Sunday, 21 December 2014

Quiz the Rising Stars finalists

Posted in: Discussion | On the ground

06/06/2011 4:15 pm

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Mike M

Mike M

Posts: 1

07/06/2011 4:26 pm

I work in repairs and maintenance, and am concerned that with decent homes funding drying up my budgets are going to be cut to a point where homes can no longer be kept at a decent standard. Do you share this concern, and if not what do you think the biggest challenges currently facing the sector are?

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Suzanne Ralphson

Suzanne Ralphson

Location: @business_ninja on twitter
Posts: 8

07/06/2011 5:07 pm

The last thing we want as HAs is to be forced to provide substandard accommodation, lettings and sustainability will suffer not to mention the health and wellbeing of our residents. That said, cuts are being made across the board and all departments will suffer. I think repairs and maintenance will be the last of our services to be decimated but the first to be challenged to become more efficient and innovative. At this stage we can't stop the cuts so we need to embrace new ways of working to fill a new role in Cameron's big society which will make us less vulnerable in the long-term.

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Chris Hancock

Chris Hancock

Location: London
Posts: 7

08/06/2011 12:30 pm

Mike,

As someone working for a stock holding authority this is extremely relevant for me. Our stock is traditionally older than RP stock in the city and therefore generally more expensive to maintain and keep at decent homes level. From my persepctive as Housing Needs Manager this raises all sorts of problems because if we cant allocate somewhere fit for use then how are we ever going to meet housing need. The tenant would then be justified in going straight back on the housing register.

Also, given the reduction in new build, making best use of exisiting stock; adaptations etc, is even more crucial, so a well maintained and flexible supply of existing properties, whilst expensive, is very cost effective when faced with building new properties.

In meeting this challenge, I am not sure that proposals to encourage tenants to carry out their own repairs work will actually prove more expensive in the long run, I am interested however in the potential to use stock to raise income, eg. solar panels on rooves etc in exchange for a fee, not sure on your take on that?

So in conclusion, I do think this is major challenge but sadly it is amongst many others.

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Caris  Henry

Caris Henry

Location: Nottingham
Posts: 7

08/06/2011 1:11 pm

Yes, less money = less stock investment to improve the standard of homes.  This is a challenge that the sector needs to embrace as it will not go away.  However, these challenges will drive a focus on ways in which we can really generate greater efficiencies and benefits with less money.

Based on our wealth of asset management services MITIE has developed processes and products to support clients which we have further developed in these challenging times.

Through historical repairs analysis we both understand where the money that we do have available can be best spent to turn off repairs demand and better understand the benefit from investment through past Decent Homes programmes. This enables us to direct money to investment solutions that work by understanding the repairs requirements of legacy and Decent Homes assets.  The outcomes are preventative maintenance and capital investment programmes that have the effect of reducing repairs spend to help fill the gap in capital budgets, and best utilising the budget to sustain and improve homes for residents.

Mike, in these times of austerity it is best to view every problem as an opportunity! Our sector is facing a revolution in regulation, allocation and finance.  A major challenge with this revolution is how we continue to foster social mobility in the communities we operate in, and the new pressures that this gives rise to with respect to the future leadership and governance needs of the sector.

In response to the cut in Decent Homes funding and the strain on the repairs budget I have implemented a pilot scheme at Nottingham City Homes in my capacity as a non-executive Director. The pilot is a partnership with the probation service and utilises offenders in property maintenance activities such as grounds maintenance and void clearance.

This not only enables us to achieve more for less but the work is structured in such a way that the participants are able to get a CSCS Card which improves their employability.

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Carla Keegans

Carla Keegans

Location: London
Posts: 6

08/06/2011 4:52 pm

Hello Mike,

I do indeed share this concern and from your question I presume you work on the planned maintenance side of the repairs service, rather than day to day repairs. The restriction of the Govt. Decent Homes funding has come as a major blow to many landlords, particularly Local Authority landlords, many of who had based business plans and budgets on this additional money.

If your organisation has not already begun budget re-planning I would advise that an open and honest discussion is had with your tenants and tenants groups about what is priority and what isn’t. Getting tenants on board, understanding why some works may not be possible is absolutely crucial. Without this, life for staff will become difficult having to explain why some works may not be getting done anymore.

On a wider scale, the issue about some properties now possibly failing to meet the Decency standard is a worrying one. The national standard was set as a MINIMUM for all social housing properties and there are still 1000s that have not be completed and it could be argued the standard is now out of date. However, the move towards self-financing for Local Authority landlords from next April may well offer opportunities to manage assets is new and flexible ways which have not been possible in the past and may offer solutions to this wider problem.

