Here’s looking at you
Social landlords have been accused of being too introverted by ministers. As the sector gathers to reflect on its future at the Chartered Institute of Housing’s annual conference, Rhiannon Bury asks other professions what they see in housing
The need for housing to up its profile will be a hot topic at the Chartered Institute of Housing conference and exhibition in Manchester next week.
With former housing minister John Healey calling the sector too ‘introverted’ to effectively present its case to government, and housing minister Grant Shapps attacking housing’s ‘lazy consensus’, social landlords seem to be taking a battering.
This is not about just getting credit for good work: housing professionals could be missing out on cash from care, safety and education budgets at a time when no one can afford to turn funding away.
Grainia Long, chief executive of the CIH, says the solution lies in providers presenting a stronger case: ‘I know there are providers who are already working alongside health and education authorities but, in general, we do need to be more strategic.’
So are housing providers communicating badly with other sectors, and what can be done about it?
The private sector’s view
Who: James Walsh, former co-ordinator at employment assistance organisation Work Directions, who now works at Bromford Housing Group
The problem: the housing sector is often seen as too slow and bureaucratic and private sector organisations are unwilling to get involved.
‘I used to work for welfare to work providers and the government’s employability programme, so I’ve worked with housing providers from the other side,’ says Mr Walsh.
‘Joining the housing sector six years ago was a short, sharp shock because I felt like I’d stepped back a decade - compared with the private sector it was behind the times. Housing doesn’t know what its unique selling point is and if it does, it doesn’t know how to sell it in a way that prime contractors would want to buy it. When you get a group of housing providers in a room together they take an age to make a decision - things have to go to their boards. Contractors just want one organisation to talk to and for things to happen.’
The solution: speed up decision-making by simplifying organisations’ structures.
The social worker’s view
Who: Carolyn Denne, head of service quality at the Social Care Institute for Excellence
The problem: housing providers risk missing out on accessing funding from health budgets.
‘It’s a very complex world at the moment - in many ways, the problems are the same as they’ve always been, but the economic climate is much harder and there’s a real demographic challenge in terms of older people,’
says Ms Denne.
‘People don’t tend to discriminate against which bits of their care are delivered by doctors, social workers or the housing association, but there are often problems with social care being delivered by the county authority and housing provision being delivered by the district council, and the housing association has to keep it all together.
‘The health system is beginning to realise the benefits housing can bring in terms of helping people who have come out of hospital and so on.
‘Obviously it’s a very mixed picture with some associations unwilling to share good practice - the challenge is about bringing the housing-related support budget into social care budgets so that money can be tailored to the individual.’
The solution: getting involved in personalised budgets means there is access to money across health and social care sectors.
The health sector’s view
Who: Steve Shrubb, director of the Mental Health Network
The problem: housing providers aren’t always willing to get involved with health services.
‘Over the past few years there’s been a bit of a spurt forward in terms of mental health providers realising they need strong links with housing associations, but we’ve still got relatively few partnerships,’ Mr Shrubb says.
‘There are no physical or legal barriers to people working together - it’s about organisations identifying the joint agenda and talking to each other. Where we have connected organisations up they’ve almost always got on like a house on fire, but it is about people being willing to talk to each other.
‘There are a few housing associations that work closely with vulnerable people and have that expertise so make the links automatically, but the generic providers are nowhere near as engaged.’
The solution: work with health providers to offer a more integrated care service.
The police force’s view
Who: Heather Gurden, senior architectural liaison officer at Essex Police
The problem: anti-social behaviour issues take a long time to solve.
‘We work very closely with affordable housing providers to design crime out of developments,’ says Ms Gurden.
‘We work to make sure places are nice neighbourhoods that people are happy to live in, but ultimately it’s about management and you can’t rule out crime anywhere.
‘There are lots of positive partnerships, but sometimes it’s like banging your head against a brick wall - you can only advise people. The difficulty is that often you have many departments in the same [housing] organisation that don’t talk to each other so what is done to improve the design might not get through to the property management teams.
‘It takes years to build up a rapport with housing associations - if the partnership work is done right and people get round the table then where there are issues they can be solved. That saves money for us and for the housing association, and makes places better to live in.’
The solution: working with the police from the outset fosters good relations.
The teacher’s view
Who: Gary Carlile, assistant head teacher at Barrs Hill School, Coventry
The problem: housing associations don’t always have a good image in the community.
‘Our work with Whitefriars Housing through a business in the community programme has shown the school that [the housing organisation] is willing to get involved with inspiring young people. As teachers, we see the effects of bad housing reflected in the students’ work - if they haven’t got somewhere quiet to study it is really telling.
‘Sometimes it is easy to see housing associations as big bad organisations which lay down rules and charge people money, but since the [housing] staff have come into the school the students have got to know them and can put a face to a name.
‘Working in an inner-city school you see a lot of problems with overcrowding, but generally the housing associations are willing to work to address this, so our students can have better homes.’
The solution: working across other sectors demonstrates there’s more to housing than bricks and mortar.