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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

Attitudes to council housing: pride or prejudice?


Late last summer the housing green paper: ‘A new deal for tenants’ stimulated a healthy debate at Waverley’s Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee: “Was there stigma in our housing service and community?”

Attitudes to council housing: pride or prejudice?

Late last summer the housing green paper: ‘A new deal for tenants’ stimulated a healthy debate at Waverley’s Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee: “Was there stigma in our housing service and community?” The committee was divided. Other questions included:

How are council tenants viewed?

What do people think of council homes?  

What is it like to live in our homes?

So, we set out to establish what our residents thought about council housing.

A select task and finish group of members and tenants developed a consultation programme to collect views and discover if there was pride in or prejudice towards council homes. The project supports the council’s vision of making Waverley ‘a place where our residents can take pride in their communities…that are supported by quality public services’. It is easy for members to be proud of the new well designed and beautifully finished council homes we are now building, but what about the rest of our homes? The group recognised the residualisation of council housing since the right to buy in the 1980s, the national housing crisis, the ups and downs of housing finance, the unaffordability of homes in the local area and the media stereotypes of council tenants.

Survey and focus group questions were based on the ‘CIH Rethinking social housing’ project and extended to include tenants’ experiences. Waverley residents, staff, tenants, members and contractors were asked to respond.

The group wanted to identify: 

  • the perception of council housing and tenants (including who council housing is for, socio economic factors and appearance of homes) and;
  • the experience of being a council tenant (including what makes you proud, unhappy and if you have ever been made to feel uncomfortable about being a council tenant)

The results demonstrated mixed views on council housing. Tenants were aware of prejudice and had, on occasions, felt stigmatised. The data gathered as a result of the research reflects the national picture in terms of experience of stigma and perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of social housing. The research highlighted:

  • a confusion over the role and purpose of social housing
  • the lack of awareness of the financial eligibility threshold
  • a belief that social housing can be identified by appearance and the view that council housing is poorly maintained
  • a consensus that social housing is a valuable resource and the need for more, and;
  • experiences of stigma and the undeserved media perpetuated stereotypes

The council agreed the task and finish group’s recommendations to:

  • review the allocation and tenancy policies to promote a wider range of applications from those in housing need who cannot access market housing and improve security of tenure - a recognised positive to council housing
  • tackle the stigma felt by council tenants by promoting social housing and training members, staff and contractors to be aware of unconscious bias and stereotypes. Join the ‘See the Person, Benefit to society’ campaign to collectively and individually challenge negative stereotypes and language
  • tackle the negative view of council homes through including ‘kerb appeal’ in our asset management strategy and insisting on tenure blind schemes and improving security of tenure to give tenants confidence to invest in their homes.

The aim of the task and finish group is to create an environment where tenants are proud of where they live, and Waverley staff and members are proud of all our homes and services. 

We are hosting tenant centenary parties this summer to celebrate 100 years of council housing. This is the perfect opportunity to promote council housing, tenants and communities.

Please click here to access the full report - direct link

Hear more about our research and celebrate 100 years of council housing

To find out more about our research and share experiences on stigmas to living in social housing, we will be hosting a CIH South East regional event on Friday 11 October 2019 at Waverley Borough Council in Godalming, to further celebrate 100 years of council housing.

What did you do? How did your organisation view the green paper? Did your tenants, staff, (board) members recognise their service in the narrative? How are you tackling stigma?

To book your attendance, click on the link below

Celebrating 100 years of council housing in the South East

We look forward to welcoming you!

Annalisa Howson, Housing Service Improvement Manager at Waverley BC

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