A flurry of very good articles about social housing as a brand have appeared in the last day or so and not before time. Unlike the John Lewis Partnership strapline of Never Knowingly Undersold, social housing is merely never knowingly sold.
Colin Wiles who is always thought-provoking covers most of the contributors in a piece in Inside Housing and cites Tom Murtha – who I suggested (in jest) on Twitter last week has had more influence now he has retired than when he was a housing chief executive – who is a key player in the SHOUT campaign to give good press to social housing and what social housing is which I said two years ago here is all about its economic benefits yet it is and has never been sold that way!
Tom Murtha has and is beginning to sell housing and get the message out there. However, Tom has retired and who currently working in housing is selling housing? Should it not be every housing professionals job and backed up by a national body? Of course it should but that national body is not there. So it is to Tom’s personal credit that he is getting the message out yet to the housing ‘sector’s’ eternal shame that it is not. Every industry has a lobby for it yet social housing does not!
Social housing provides the best quality rented housing option over the PRS, the best quality service and the best price and is hugely in demand (waiting lists) YET bizarrely it is portrayed as the housing of last resort and vilified. In no other industry would the best product and best service all at the best price have such a woeful reputation.
In no other industry would it be ALLOWED to happen…Yet that is what HAS happened to the social housing model – and regrettably the people who have allowed that to happen are the people who work within social housing and because they have never SOLD social housing. Social housing has NEVER BEEN SOLD let alone undersold.
There is also not one single body or agency to do this as CIH does not do this, NHF look after the 60% of social landlords who are HAs and a myriad of others lobby for parts of social housing; EROSH for sheltered housing, SITRA et al for supported housing and Shelter and Crisis and Homeless Link etc for homelessness.
Yet that does NOT exclude all the Chief Executives of the 1000+ housing associations and other social landlords – errantly referred to as the ‘sector’ when the absence of any unifying body exists – for their ineptitude over the last 30 years or so.
In 1981 social landlords had 3 in every 4 properties that were rented and now they have less than 1 in 2 and has recently been overtaken by the PRS. Again I ask in what other industry or that misused term ‘sector’ would the model with the best product, best service and at the best price be ALLOWED to reduce so dramatically?
While the sector can rightly state this is largely the fault of Right To Buy it still, unfortunately, has an ambivalence and resistance to any criticism of its role in this fall – and business fail – of the social housing model.
Social housing is ONLY cheaper because it is subsidised goes the refrain, yet the £4.5bn over 4 years, the £1.125bn that social housing receives in capital subsidy from central government returns rent levels which save the taxpayer the best part of £5bn per year AND it is the ONLY place where the sick, the old and the disabled – the SODs can live. That is what social housing gives in return for the ‘subsidy’ which correctly HAS to be viewed as a very efficient invest to save model. YET when have you heard that no-brainer of an economic argument be stated by anyone in the housing ‘sector?’
Never knowingly sold!
The (naive?) optimist in me senses that the ephemeral ‘sector’ is beginning to change and the debate over branding social housing is evidence of that. Yet the realist, not cynic, within me has to accept that the social housing ‘sector’ is as quick to accept criticism and as quick to change as an elephant on skis going down a giant slalom!
Why – with social housing being a hugely cost-effective invest to save initiative that saves the country and the individual taxpayer a fortune – is it that no political party advocates it and why Joe Public maintain it is the housing of last choice?
That is the question social housing professionals refuse to face and consider as mea culpa is not in its lexicon of thought. It is long overdue that they should and even more overdue that social housing is knowingly sold else it will go under!