Time to make your move
For the first time this year members of the Chartered Institute of Housing are being asked to vote for who they want to be vice president of the body in 2012, and subsequently president in 2013.
Two candidates have put themselves forward: experienced housing consultant and interim manager Jan Taranczuk (profile on CIH here), and Orbit Housing Group chief executive Paul Tennant (profile here).
To help separate the two presidential hopefuls we’ve asked them both a list of questions tackling some of the most contentious issues facing the affordable housing sector.
If you are a member of the CIH you have until 30 January to cast your vote, but whether you are or not we’d be interested to know what you think through the poll at the top right of this article. This won’t have any direct bearing on the result, but could give a useful indication of how the opinions put forward by the candidates chime with housing professionals.
1. Should social landlords offer flexible tenancies of less than five years, and if so in what circumstances?
Jan Taranczuk: The Localism Act provides flexibility that may be useful when using properties for short term use (as part of a regeneration scheme) but in general needs housing, managers already have the tools to deal with breaches of tenancy conditions. After moving, people need stability and the opportunity to progress. Creating uncertainty from the beginning of a tenancy will not help to create stable and sustainable communities. When changes are introduced into an already complicated area of work without clarity about the outcomes, then this makes life more complicated for the housing professionals on the ground, both the policy makers and the management staff.
Paul Tennant: I support the five-year minimum tenancy because having a safe and secure home is absolutely fundamental to people’s well being. That’s as true now as when I came into the sector 30 years ago. I believe tenancies of less than five years don’t generally support the creation of mixed and stable communities. Housing is a scarce resource and we should encourage mobility – but only where it suits the individual. Ultimately for me, it’s about people having as much choice and control over their lives as possible.
2. How can housing providers respond to the government’s moves to reduce the cost of housing benefit payments?
PT: While recognising the reality of the global economic situation, we must make a compelling case to government for support for those who need it and avoid demonising groups in society. As organisations we do need to continue driving efficiency, providing capital subsidy, and supporting people with training and achieving employment. But government must recognise that as capital subsidy falls, the revenue burden will increase because subsidised housing requires subsidy. Registered providers can innovate and will do so to meet the growing needs of our communities - but we must keep the pressure on Government for a fair and equitable welfare system.
JT: There was an assumption that by reducing the local housing allowance, this would reduce private rents. This, at the same time as introducing a so called ‘affordable rent’ programme that drives up rents in social housing, creates a situation where the benefit bill will increase. This will cause further disharmony between the Communities and Local Government department and the Department for Work and Pensions which may create further benefit cuts so they can meet budget forecasts. Quite rightly, social landlords have seen the sense in increasing advice and help to residents and the recent report commissioned by Hyde showed it is both the right thing to do and makes good business sense.
3. Can the need for more homes be reconciled with need to protect the countryside? Do the government’s planning reforms strike the right balance?
JT: Yes. It needs to be remembered that there is housing need outside the big cities. In market towns and villages across the country young families are being priced out of the market. District councils have waiting lists of people who need housing, with little prospect of being able to help. Whilst there can always be improvements to current planning arrangements, continued uncertainty over planning changes does nothing to increase supply, and it is the increased supply of homes that is the key.
PT: Development can be reconciled with protecting the countryside. We must build more homes if we are to solve this housing crisis. That doesn’t mean concreting over the countryside; we need to make best use of currently available sites, including brownfield land and build homes that are truly sustainable, of the highest design standards and which enhance the local environment. The planning reforms need to focus on delivering more affordable housing by maximising planning gain in a climate of limited public subsidy.
4. Will giving councils more freedom to set their own allocation policies counter the perception of unfairness in the system?
PT: I think flexibility is a positive step in principle, as it allows councils to make the best use of what is a scarce resource in response to local issues and circumstances. However we must ensure that those in real housing need are not sidelined by new criteria. Ultimately we are dealing with the symptoms of a very real issue – the fact that we have too few homes. I strongly believe that we need to challenge and change the current negative narrative around social housing. This is something I am committed to tackling with fellow housing professionals, if elected.
JT: No. Changes in allocations just ‘re-arranges the deckchairs on the Titanic’. The local authority has a finite number of homes to let each year, by giving extra priority to one group means someone else is not helped. Indeed, by introducing more flexibility, some of which will not be based on housing need, perceptions of unfairness will increase. We’re back to supply and affordability. The difficulty will continue to be faced by front line staff, who, on a daily basis are unable to help many of those who walk through their doors.
5. What impact will the closure of the Tenant Services Authority have on regulation of the social housing sector?
JT: The consultation on this subject closes on 10 February 2012 and the CIH is asking its members for their views. Clearly any scrutiny of performance that is led by residents makes business sense and needs to become embedded in good practice, but the current proposals that leave these matters in the hands of housing association boards and local councillors for local authority tenants will not be enough. A housing association resident said to me recently, ‘we can do this but we need teeth!’ A process will need to be introduced that allows an escalation of concerns about performance and standards to be taken up by the regulator not just the current proposal of intervention when there is risk of serious harm to tenants.
PT: I think it offers real opportunity to regulate ourselves and work more closely with residents. I completely support lighter regulation, enabling us to focus on our contribution to helping people and improving neighbourhoods, rather than top-down targets. Greater self-determination enables us to drive forward our standards because we want to and believe in them - not because we are told to. Scrutiny structures will help overcome any concerns that customers’ views will be overlooked. CIH will have a key role to play in supporting us through training and sharing of good practice in a less regulated world.
6. What role do you see the housing sector playing in society in five years time?
PT: I am passionate about our role in making society a better place and know that CIH’s members share that commitment. I see us continuing to provide homes and creating strong and successful communities; doing even more to equip people to achieve their potential; and expanding and diversifying our key role as community anchors. CIH will be crucial in equipping the profession with the right skills to do the job in the future. Although there are huge challenges ahead, I am confident that working with CIH and its members we can and will shape our future role in society.
JT: The housing sector; homeowners, private renters, housing associations and the councils themselves will be affected by national economic factors (like the availability of finance) and local supply and demand. Local authorities have to take leadership on the local issues, and the government on national ones. The CIH will need to play a key role in providing practical, professional advice to those organisations as well as to housing associations, both large and small who will continue to be important stakeholders in the housing sector. In five years we will know how much of the government’s housing strategy has been successfully implemented.