Tag Archives: CIH

It’s all about the money, money, money


As Jessie J said we all have a price tag. There have been a spate of money related articles and reports that highlight how the conversation on Social Housing is increasingly being framed in economic terms. This is not entirely surprising as most of this is aimed at a Government that primarily uses, sometimes blunt, economic tools to deliver its policy. One of many worries here is that policy and the numbers are at odds.

Peabody and the CBI recently produced a report which attempted to quantify the contribution to London (£15.3bn) of social tenants. Just a while later we get the great and the good Moodys, downgrading the credit rating for Places for People and Genesis because more risk has been introduced because of diversification away from Social Housing. We also have the thresholds for Pay to Stay, £31,000 outside London and £40,000 in London. So it seems that the argument for social housing is now being fought on the numbers playing field.

The latest indications on what government grant will be available point clearly to a policy that is about fiddling at the edges of market intervention on build for sale and is not about increasing social housing supply. Indeed, as the details emerge on the Right to Buy for Housing Associations and the money effectively being removed from Local Authorities another avenue for increased building is shut off.

So we have a situation at best where social housing rental supply will be at best static. It seems that supply will be met by using Pay to Stay to push people out into the private market and ‘free up’ units. Mmmmm, there are a few issues here that don’t quite make sense:

  • An already overheated private rental market and lack of affordable sale properties for those being pushed into leaving the social rented market
  • Brexit pushing properties off the market
  • HA’s risking more borrowing costs because effectively they cannot build the level of social housing they would like and therefore higher build costs = either less supply of new homes or inflated costs

Throw in Housing Benefit caps and (if ever) Universal credit and the numbers look less like adding up.

Maybe we need a bit more advanced economic modelling which really takes into account the benefit brought to the economy by workers accessing really affordable housing and what the impact on our economy of the multiple squeeze on this group will be.

One other important point made by CIH and NHF, in the last recession virtually the only significant building was of social housing which saved us from even worse economic turmoil.

More than one kind of capital

Sheffield Hallam, CIH and Poplar Harca have produced a report that is trying to strongly make the case for housing led regeneration. It is very much worded in a way that is about the financial model/economic benefit mode. It is a case that is needed because we are talking to a government who needs to understand the economic reason for anything.

This all got me thinking about the need to bring some of the focus back to the other capital, the people and how they can really deliver a return on investment.

Let me come clean, I worked for Harca on the community investment side when it was still new, which why I started thinking about this. Harca was quite unique in its set up (last century) in its avowed intent to place people and community at its heart as part of who it was and how it operated. It had a population where more than 50% was economically inactive and its property stared the lovely shining island of canary wharf in the face.

My job was to recruit a group of 20 (it crept up because I’m bad at saying no) and train them to set up advice services to run within the series of community hubs that Harca created. I spent 3 months training with the most fabulous, creative, amusing and occasionally infuriating group of people. At the start of the journey I did not know that my real aim was not to turn them into advice workers but to make sure that what they saw as success at the start was completely changed by the end of my time with me. More important was that they could actually achieve what THEY wanted.

For the first month, I was slightly bemused to discover that 80% of my groups’ only wish was to become housing officers, having done this role (no disrespect to good HOs) I was surprised by this being the pinnacle of desire. It wasn’t just about pay it was about ‘respect’.

Having grown up on a ‘bad’ council estate (any good ones in the press?), I recognised what I came to call the poverty of aspiration, I’d seen it at home when I wanted not to go into trade but to go to college (shock horror). I’d also seen it in South London running a placement scheme where the only job anyone wanted to do was social work. This kind of constraint can really hold communities back, you can only have so many housing officers, social workers or in my own case steel workers.

What the willingness to invest in social capital did was give a lot of unforeseen returns. The group achieved their primary aim and delivered local advice services, in particular services that helped hundreds of residents maximise benefits and supported many of them into work. It had the knock of effects of setting up a ‘hit’ outreach team that was also used by neighbouring landlords and health services. Most importantly, it allowed the group to diversify. The original 20 + went on to work for private contractors, the health service, running a call centre, setting up their own business and some went to university. They brought more diversity into the local community and crucially higher paid roles.

Last time I checked in at least one of them was still delivering benefits advice on the estates albeit now at such professional level they should be training other advisors. That is the next step….