Today is Housing Day: again.
Nothing has changed.
And yet, everything has changed.
As Colin Wiles writes “The social housing sector is a bit like the Labour party — deeply divided, although not quite so nasty”.
Should we follow the Government push towards home ownership? Or stick to the tried and tested — but utterly unfashionable — need for more social housing?
It’s interesting that the latter camp are being painted as retrogressive. No truly disruptive innovator has ever followed the advice of an elected representative or regulator.
Perhaps there is a third way — where we reconnect with communities to develop a new model and new housing products.
We’ve got to do better. The sector — whatever that means anymore — is still trying to gain support. Still trying — and failing — to get its message across in a crowded social space.
Four years ago I did some back of a fag packet research about how housing associations tell stories about themselves:
25% of items were about about income and funding
22% were about welfare reform
18% were about construction
12% were about anti social behaviour
15% were “Look how good we are stories”
Just under 8% were about the people living in our homes.
Yes — less than 8% of the stories we told were directly about the very people that we were set up to help in the first place.
What I like about Housing Day — and Ade Capon’s almost single handed drive to keep it going — is that it’s an annual reminder that we often completely miss the point.
Organisations who are massively valued do not have to remind the public of their own importance.
Their value is implicit.
To move to a world where everyone recognises housing association as leaders in social impact is relatively simple:
Become leaders in social impact.
However — the sector is at a crossroads. In an era of cuts and huge welfare reforms the temptation is to scale back. To concentrate on the ‘core product’ rather than purposeful experimentation.
The sector largely ignored research and development and investment during an era of plentiful funding.
It was a huge mistake — and ironic: the original housing association movement was essentially a band of start-up disruptors who made the rules rather than relying on handouts and political whim.
Additionally we live in a time of deficit thinking — of thinking of people as problems to be solved.
If you don’t believe me — take a look around.
- An ageing population is set to cost us an extra £1 billion a year as older people become a ‘massive burden’ on society.
- Social housing tenants who are so feckless they can’t cope with having benefits paid direct to them , without submitting to the temptation to blow it on Sky subscriptions
- An NHS at breaking point because the public don’t understand that A+E Departments are meant only for emergencies.
Reverse this: see people as makers and contributors.
See problems as opportunities.
That places us in an entirely different state of mind.
There is a third way for social housing organisations to grasp on Housing Day.
We must come together and pool resources and intellectual capacity to create a new business model that puts the user at centre stage.
We must unleash talent in communities rather than providing more ‘service’.
We must aim to be known for impact rather than conference seasons, CEO pay, and rhetoric.
Truly — the only way out of a productivity and reputational decline is to boost capacity for innovation.