There are fundamental questions we need to answer about the role and purpose of social housing and the time is now, says Chartered Institute of Housing Head of Policy Melanie Rees.
It’s no exaggeration to say that this could be a defining period for social housing.
The Grenfell tragedy has thrust social housing into the political and public consciousness like never before; a Conservative government has made housing its leading domestic priority with an ambitious new housing target; and it finally feels like we’re having a conversation about the kinds of new homes we need and how we take better care of those we have already.
What should the role of social housing be?
We think it plays a central role and we continue to make the case for more investment in social housing — particularly in homes offered at the lowest ‘social’ rents and for local authorities to be supported to become major housebuilders again. But we also think there are some fundamental questions we need to answer about social housing and that the time to answer them is now.
What is social housing? What is its value to society? Who is it for? What is its purpose? They seem like simple questions, but could you answer them? Could your tenants? Could the people that you work with? We know it’s fundamentally about providing homes, but what else? Who should benefit? How should they benefit? How should it be funded?
“It is how we will challenge some of the negative stereotypes and misconceptions about social housing, the people who live in it and the work that we do.”
Our Rethinking social housing project, which we’re working on with organisations from across the sector, was set up to explore these questions with a combination of engagement, research and polling. The Government has already started work to try to answer some of these questions, but at CIH we think that debate should be a widespread one and that the sector should lead.
As much as this project is about compiling robust evidence to make recommendations to the sector and government, it is about provoking debate — and what better place to start than with our own staff and residents and the people we work with?
Social housing debate
Housing organisations, and I include CIH in this, are so busy trying to make the case for the work that they do with politicians and other influential people that it’s all too easy to forget that the people we house and work with have something hugely valuable to add to the debate about social housing. And a local authority perspective is crucial in that mix.
To help get the debate going, we’ve developed a workshop model that gives people who live, work or just have an interest in social housing the chance to discuss and explore fundamental questions about it by downloading a step-by-step toolkit from our website.
Having these discussions will help to reconnect us to the importance of our purpose. It is how we will challenge some of the negative stereotypes and misconceptions about social housing, the people who live in it and the work that we do. And, most importantly of all, it is how we will get to the heart of what the role of social housing should be in making sure that everyone has access to a decent, safe place to call home.