HA’s – the spineless within to the enemy within?

One of the huge benefits of working for yourself is you only have yourself to answer to and it can be extremely liberating. It allows me to say things I know others are thinking yet they can’t afford to say. This permits me to raise topics that are controversial or inflammatory – which I correctly call moot – as frankly any anti orthodoxy posit to social housing’s conservatism and we have always done it this way mentality is perceived that way.

The we have always done it this way posit is however not a moot one and even David Orr agrees with that in large part when on the day of the Homes for Britain rally he said this:


Housing people don’t make a fuss!  I couldn’t agree more and few if any housing people‘ could possibly disagree with that – “…that’s not us.” Whoever ‘us’ means to which I will return.

I unashamedly and freely call the ‘we don’t make a fuss‘ position spineless yet more importantly say that it is a chronic failure and simply does not and never has worked and the leadership of NHF to the majority of social landlords who are housing associations has been woeful – and again always has been.

The very next day after the HfB rally at which David Orr said that housing is on the agenda and the government fully take on board ‘our’ arguments etc, etc., saw Osborne reveal the right to buy for housing association tenants; the very antithesis of what the HA’s wanted.

This has developed into all sorts of rage and apoplexy by ‘housing people’ with the Genesis issue and huge criticism of Genesis and some support as to this being realpolitik and inevitable and a clear schism has emerged. It has also led to an absolute focus by HAs on RTB2 alone and ignoring many potentially worse housing policies and to even more purported realism of often the most superficial kind (one HA CEO saying we have a majority government there is nothing we can do) as if coalition government was the norm!

Yet in all of this rage, apoplexy, introspective navel gazing and even hostility, nobody within the housing sector – what even Orr can’t come to call a sector – there has been no criticism whatsoever of David Orr, the NHF more widely or the decades old orthodoxy of the we don’t make a fuss strategy!

Are housing people spineless, deluded, incompetent, set in their cautious introspective ways or just petrified to even begin to criticise the man regularly voted as the most influential person in social housing?

My only having to answer for and to myself permits me to raise this and while I have no personal axe to grind with David Orr, he is the CEO of the NHF and his strategies have failed and the buck stops with him.

There is and cannot be any doubt whatsoever that the “we don’t make a fuss” strategy has been deliberate National Housing Federation policy. There is and cannot be any doubt whatsoever that the “we don’t make a fuss” strategy has been a colossal failure and for the entire social housing sector.

Yes I am hammering that point home because it needs to be hammered home and 14 years of David Orr at the helm of the NHF has seen little, if any, positive results for the social housing model.  The (at best) acquiescence to the original Affordable Homes Programme as a stop-gap compromise to the failure to even keep the then woefully inefficient grant levels which were further cut by 60% to the now realisation of its bastard devil child in the AR model being utterly financially toxic to all social landlords is a case in point.

The ridiculous hype of the HFB rally and 200,000 homes per year for a (woefully vague and wholly impractical) generation has become A Plan for Homes with a 40% drop in the number to 120,000 and not 1 of those being a social rent property.


Yet still the NHF received n criticism whatsoever from the (spineless?) housing people who purport to be a sector – not even the mildest of mild constructive criticism has flowed from the spineless within to the enemy within!

Did that throwaway phrase raise your blood pressure housing people?  It was meant to and it was deliberately provocative…and of course allows you to carry on as before in the same spineless way and label the very real issues here as some form of outrageous rant by the Maverick author.

Regrettably and dangerously for the survival of the social housing model any criticism of anyone within the ethereal and imaginary housing sector is met with the most defensive form of response from the sector – the how dare you say that response!

David Orr said on 12 August 201 just a week or so ago:

“Like most of the housing sector and much of the country at large I was glued to the TV on election night. Greater political minds than mine will be assessing those remarkable results, but coming off the back of our massively successful Homes for Britain campaign I was confident…”

Ye Gods!  If Homes for Britain which led to the cancer of RTB2 is a massive success !!!

To a lesser degree we see this delusion of HfB ‘success’ lead to housing people saying what a wonderful success it is for RTB2 to be front page news in the Independent!  As I said here yesterday …SO WHAT!

What has changed? Has the government dropped, withdrawn or amended RTB2 in any way?  No, so there is no impact whatsoever yet still many housing people think the front page of the Independent is significant and are milling around patting themselves on the back at this totally meaningless development.

Perhaps this perverse delusion stems from the ‘untouchable’ reverence around David Orr amongst housing people and whatever the most influential person n social housing says and does has two coats of Teflon sandwiching Kevlar?

