence is something we still strive for today.
Social housing will forever remain a vital part of UK housing – but is our brand outdated? Our challenged aren’t the same as Octavia Hill’s, or George Peabody’s, or Joseph Rowntree’s for that matter. You might even argue ours are harder. Housing in 2016 is not in our favour – but with challenge comes opportunity. This is our chance to turn the tables.
100 years ago, the pioneers of social housing helped society’s most in need by providing them with a quality place to call home. Their sole aim was to improve lives, working on the understanding there was a direct link between good housing and good health – a correlation we maintain today.
While the desire to own property is an individual one, it is partly responsible for the existing housing crisis across the UK and has placed massive pressure on supply. The recognition of individual choice and aspiration – whatever that may be – is an important one, and one which will help us safeguard a high stock of social housing for those who need it for the future.
Aspiration should simply be a quality place to call home – regardless of cost.