Branch Secretary : suz.muna.unite@gmail.com
  

In praise of housing workers

Fundamental change

 

With the Moore-Bick inquiry adjourned indefinitely and many families still in temporary accommodation, 20 months on, Justice for Grenfell seems a long way off. Branch member Glyn Robbins wrote this for 24 Housing

 

After Grenfell, I was one of many who called for fundamental change to prevent it happening again.

 

The housing industry shouldn’t wait before it reflects on its role.

 

There have already been many criticisms, some of which reflect deep institutional problems.

 

Top heavy

 

The top-heavy, top-down culture must change. Rediscovering the value of front-line housing workers is the way to rebuild the relevance of and confidence in what we do.

 

In the 29 years I’ve worked in the field, housing work has been systematically devalued, deskilled and dehumanised.

 

Successive waves of privatisation have undermined a face-to-face, personal service.

 

That’s part of the Grenfell story: decisions about people’s everyday lives – and safety – taken by remote control and vested interests.

 

The Tenant Management Organisation concept was perverted in Kensington and Chelsea, but genuine devolvement of services and decisions to local estate level, under democratic control, should be part of reshaping housing work.

 

Shelter report

 

The recent Shelter report makes some important points about tightening regulation, but the day-to-day delivery of housing services – and who provides them – shouldn’t be overlooked.

 

When it comes to housing management, simple pictures are best.

 

I work for a small TMO, employing a part-time manager, caretaker and handyperson.

 

We avoid using sub-contractors and generate an annual surplus which we plough back into improvements to tenant’s homes and the estate.

 

Residents decide priorities and play a key part in maintaining a cohesive, mutually respectful, community.

 

TMO’s aren’t a panacea or a pre-requisite for the model I’ve outlined. It could work perfectly well under a network of strong, independent tenant and resident associations.

 

Commercially driven casualisation

 

But some aspects of front line housing management have become increasingly complex.

 

Front line workers constantly straddle a difficult line between housing services and social services.

 

This makes adequate training and staff retention and motivation essential, things that are incompatible with commercially-driven casualisation which has become too common in the sector.

 

The attacks on pay and conditions that are regularly raised at my union branch (Unite Housing Workers) illustrate the gap that has opened between those providing front-line services and tiers of absentee management.

 

After Grenfell, in or out of the EU, there’s a growing sense that uber privatisation hasn’t worked and can cost lives.

 

Good housing work should be part of rebuilding good public services that ensure safe, secure homes for all.

 

Posted 8th February 2019

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