Housing Associations get media kicking
Housing Associations and their ‘bleating’ bosses are getting a media kicking today, with articles in the Times and the Spectator, and a feature on Channel Four tonight. Mostly the attacks are from enemies of social housing seeking a smokescreen for the fact that government policies are driving the housing crisis. But some of the attacks hit home and the ‘leaders’ of the sector have made a poor job of presenting any case for social housing.
Housing association bosses get six figure salaries; it isn’t just tenants that find that hard to square with the supposed social mission of housing associations. It is particularly bitter when many fail to pay their lowest paid workers a living wage – at a time when even employers such as Ikea do so. They have also talked down social housing. In many cases housing association bosses were rubbing their hands at the prospect of plc status and the even fatter pay cheques. Housing associations have too often behaved like private developers – building developments with separate 'poor doors' and providers that collaborate with social cleansing style regeneration schemes. It is no surprise that they are no longer loved by their once satisfied tenants or the badly housed and homeless.
But the National Housing Federation issued a perfectly fair statement by its chief executive David Orr.
"Housing associations are doing everything they can to build in an increasingly difficult operating environment. Last year they built 40,000 homes - a third of all new homes across the country - and one fifth of all new homes over the course of the last parliament. For every £1 of public investment housing associations invest a further £6 of their own money,"
"Private development dropped 37% in the crash between 2007 and 2009, but housing associations continued to build and even upped their output by 22% to stem the tide. With Britain in the midst of a housing crisis, housing associations want to do much more and are committed to increasing their output.
"But the proposals put forward in the emergency budget will make this much more difficult to achieve. We are keen to sit down and work together with government to build the homes our country desperately needs to end the housing crisis."
So what to say to the governement about how to end the housing crisis? Government cuts to the grant for house building are at the root of the crisis. Combined with the growth of buy to let mortgages this has led to rocketing rents and rising housing benefit costs as tenants pay though the nose for insecure and often poor quality housing in the private rented sector. It isn’t tenants that rake in the money from this – it is private landlords. Unite calls for rent control rather than benefit cuts, and a serious programme of building council homes. That, of course, requires a break with austerity.
Unite members in housing, struggling on less than massive pay packets, are trying to make the best of a bad job in delivering services and getting new homes built. Let’s hope more of their voices are heard in the housing debate in future. We should also hear more from tenants - often the same people of course.
Earlier this week I was at a meeting of our members in a major housing association in which a union rep described the problems he and his partner face looking a after a new baby in their privately rented bedsit. Unfortunately our members know about the housing crisis both as professionals and as people trying to maintain a roof over their heads. Sadly the social housing executives who we negotiate with seem far removed from this reality.
The Unite housing workers (LE1111) branch has produced a manifesto on housing based on our union policy. We invite you to sign up in support and invite a speaker to your tenants or community group. Read the manifesto here.