The NHF’s “A Plan for Homes” besides seeing a 40% drop and especially seeing zero new homes for social rent coupled with the untouchability of David Orr gave the greenest or green lights for the Genesis issue yet of course once again the untouchable David Orr / NHF saw no criticism or support from within the sector!  I also note the same sector were mute back in October 2014 when Affinity Sutton said they were pulling out of the AR market and no one thought to ask are they developing any properties for social rent!

If they are not then Affinity easily pre-date the opprobrium that Genesis have received and for whatever reason Genesis can be seen once again to be the convenient target for the sector…when the real ‘enemy within’ is the incompetent strategy of the NHF led by David Orr.

An article today in Inside Housing by Matthew Gardiner called the False Dichotomy discusses the internal schism within housing associations over the Genesis issue – an issue that the NHF ‘line’ plays a huge part in as explained above with their giving of the green light for this. This led to an exchange on Twitter between Matthew and Tom Murtha and others and (as is often the case with Twitters 140 character limitation) also led to misinterpretation of some very complex issues some of which are above.

One comment I made to Matthew as CE of Trafford Housing Trust was that the schism is not a two position issue (the dichotomy) and there are way more than 2 main premises.  The housing conditions and variables and ‘market’ varies even within Trafford; is radically different to say the housing market in Bury that is also on Greater Manchester and vastly different still to other LA’s within the North West region, e.g. Blackpool and Copeland as two polarities in the UK let alone the NW and then again different from the NW to the NE to the SE and to all other areas in terms of housing market conditions.

Housing is radically different in every single local authority area in GB (circa 400 LAs) and there is no such thing as a national housing issue and the National Housing Federation have never ever mentioned this despite purporting to be a national body.  They are led by and focus almost exclusively on the atypical and perverse London housing market issues that represent just 17% of the social housing GB market.  They prioritise this 17% and largely ignore the other 83% of 5 in every 6 social housing properties that are NOT in the capital.

All of this comes together in one simple example and my old friend the benefit cap reductions.  Guildford and much of Surrey and much of Hertfordshire has higher social rent levels than Inner London as the HCA’s statistical data return confirms.  The NHF must know this so why didn’t they say excuse me minister but why is the reduced benefit cap £3k per year higher in Inner London than in the higher rent area of Guildford or Elmbridge?

Such a simple question exposes the ridiculously under considered nature of this cap reduction policy that is hugely damaging to all housing associations yet the NHF chose yet again to “not make a fuss” over an issue than can do more damage to HA survival than RTB2!

I say CAN do far more damage to HA’s unless of course the HA’s simply abandon what may be called their social purpose and simply evict and pass the problem onto LAs!  This is one of the many other significant premises in the current schism and one which it would appear sees the NHF saying go ahead and evict and abandon your social purpose. Even if that is speculative what it definitively reveals is that ‘we don’t make a fuss‘ is an euphemism for we don’t do leadership!

It also neatly avoids drilling don any further as the above abandon the social purpose or not is bound to involve the anathema of Ground 8 given the average HB cut of £75.73 per week making such an eviction the only way for many HA’s to survive.  The chronic lack of leadership emanates from the we don’t make a fuss strategy which also translates to all housing associations as you are on your own guvnor!

The NHF gave a 90,000 household figure estimate to the Guardian over the reducing benefit caps (with no apparent evidence base by the way) and gave the distinct impression that this woefully inadequate estimate is somehow a form of acceptable collateral damage and/or not an issue upon which housing associations SHOULD make a fuss over!  Even the DWP’s wholly inept 126,000 households containing 330,000 children at severe risk of imminent homelessness – a figure that is 40% higher than the truly incompetent and inept NHF figure – fails to bring any fuss at all from David Orr and the Nat Fed!

Just the stating of social purpose and National Housing Federation in the same sentence must appear to be wholly false given the strong messages David Orr is sending out by his incompetent silence and not making a fuss!  Yet still there is not a jot of the mildest of mild constructive criticism of Orr and NHF from the alleged sector who claim to have a social purpose!!

I could easily draft a further 5000 words on the crass incompetence of the NHF led by David Orr and the bloody awful and suicidal spineless silence of the rest of the housing association sector with regards to the seachange this parliament will have for the social housing model and for their own survival.

I just hope all those mute HA CEO’s DO NOT get the huge golden handshake they are expecting when the super HA’s  – the real PRIVATE Registered Providers who with even more delusion than David Orr has over the success of HFB and think they can hack it in the private sector – prance into the arena on their white chargers to rescue you all!!

Now that does explain your disgraceful silence doesn’t it!