Unfortunately this is one challenge amongst a host of others at the moment in our sector (!), and whilst I don't have space here to go into the other challenges, proactive asset management will be key for all landlords in the future.

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Anonymous

Anonymous

08/06/2011 5:05 pm

Hi Rising Stars

Everything is changing so quickly at the moment. Looking ahead, what would you like to see for the future of social housing?

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Rishi Spolia

Rishi Spolia

Posts: 5

08/06/2011 7:27 pm

Hi Mike,

These are challenging times for us all in the sector, irrespective of the area you work in. I am sure you work everyday to ensure you provide good quality, reliable and effective affordable homes for your customers, but with the spending cuts this challenge becomes harder and harder. Decent homes is and remains a relative basic standard that every customer is entitled to but is still an issue for some LA's. Homes that don't breakdown should be a given in the 21st century.

However challenging times brings out new ways of working and the requirement to make every £1 stretch that bit further. I have been striving to ensure efficiencies with partners - cutting out bureaucracy, squeezing overheads, removing duplication - our repairs contractor actually doing some of or old work and clubbing together with other providers to provide services. I have also worked hard with colleagues to ensure they add a bit of them and "make a difference every day". This is how they make a difference in the way each individual delivers services, interacts with customers, other colleagues and business partners. This does not cost a penny but adds a lot of value to the customer experience.

The biggest challenge for us all? Few people outside the sector are interested in social housing. It may not be an election winner but the reality is that people who can't afford to buy or rent in the private sector need a place to live and we have a duty-and a passion - to make sure that need is met.

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Caris  Henry

Caris Henry

Location: Nottingham
Posts: 7

08/06/2011 10:27 pm

In the (near) future, I would like to see providers’ offering new and tailored services that appeal to a wider section of society enabling them to generate additional surpluses to further extend their roles as community anchors.

I would also like to see providers taking more control in the areas they operate in – managing both private sector housing and purchasing general market properties to offer flexible home ownership. This will disincentive the market for high house prices and create an incentive for people to save.

To achieve this goal providers’ must become more social as currently they tend to only engage with ‘problem’ tenants. We must transform social housings’ ‘memorable moments’ from when things go wrong to a positive one starting at the initial entry point, searching, browsing and purchasing activity and continuing with every phone call, repair or use of smart phone Apps! 

Thus, social housing must move away from being an end in itself and restructure itself as a means to an end – focused on enabling people to get the most out of their environment. If providers articulate and manage risk better, employ a stronger commercial awareness and demonstrate the courage, passion and enthusiasm to develop and implement new business models this will be attained.

Through this I hope social housing in the future simply becomes housing. No more, no less.

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Chris Hancock

Chris Hancock

Location: London
Posts: 7

08/06/2011 10:27 pm

What would I like for the future of social housing? Sorely tempted to just say more of it.

In an effort to be a bit more interesting the following is my non-exhaustive list,

- Re-establishing the ringfence on Supporting People so councils are forced to spend it on vulnerable groups who may not win any votes but do need the help. This will help greatly in being able to support people to make a success of their tenancies.

- I would be keen to see more opportunity to offer tenants who no longer require a certain type of property, sizewise or at certain rent levels, a more suitable property thus freeing theirs for someone in more need. I accept this is a sensitive issue but if you are offering a reasonable alternative I struggle to see what is unfair; especially as hundreds of thousands languish on housing registers in poor accommodation.

- Mainly though I would love to see a return to social housing becoming an unashamedly positive public good, which has no connatations of failure. The NHS is a globally revered UK public service which very few are uncomfortable at relying on, I could see a smilar role for social housing, we just need to break our obssession with unrealsitic universal owner occupation.

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Afzal Shabir

Afzal Shabir

Location: Somewhere in a Democracy
Posts: 22

09/06/2011 1:17 am

Hello Rising Stars.

My question to you all is as follows:

Most Social Housing Providers (SHPs) have met their decency targets and the remaining few are currently engaged in meeting them. As rising stars of the future, can you illustrate the extent of problems SHPs are likley to face when letting their currently decent stock to future tenants in say, 25 years time?

And what standards do you think will be needed then, to ensure the existing stock remains lettable? 

DD

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Carla Keegans

Carla Keegans

Location: London
Posts: 6

09/06/2011 7:22 am

Well there’s a broad question anonymous!

I would like to see the social housing sector leading the way on delivering new models of affordable quality rented housing for anyone that chooses it in our society. I think we have great attributes as a sector – our organisations are built on principles of quality services, value for money, being accountable, and reinvesting surpluses back into people and communities.

Building on these, I believe we have a great opportunity to shape the future of rented housing in this country, by working with other sectors, to ‘raise the bar’ for all rented housing. We desperately need a co-ordinated approach to rented housing across tenures so that is a flexible choice that can meet a broad range of housing needs at different stages in people’s lives.

