Breakfast briefing summary – January 26, Hinckley
CIH East Midlands hosted a well-attended breakfast briefing in January. We were pleased to have CIH chief executive Terrie Alafat present to offer a frank assessment of where she sees the challenges for housing professionals in these days of seismic change for the sector.
The overall theme of the session was ‘responding to unprecedented political change’, and as well as Terrie’s contribution we received very insightful inputs from a broad range of perspectives, thoughtfully chaired by regional board member Julian Beaney from Orbit.
Firstly, Chris Hobson from the regional Chamber of Commerce provided a business view of housing, particularly in the context of the new political and economic landscape being shaped by the devolution agenda. We are seeing geographical units of decision-making being redrawn - is this the end of the East Midlands or an opportunity to rebrand ourselves as a well-located, well-resourced, well-skilled region with available land and key transport infrastructure, including East Midlands airport? Chris highlighted that businesses cannot grow without there being affordable housing available for their employees - do housing and business need to work together more closely and rediscover the 18th century approaches of Bournville and others?
Next, Terrie gave a very clear assessment of current government housing policy. As she sees it there are three pillars to the Conservative Party’s housing strategy:
- There is a huge imperative to deliver numbers – 1m homes by the end of the Parliament
- The party is desperate to reverse the decline in home ownership
- The government has a radically different vision for social/'affordable' housing to most of the people in the meeting… it sees it as a problem rather than a solution.
They are in a hurry, and actually the spending review was not disastrous for housing… but it’s loans, not grant and ownership, not rent.
As we (particularly housing associations) adapt to all of this this we need to think together as a sector. There are already tensions being caused by the right to buy (RTB) deal for housing associations (HAs) and we need to try and ensure that we ride above these.
Regional board member Emma Lindley from Futures Housing Group then offered a young housing professional’s perspective on the future. Emma believed that it was a time to be clear about visions and values, and posed the question of whether it was a problem if HAs took on a more commercial ethos. We need to be open minded and open to new approaches. There will need to be multiple solutions. Read Emma’s blog on the event
Finally, Boris Worrall from Orbit HA looked at the future business direction of housing associations. He emphasised that HAs and local authorities had to be part of achieving the government’s numbers as the private sector was not delivering. Greg Clark is seen as being “on our side”. But ownership is everything to the government and the ethos of HAs will inevitably shift. Boris’s own organisation was becoming more of an “ethical” - rather than a social - landlord, and this merging and blurring of markets will only increase.
A good discussion followed, with some important messages emerging:
- Building for sale alone will not deliver the numbers for the government… so they need us!
- There is already quite a lot of money in the system – the government has seen HA surpluses and expects them to be used
- There is a real danger that the trend towards low cost ownership (starter homes etc) will result in poor design and quality – can we influence this?
- Housing needs very strong leadership in these turbulent times!
All in all, a very thought-provoking session and at the end there was agreement that these kind of 'round table' discussions are extremely useful in enabling us to take some time out to take stock as things in the housing world move at what feels like a furious pace.