#fakeNHFstories anyone?


9 thoughts on “HA’s – the spineless within to the enemy within?

  1. Hi Joe, a couple of points from me. The first is on the independent article. Whilst I acknowledge it is but one piece of ‘truthful’ information on housing issues going mainstream, it is a start. I don’t see this as job done and sitting back, its just getting started. We absolutely do need to find our voice as a sector and break with what we have always done as I agree it has failed quite spectacularly. And whilst the NHF have a huge role to play in this the whole sector needs to also be fully accountable, recognising where we have gone wrong and put corrective action in place. Many will argue it’s too late and that the Government doesn’t care but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try! What’s the alternative hunker down and hope for the best or just wave the white flag now?

    The second point is on Genesis. I know we have different views on this but for me, the main point I take issue with is not the strategy but the comments “its not my problem”. That’s the line I feel has raised the heckles of those who are involved with social housing because we feel it is our problem to help those in need. Lets not forget the CEO’s comments were not just on ceasing building more affordable rented homes (I agree the current arrangements are not conducive to affordable rented homes being financially viable from a purely commercial perspective) but also disposing of voids to the market further eroding the social rented asset base. I have no idea how many voids Genesis has per annum but would imagine it could be 500-1000 homes a year lost from the sector on top of RTB2. This is completely turning your back on people in need and is not in keeping with what the sector has been set up to do. I have made the point previously that I recognise not all will be able to continue developing (and in any case developing wasn’t a priority for all anyway such as young LSVTs) and it is for each organisation to assess their capabilities but I do strongly believe that those who can should!

    If we lose this we may as well give up now.

  2. Hi Joe,
    I enjoy your interventions and speaking as a small (and in many people’s eyes insignificant) housing association I would just like to add another viewpoint. My association was set up as a IPS charity and early work was accomplished by gifts and bank loans alone. Along came Improvement Grants from the local Council and the Members took advantage of it to grow and improve. Then along came grants from the Government in the form of HAG, so once again the Association said, “Thank You” and so on. We have never seen ourselves as being an instrument of the local council or Government but instead worked with them when our aims were aligned.

    Whist I personally don’t like they idea of the Government stopping funding rental investment, the reality is that they were elected and have a mandate therefore to use our taxes to do what they think fit. That seems to be Housing for Sale and if the Sector wants to embrace that then that is up to them (by which I agree with Tom Murtha that “them” should be the Board)

    I say “Sector” partly because you use it and also it defines better a disparate bunch of organisations which although being well meaning are driven by many different considerations. What it is not, is a Movement anymore (if indeed it ever was)

    Using my logic we are not failing by not protesting against Government policy. We were not set up as a lobby group but I will tell anyone who cares to listen exactly why I feel what we are doing is important. That I suspect is what the NHF is telling the Government behind the scenes. However there are none so deaf as won’t hear.

    As for building low cost housing for sale, we won’t be ruling that out either if it serves a useful purpose until the wheel turns full circle.

  3. Dear Kevin and Pollox (KW you will forever now be known as Castor!)

    England alone has 1867 top-level PRPs says the HCA who also has a further 3500 or so subsidiaries making 5300 or so different business entities and usually all subsumed into the term “housing association.”

    From the “Super HA’s” to the “Louisa’s Cottage Charity” housing associations come in all shapes and sizes and, critically, all have different business plans, different purposes – some of which are hugely affected by current conditions and others not – and all work in markedly different areas with very localised problems and issues.

    This is what I mean when I rant against the term “sector” which presumes some form of uniformity and a form of national cohesiveness. Those within this fabled “sector” always premise argument on their local issues believing them to be reflective of the country at large to some extent. That is just as much bollocks (a professional term!) as national housing policy over the past 40 years being dictated by freak and perverse London housing issues and then applied to the other 83% and pissing in the wind hoping it works!

    So to say those that can should or even it is / is not our problem are huge generalisations and hugely errant ones and for me very similar to the above bollocks. The 5300 or so separate PRP entities operate in 340 or so English LAs and some may have 40 – 80% of the social housing in that LA and will have very different agendas to the “Fred Flinstone One Legged Peruvian Glue Sniffers Charitable Housing Trust” or even to one of the Super HA’s (50,000 homes +) who may have 120 properties in that particular LA.

    This is why I commented on the ‘sectors’ reaction to Genesis. What is right for Genesis is not right and as removed as it could be from the Gaelic Crofters of the Outer Hebrides Housing Trust. Yet the Genesis charade was all about ethereal notions of social purpose and founding ethos and if you can build you should regardless of conditions (and constraints and risk.)

