The political and social landscape may have changed, but housing providers have equality duties
Race is still an issue
There was a time when the social housing sector took a leading role in the promotion of race equality. The achievements were impressive: three five-year black and minority ethnic housing strategies promoted by the Housing Corporation, the emergence of more than 50 registered black-led housing associations. On top of this, there was a strong Federation of Black Housing Organisations and a regulatory framework which monitored performance. Now the landscape could not be more different.
The rise and fall of race and housing can be explained by a number of factors. First, the macro policy environment has changed the framework of the discussion. Rather than promoting multiculturalism or addressing discrimination, the debate has shifted - first to cohesion and now integration.
Rather than being viewed as engines of progressive change, black-led housing associations have come to be seen as supporting community fragmentation; difference is now problematic rather than something to be celebrated.
Second, immigration during the 1990s changed demographics. Race and housing are no longer seen through a black/white lens and instead are defined in terms of meeting the distinct needs of new communities, ranging from migrants from eastern Europe, to those fleeing conflict in the Balkans or in sub-Saharan Africa.
Third, the combined demise of the Housing Corporation and the Audit Commission has taken the regulatory pressure off the promotion of race equality. The incorporation of the Tenant Services Authority into the Homes and Communities Agency may be viewed as a further weakening of regulation. Today those organisations that are led by progressive leaders will make race equality a high priority, while others who have never engaged with the issue are likely to do the minimum.
It is unrealistic to go back to the past in promoting race and housing, but surely there is a need to build on that innovative work? Looking to the future, it is a time to challenge some of the notions that guided us previously. For example, representation should not simply consist of tokenistic appointments at board or staff levels. How big would the governance table need to be to accommodate every different group in this age of super-diversity?
Finally, policies do not change organisations. People do. Race equality should not be viewed as a liability, but an asset that helps personal and organisational performance. Racism has not gone away. Housing associations still need to address this challenge.
Harris Beider is professor in community cohesion at Coventry University. His latest book, Race, Housing & Community: perspectives on policy and practice, was recently published by Wiley-Blackwell