I believe our sector should take the lead and set this agenda so that we are not in a ‘race to the bottom’. As such, I most definitely do not want to see our sector being marginalised merely as a part of the fractured welfare state, where people’s every day jobs are unfulfilling and tenants quality of life is ruined by insecurity and uncertainty.

And, of course, if we can work with others to make ‘housing for all’ a national priority then we may also get the change in public attitudes and therefore public resources to build the affordable houses we so desperately need – Great Britain needs housing!

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Chris Hancock

Chris Hancock

Location: London
Posts: 7

09/06/2011 8:46 am

DD,

I think the challenges in maintaining this standard over the next 25 years are going to be numerous. We have an aging population who will require adaptations to their properties, we will have a responsibility to make properties as energy efficient as possible to minimise tenants' fuel bills and we will have a competing agenda with the drive to reduce carbon emissions of exisitng properties, which may take away funds which would otherwise be used to maintain properties.

In Exeter we have a relatively old stock of properties and keeping those properties to a minimum standard is hard enough now, but in 25 years time that cost will be unmanageable unless we can adequately fund our programmed works year on year.

Concerning a minimum standard, I think, sadly, that this will largely be determined by resource. It would be self-defeating to allocate a property where the tenant is then immediately back on the housing register with a priority to move on the grounds of disrepair. However the standards used to prioritise applicants on the register as a result of disrepair are pretty minimal and if funding forces us to just aim for this (no Cat 1 hazards for example) I think we would then struggle to find tenants who are proud of their properties and may even struggle to afford them.

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Carla Keegans

Carla Keegans

Location: London
Posts: 6

09/06/2011 10:21 am

Democratic Dictator – I like the name - a reflection of our current system perhaps?!

I also like your forward-thinking question. Planning 25-30 years ahead is currently one of my main tasks at work as we prepare for HRA self-financing. Developing a 30 year business plan and a 30 year asset management strategy is no small challenge! However such planning is absolutely crucial for all providers in order to effectively plan for continued stock investment and ensure the income generation to achieve this investment. Many landlords are already proactive in this area and there is much to share and learn. 

I think this co-operative working is vital for the sector in order to prevent us being in the same situation as we were in 2001 when the Decent Homes programme was launched. Let’s not forget that the programme was a as a result of the dire state of much of the stock due to massive under-investment for decades (which fuelled many stock transfers). 

We therefore need to develop innovative asset management initiatives locally but we must also ensure that we continually press for public investment in all stock, not least to ensure all tenants regardless of which landlord or which area of the country they live in receive consistent levels of service and quality of home.

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Suzanne Ralphson

Suzanne Ralphson

Location: @business_ninja on twitter
Posts: 8

09/06/2011 10:57 am

I'm trying to answer Anon and DD in one here so bear with me...

For the future I'd like to see a home for everyone that needs one, and at the risk of sounding like a utopian daydreamer; the answer shouldn't be more social housing, it should be less. 

Social housing treats the symptoms of low-income and homelessness but we need to treat the cause. The UK needs a policy on housing that looks at affordability and access to housing at all levels, a government that takes the causes of this seriously and addresses the root causes.

There's no quick win and we will always need supported and sheltered housing but as Chris says, in 25 years our stock will not be as good quality, and standrds will inevitably drop to meet demand. So we should be investing in people as well as stock.

We can start by working with partnering agencies or diversifying to provide services that help our tenants become more independent; back to work support, child-care, training and so on. I'm very keen to see us provide construction industry apprenticeships leading to caretaking/ maintenance responsibilities on estates to give tenants valuable work-experience whilst helping us maintain our stock.

In a nutshell I want to make social housing a stepping stone to independent living and develop a reciprocal relationship with our tenants based on more than rent and repairs

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S Brown

S Brown

Posts: 1

09/06/2011 12:35 pm

@Caris - Hi Caris, coming from a private facilities management company, what are your views on the outsourcing of social housing to private companies?

@Suzanne - Hi Suzanne, I notice from your threads that you don't appear to value the contribution social housing can make to sustainable communities (it should only be a 'regularly assessed' 'stepping stone' for those at a 'low point' in their lives). Have you ever shared these views with tenants? If so, what was their response?

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Leon Tricker

Leon Tricker

Location: Portsmouth, UK.
Posts: 24

09/06/2011 1:45 pm

I've posted this before, but I think it's worth repeating as it relates to the question of the future of social housing.

I think I'm coming from the same point of view as Suzanne (please correct me if I'm wrong Suzanne!)

I'd like the government to produce a long-term strategy for the provision of housing across sectors, rather than looking at social housing or home ownership etc. in isolation.