    Social housing takes many forms and until 2/3 years ago has been largely static with a largely static target tenant market – PRP’s housing the usual suspects if you will. Yet the welfare and housing reforms of bedroom tax, benefit cap, pay more to stay, RTB2, UC, 1% rent reductions and so many more now sees mainstream social housing being volatile and dynamic. It is moving from the pace of the sloth to the pace of the Cheetah

    The benefit cap for instance makes the 3 bed and larger property a financially toxic one for the benefit tenant who currently make up 64% of all social tenants. The impact on what properties are NEEDED and what can be developed and what can be sustainable is a huge concern. If developing HA’s start from a financial perspective that 1 beds are too costly to build (for the mainstream general needs market) and it is only financially viable to build 2,3 and 4 beds then who is going to live in these properties for the next 50 – 60 years?

    Given the welfare reforms it ain’t going to be the typical target tenant of yesteryear. Just who is going to live in existing stock IS the social landlords problem and that is way too much to be going on without muddying the waters with high risk new builds in any form of quantity. This often mythical ‘social purpose’ dovetails neatly with existing tenants and existing stock and ‘who is our customer’ and can we afford to house the existing tenant households is of far greater urgency and need of address rather than some ethereal notion of we must build for the sake of it.

    That doesn’t stop small scale development and differentiation such as building student accommodation or whatever or even an increased percentage of homes for outright private sale or even the LCHO shared ownership model (which to me is a joke but hey!) and by all means use the profits to re-invest at some future date in social rent properties if that fits your business plan.

    Now go back and look at the NHF “A Plan for Homes” which is all about NOT building social rent properties at all – 120,000 per year and not one at social rent. Genesis got a bad press and NHF who are experts at failing and kow-towing for social housing are pushing anything but social rent. Yet the ‘spineless’ wouldn’t dream of criticising the real enemy within who like above promote national policy based on the perverse London issues – or as I put it above the absolute bollocks strategy!

  4. Not sure I get the reference to castor but nevermind.

    I appreciate that there are numerous housing markets in operation and that each locality brings it’s own challenges. At a previous organization we operated across 32 local authorities in the north west, West Midlands, East Midlands and Yorkshire and we did see real change of issue across the areas. The one common theme though was that people needed homes which were affordable to rent. I suspect there aren’t that many areas across Britain where this isn’t required?

    And I do take your point about the lack of a ‘sector’ in the same sense that each organization is very different and faces very different issues. However the vast majority of PRPs were set up to help those in housing need whichever way you look at it. This may be helpful existing customers in the case of LSVTs, through to helping the homeless and bespoke supported accommodation.

    I’ve written previously on the NHF plan for homes and I was ‘critical’ (bearing in mind I don’t have the freedom you have) of it and said it didn’t go far enough which it didn’t. I didn’t take issue with failing to mention social rent though as, again as I have blogged on previously, I’m not that precious about the name and would just call it housing. The NHF did say that they would like to see increased capital subsidy provided in exchange for lower rents. This sounds like social rents by any other name to me and a clear move away from the ill conceived affordable rent regime. I’m not here to defend the NHF by any stretch however they must be in a difficult position. In all reality how much clout do they actually have with ministers? I’m not saying I endorse the approach but just imagine a Government that the sheer mention of the words social housing would see you frogmarched out of Whitehall. If you were trying to get the best deal you could for the ‘sector’ would you be aggressive or would you try and get an agenda via the back door? As I say I’m not defending the NHF but I imagine it must be difficult nonetheless.

    You’ve made the point previously though to effectively down tools, point the government back towards their statutory duty and wait for them to come crawling back to us. It’s an interesting idea I have considered. I honestly can’t see this option though as anything but a trap they are hoping we walk into. I think the attack would make the channel 4/spectator/the times pieces look very flattering and complimentary.

    I would also find it impossible to sit back and watch homelessness figures explode. I am in social housing because it helps people. I will do everything I can to help those in need regardless of the politics at play. If I stopped doing this and was prepared to stand idly by, I may as well go and do something else as I would be a fraud.

  5. Yes tenants require homes that are affordable in the true sense of that word and as previously said no problem with profit / surplus generation from private sales etc to recycle back in. Perfectly fine and logical.

    Sector that isn’t a sector – Yes and to be clear I wasn’t asking you or anyone else to criticise NHF (and/or CIH for that matter), I was asking it was the norm and even anathema to criticise with the appalling record they have.

    Were most PRPs set up to help those in housing need? Or were they set up to get decent homes and as much off the PSBR as possible?

