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Let’s not get tired of doing good

10 July 2017 • Simon Leighton

The CIH Housing conference and discussions around it always provide an opportunity to recap on some of the housing challenges we face and to be encouraged by the diverse and exciting steps that housing providers are taking in response.

The HCA has a target that we build 250,000 new homes each year, yet in the CIH key note session with the HCA’s new CEO, Nick Walkley, almost all delegates were of the view that this was unachievable.

Every year, more than 70,000 new households are excluded from the housing market. Paul Johnson, Director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies highlighted that average earnings across all groups was £25,000 pa in 2008. It is now £23,000 pa and not expected to return to 2008 levels until 2021. Alongside this, the real value of earnings, even for those in receipt of pay rises, is being eroded by the inflation and wage inflation squeeze. Further the big cuts to working benefits are yet to impact, which will most affect our poorest working families.

It is encouraging therefore to hear the sector’s response to these challenges. In the Savills Housing Sector Survey 2017, based upon 104 chief executives and senior board members of housing associations, 90% of respondents feel that the number one priority is providing discounted rental tenures, and that the highest first priorities for respondents was for vulnerable households and for working households unable to afford market housing.

In the same survey, over 50% plan, in the next 5 years, to partner with a private developer or other housing provider to boost their delivery. I find the joint venture, that the relatively modestly sized Trafford Housing Trust (9000 units) has put in place with L&Q to deliver 2000 homes pa with the priority on social housing units and with gains being ploughed back into the north west, hugely inspirational.

In one of the breakout sessions, Regenda’s CEO, Mike Birkett shared the importance for them of sticking with their supported housing offering, despite the financial challenges. By focusing on their social mission, making use of their core strengths and not underestimating the power that landlords have in communities, they have brought complimentary activities into the Regenda Group, in turn to gift aid profits back and balance the books for supported housing and for development.

Nick Walkley urges housing providers to provide a joined up voice to the government as to the many good things the sector is doing and as to the value of social rent. As we have had 10 housing ministers in as many years and the housing minister was unable to attend the conference this year, I suspect the voice may need some resilience and to be very loud.

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