We need a variety of solutions in this country: social housing; private rented housing; home ownership etc. But I'd like to the think that these solutions are just a means to an end - the end being that everyone in this country has access to a decent standard of affordable housing that meets their needs.

I don't see any joined-up thinking from the government when it comes to housing policy; certainly not in the same way as there is for health or education etc. And yet what is more fundamental than needing somewhere to live? It's a need that we all share; we all need somewhere to call 'home'.

I can't think of the quote off the top of my head, but I think it was Beveridge who said that the whole of society benefits when it's citizens are comfortably housed. I'd go along with that.

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Suzanne Ralphson

Suzanne Ralphson

Location: @business_ninja on twitter
Posts: 8

09/06/2011 2:29 pm

Hello S! Honoured that this has inspired your first ever post!

My views are pragmatic but not uncaring, quite the opposite, I 'd like to live in a world where we don't need social housing - wouldn't you? As I've said in previous posts we need a big picture solution to housing as whole.

We have a supply and demand problem with social housing, and it seems that too many people say "not enough homes" when I say "can we help these people to no longer need us?" 

A sustainable community doesn't have to be stagnant, it should be vibrant, a mixture of different backgrounds, interests and desires, and people should have the opportunity to change their circumstances if they wish to. Supported and sheltered housing is about sustainability, general needs could be about opportunity.

Not everyone who lives in social housing wants to live in social housing - however good the stock, the services or the community. Some of our tenants don't want to be subsidised by tax-payers. They want to be ineligible for social housing, they want to get off benefits, they want to earn more, have more support, learn new skills and choose where they live. That's why we should offer every opportunity for them to do so.

That said, S, I don't shy away from my views on eligibility. If someone can afford to live in private accomodation then I believe we have an obligation to provide a route into the private sector and give our homes to people in genuine need.

These are views that I not only happily share with residents but views that are inspired by them.

PS Leon - yes absolutely!

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Chris

Chris

Location: Progressive Solutions Required
Posts: 379

09/06/2011 3:52 pm

To the finalists.

If you are successful and win your day with the Minister how would you go about asking him if he has considered any alternatives to his back to the future policies, and if not, what safeguards he intends to ensure that the proud record of the right to housing, affordability and decency is enshrined in his new private-public partnership approach to housing.

Failing that - the intended 'how will this generations' children be housed' seems a good one!

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Carla Keegans

Carla Keegans

Location: London
Posts: 6

09/06/2011 5:08 pm

Hello Chris,

I will indeed stick to my question of where the Minister thinks the next generation will live. It’s something I’ve thought about for a long time (not meeting the Minister – the answer to that question!). Average wages continue to be low and average house prices, whilst more stable recently, will never return to pre-housing boom prices so are way out of the majority of people’s hands (North and South). It seems like the current home owners children may be ok if properties are passed down, but even then, people are living much longer. And what about the rest?

Added to this are the recent reports of increasing private rented prices, especially in London and the South East, and I do not believe that landlords will drop their prices in response to the LHA changes, contrary to what the Govt. claims. Added to this is the Govt’s approach to making social housing the preserve of those in statutory need only, thus making it further inaccessible to people.

So there is a square and there is a circle and something has to give. People need housing!

Now I’m sure the Minister will argue that the future lies with self-build and cooperatives and community land trusts and not the State. I wholeheartedly agree with such self-help measures but they need significantly greater infrastructure support and investment to expand these to meet national housing needs.

I would therefore put the case simply to the Minister as follows: the current approach to national housing policy is not tackling this fundamental issue. It is placing it’s emphasis on the Private Rented Sector (PRS) to step up to the plate and meet the housing needs of a nation as the other two tenures become more restricted (as above). Whilst I believe there is room for a healthy private rented sector, and an increased role for self-help measures, housing must still be planned. Thus does the Govt. accept this responsibility and if not how indeed will it safeguard people’s right to housing in our society, and deal with the consequences if not?

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Rishi Spolia

Rishi Spolia

Posts: 5

09/06/2011 8:12 pm

Anonymous,

I would like to see a move towards self reliance rather than an asumption that the housing provider is the organisation responsible for the entire problems of the neighbourhood. We certainly have our part to play and can enable and help move this along but the customers and home owners in an area should be encouraged to solve issues and help each other live together peacefully. I think we can help by providing local employment, by providing facilities and funding in some cases, and ensuring we take action with the most extreme cases of non neighbourly activity.

As a sector we have moved away from providing core landlord services and with grant rates being cut everyday we need to spend money on building new homes rather than on services best delivered by other agencies.

I would also like to see us move further away from public control and be allowed to use our assets more freely to benefit our customers.

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