    I could be ten times as withering in my criticism of NHF (and CIH) and the sheeple (PRPs) that blindly follow and look to them for a lead and then swallow what they say hook, line and sinker. I have no axe to grind with NHF or David Orr with whom I had an all day meeting last year. Yet the performance of NHF and David Orr as its head has been abysmal.

    Housing is the lazy consensus Shapps described and I can say for certain that is the one and only time I have ever agreed with him and it pains me to agree with him.

    For 65 years social housing has been a constant static sector with little change (aside from concrete overpasses and other horrors of 1960s/1970s build) yet on April Fool’s Day 2013 the bedroom tax and benefit cap began and UC was supposed to with monthly and direct payment.

    The social housing changed from 65 years of the pace of the sloth to the pace of the Cheetah. The welfare reforms which are largely all housing reforms and the other housing reforms of RTB2, pay more to stay and 1% cuts etc have made the social housing model and marketplace highly volatile – It has gone from one extreme to the other, which is hard enough to do for a product with a 60 year life cycle too.

    The CIH and the NHF assured us all in late 2012 and early 2013 they were ready for this – an even bigger delusion than HfB being anything other than a massive failure and of course they were not. I still find errors of law on many PRPs websites today re aspects of bedroom tax and benefit cap and other reforms which gives a we couldn’t give a damn and anyway the bedroom tax arrears risk is more than mitigated by increased AR income.

    However the biggest bugbear I have is challenge and its lack. Since original RTB the same ‘behind closed doors’ strategy has been used and for 35 years in a row it has failed yet still the lazy consensus practice the lazy tactic. I said 5 years ago housing had to be public facing, had to sell its benefits and proactively to the general public and also that housing is seen as the enemy by government.

    When govt can predict that housing’s next move is the same old same old then it is easier to defeat that enemy than take candy off a baby. Yet still the lazy consensus prevails and still takes the view that housing is bricks and mortar and not about people like supported housing is an always has been – and which welfare reform make mainstream / general needs housing all about too which of course the lazy consensus fail to realise as well.

    Much of my 20+ years has been spent in supported housing and our clients received about 5% of the total SP budget and when you are managing or advising many supported housing projects for years and especially in NIMBY services such as hostels, ex and sex offenders units, detox, rehab and others challenging the system and those who operate it is a daily issue – as is the risk to reputation which general needs has always ignored and could until welfare reform saw it bite them on the backside with PRPs reputations severely tainted with KHT letters and so much more.

    My passion for the social housing model and my apparent in your face challenge position is not politically motivated or in any way naive. The looks I get when I remind that “challenge” was one of the 4 Best Value “C’s” and when I counter my perceived ‘confrontational’ approach with hasn’t the government been overtly confrontational with social housing? You can see the light bulbs popping up above the heads of the lazy consensus…

    The clever response is to pre-empt reform and to think (as patronising as that may sound.) There are creative responses and even workarounds to many of the threats of reform which can be cleverly twisted to realise opportunities….and then we are back to the lazy consensus we have always done it this way constraint….!

    Yet that willingness to think and focus on solutions rather than the all to usual bleating and focusing on the problem housing tends to do…

    Kevin, our views differ in nuance and little more than we approach them from differing perspectives and as my first 8 years were spent in homelessness, for which I still retain a huge passion, then my promoting any approach is carefully considered and will always seek to reduce it

    1. Very interesting points as always! The sloth/cheetah analogy is great and on point.

      I have never thought you were anti-affordable housing and wished to see homelessness increase. My concern was if providers followed your advice and did stop building and housing, this Government just doesn’t give a damn about their statutory duty and people would end up on the streets. If I thought they would take action then I would be more in favour of what you suggest but I don’t think they will and therein comes my point about not being able to just stand by and watch it happen.

      1. The statutory duties of course lie with LAs not central government in housing strategy, homeless duties and the rest. PRPs may feel ‘duty-bound’ to help LAs and noms agreements typical yet if PRPs can’t afford then LA’s become the conduit to central government change.

        One example and just one of the scope of influence and power PRPs can and should wield instead of carrying on regardless. The radical confrontational nature of the attacks on the social housing model require radical and preferably proactive positions taken by PRPs in this ‘game’ just as any other industry plays. PRP’s have what local and central govt want and need in stock and in ability to develop at the best price, so carrying on regardless as before is not an option. Time to kick ass not tug forelocks!

      2. Yes of course but ultimately by extension surely it rests with central Government? Interesting point on LAs being conduit to change but they haven’t been listened too either and have been decimated in the process.

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