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

Bringing policy and practice together: Housing Studies Association annual conference


Yoric Irving-Clarke, our policy and practice research officer, gives a round-up of the recent Housing Studies Association (HSA) annual conference.

Another milestone event for the housing world took place last week, the Housing Studies Association’s (HSA) annual conference.

Milestone for a couple of reasons, firstly it was the inaugural HSA conference in Sheffield after moving from its old home in York, and secondly a real opportunity for housing academics and practitioners to come together to discuss the issues facing the sector with a real focus upon the links between the two. Post-Grenfell this discussion has gained some impetus and this conference felt like it followed up well on the domestic violence event organised by current CIH President Alison Inman a few weeks prior.

HSA Chair Beth Watts opened the conference by appealing to those present to work to bring together academia, policy and practice and reflecting on the importance of this conversation.

The opening plenary, chaired by Prof. Ken Gibb of CaCHE, took a look at the politics of housing and how this affects provision. Keith Jacobs (Uni of Tasmania) opened by critiquing the Marxist analysis of the housing market and put forward the idea that the housing market works very well for the rich and powerful and so will not change any time soon. In short, social housing provision stands in the way of attempts to commodify welfare provision and so it is in the interests of the government and banks to trash any sector except home ownership. Brian Lund (Manchester Metropolitan) then took us on a tour of housing policy in the 20th century and how this has impacted upon the political stage. His message being that housing providers and academics need to take much greater notice of politics more broadly and how it informs policy.

The first set of workshops took in varied topics such as policy evaluation, the private rented sector, housing and tenure and the welfare system. I presented a paper in the policy evaluation workshop alongside Chris Foye (CaCHE) and Peter Mathews (Stirling). Chris Foye’s presentation focused on how we evaluate policy with a focus on existing methodologies and the use of a capabilities approach based on the thinking of Amartya Sen. My own presentation focused on using historical analysis to tell us how and why we are, where we are; and on a framework for analysing policy success put forward by Alan McConnell (University of Strathclyde). The model looks at policy success in terms of process and politics as well as programme – did the policy meet its stated aims?

Peter Matthews presented on local methods of dealing with nuisance behaviour – or dog-pooh and potholes as he referred to it!

And then day one was done!

Day two opened with the second session of workshops – so many I wanted to attend but there is only one of me! The session I did attend was fascinating with Sarah Johnsen, Jenny Wood and Peter Mackie (Heriot-Watt) presenting their international review of evidence of what works in addressing rough sleeping. There is strong international evidence for the effectiveness of Housing First approaches but these were the principles put forward:

  1. Recognise heterogeneity
  2. Take swift action (No Second Night Out)
  3. Employ assertive outreach leading to suitable accommodation offer
  4. Be housing-led (#HousingFirst)
  5. Offer person-centred support & choice (e.g. personalised budgets)

The second plenary session offered Harris Beider (University of Coventry) and historian John Boughton. The latter took us on a tour of council housing in the 50s and 60s and the positive reception that it had at that time – tenants referred to it is paradise and Shangri-La. He also made the point that at this time, there was no concept that council housing was a place where people would “sink” – instead it was aspirational living that improved lives. Harris Beider discussed the role of housing in addressing “problem places” and the othering of “problem people”. He argued that there has been shift from housing and urban policy being and economic intervention to being a cultural one – “...its not a question of problem places or problem people; but problem politics.”

Two more workshops to close the day.

The first I attended was theory heavy but very interesting. Alex Marsh (University of Bristol) spoke about “organisational logics” – the formal and informal rules that determine individual and group conduct, and how these play out in the housing sector with a particular focus on the governance of providers. Rowland Atkinson (University of Sheffield) covered how housing systems influence criminality and how we can design better systems followed by Steffan Evans (Cardiff University) discussing the devolution of social housing regulation in the UK. He argued that it is, in fact, England that is diverging from the rest of the UK rather than the opposite.

The final session I attended was largely focused upon responses to domestic abuse. Dora Welker (Heriot-Watt) presented her early work on her PhD topic of use of sanctuary schemes as a method of addressing abuse. Although at an early stage of her research, she was clearly well on top of her brief and has a fascinating few years of research ahead.

Heather Rollwagen (Ryerson University, Toronto) presented on the financial struggles of low-income households in Toronto and the implications for Canadian housing policy and Ozden Sungur on the experiences of migrants and home owenership in Italy. Both fascinating presentations that contrasted with the social housing situation in the UK.

Alas, other commitments meant I had to leave the conference early. But I understand from dispatches (Twitter), that the final half day continued in a similar vein with our own Gavin Smart speaking at the closing plenary about the future of the sector and how we can all contribute.

I left the conference both invigorated and exhausted – can’t wait for next year.

Yoric Irving-Clarke is policy and practice research officer at CIH.

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