We need to recognise housing as a profession - Jenny Galbraith
At the start of this month I attended CIH Scotland’s Housing Festival for the first time and I frequently heard former CIH president Jim Strang being quoted as saying, “housing professionals can make more of a difference in a day than many professions do in a lifetime”. This made me reflect on my own experience of studying and working in the housing sector.
I recall giving a lecture a few years ago and passionately announcing to the students present that housing was connected to everything. Granted, this was first thing on a Friday morning and so this statement was not met with a round of applause or fireworks, but I remember feeling like my eyes had opened to the range possibilities housing and housing professionals could bring.
The housing sector and housing professionals have a lot to offer. Research has demonstrated the links between housing and health. Poor quality housing leads to poor health outcomes. Fuel poverty only adds to this, and so ensuring homes are energy efficient and well connected also contributes to promoting positive health and wellbeing.
However, while we talk a lot about how housing can help improve physical health, it would be remiss not to mention the psychological benefits that good quality housing can bring. Living in poor conditions negatively impacts mental health and living in isolation without good transport links and strong communities can heighten loneliness. Additionally, having affordable housing and initiatives such as the Affordable Housing Supply Programme have also been demonstrated to have contributed to the lower levels of poverty in Scotland in comparison to the rest of the UK.
These examples highlight just some of the impacts that housing professionals can have on people’s lives.
Despite the importance of housing, over my time working in the sector I have asked many people how they got involved in the housing sector and I have lost count of the amount of times I have heard the response: “I just fell into housing”.
At CIH Scotland’s Big Conversation event in October last year, I recall CIH Scotland board member Evie Copeland saying that we should stop saying we fell into housing, rather we were born for it. A career in housing is not something we fell into, it was something we aspired to.
On a national level, it has been heartening to see the importance of housing being recognised more. The Scottish Government’s draft vision for Housing to 2040 and subsequent consultation highlight the impact housing can have across government portfolios.
However, housing needs to be recognised as an important aspect in itself and not just by how it can help reduce expenditure in other areas. For instance, a patient getting physical therapy to regain mobility is not justified by how it saves money in the housing sector through preventing the need to install adaptations. It follows that providing good quality housing and supporting housing professionals should not be justified by how it can save other areas money.
Housing is a human right and important in itself. We need to recognise this and be confident and clear in what we as housing professionals, and the housing sector in general, have to offer. Afterall, in the words of Jim Strang, “housing professionals can make more of a difference in a day than many professions do in a lifetime.”
Jenny Galbraith is policy and practice officer at CIH Scotland.