Challenge to Find Homes for All Is as Tough as Ever; AGENDA It's Not Only Private Home Owners Who Are Affected by the Changing House Market - Housing Associations Have to Deal with Present Demands While Also Planning for the Future, as Mike Pritty Explains

The Birmingham Post (England), February 25, 2008 | Go to article overview

Challenge to Find Homes for All Is as Tough as Ever; AGENDA It's Not Only Private Home Owners Who Are Affected by the Changing House Market - Housing Associations Have to Deal with Present Demands While Also Planning for the Future, as Mike Pritty Explains


Byline: Mike Pritty

February has been an interesting month for housing. Yet, as the Chinese proverb says, it is sometimes a curse to live in interesting times!

The media is full of stories of impending economic recession. Housing market turmoil in the wake of the US sub-prime mortgage lending debacle has precipitated the 'credit crunch' on this side of the Atlantic. A new Housing Minister, Caroline Flint, has unveiled a radical agenda of linking access to social housing with seeking employment. And social housing, so often eclipsed by the more glamorous public policy areas of health and education, has now moved closer to the top of the political agenda, assisted by Gordon Brown becoming Prime Minister.

Against this backdrop, the National Housing Federation Board Members conference was held at Birmingham's ICC to enable those of us who are responsible for the management of the country's main social housing providers - housing associations - to take a breath before the plunge into the increasingly complex future that awaits us in 2008 and beyond. Board Members are individuals who take on public management of housing associations although the day-to-day work is undertaken by professional staff.

It is easy with the constant drip-drip of news about house prices and repossessions to forget that there is real work going on in the 'bricks and mortar' economy. While no one wishes to minimise the effect of the 'paper' housing market on people and communities, the ongoing work of social housing organisations is sometimes lost against the background noise of reporting on home ownership.

Looking behind the headlines shows that a far greater national problem is the lack of affordable and social housing. There are 1.5 million on council waiting lists, after all, with many more thousands homeless or living in temporary housing. At the same time, home ownership is beyond even those with aboveaverage incomes.

Nationally, the average house price is more than seven times average earnings and more than six times in the West Midlands. Some re-adjustment of the housing market will help first-time buyers and decrease the pressure on social housing. However the goal must be to increase the number and quality of affordable and social homes to meet existing and future needs.

Housing associations, in partnership with government, local councils, lending institutions, developers, communities and tenants, remain at the forefront of meeting the country's housing needs. It is a little acknowledged fact that the number of social homes managed by housing associations in the West Midlands exceeded those run by local councils for the first time last year, underlining the role that housing associations play.

Since the role played by housing associations in providing new housing and supporting tenants and neighbourhoods is now vital, perhaps it is time to reflect on how these social housing organisations came to be where they are now.

After World War One, housing associations were founded by mainly Christian groups and/or wealthy businessmen wishing to respond to the Government's call for 'Homes fit for heroes'. Many of these new housing associations carried out 'slum-patching' in cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and the capital.

They grew steadily during the following decade and, by the 1950s, housing associations branched out to meet the needs of elderly people and those with special needs. The impact of Ken Loach's Cathy Come Home documentary, much of which was filmed in Birmingham, and the birth of Shelter, enabled new housing associations to be founded with the goal of tackling urban poverty in the socalled twilight zones in the inner city.

Housing associations were funded charitably at this time but the Wilson Government introduced the Housing Act 1974, which provided some public funding. Such public funding grew until 1988 when the Thatcher Government enabled housing associations to borrow large amounts of private finance to support their housing programmes. …

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