thoughts on housing

I have been meaning to write a blog entry on this for a while, but suspect that I'll not be able to sort my thoughts out fully.

Housing allocation is getting to be a major issue for local authorities now. In the era before right to buy, the housing stock was much easier to manage. Now the better stock tends to leave council ownership, so there are
private houses
mixed council owned, and right to buy housing
unattractive council housing that is not being bought.

For councils the main driver, metric, seems to be voids. Until there are a lot of voids, they don't seem to worry too much. However by the time that there are a lot of voids, it is probably too late, too expensive to do very much.

The problem with housing is that it is not just about providing people with a roof over their head. It is about providing them with an environment in which to live. An environment which will support or hinder them, with which they will interact positively or negatively.

Increasingly the junction between housing and police, or housing and social work is becoming key.

Councils have a reduced housing stock, so now far more of the people that they need to place are compulsory placings, and those without special needs, will find their way into private rentals, or simply stay where they are. So there is a far larger proportion of people with no choice to house, the former homeless to house, ex prisoners, etc.

There is always an element of social engineering in housing allocations. I suppose the council expects the good people to exert a positive influence. Too often it is the other way round and the negative influence becomes unbearable.

I think that the local authority needs to recognise that it is not simply in the business of renting out housing, working to the same metrics as any buy to let landlord, looking to avoid voids and ensure occupancy, with no real quality indicators.

Because their client base has changed, their business needs to change.

There needs to be vastly more emphasis on the social reintegration of people.

If the local authority believes that local residents are doing this, then it should pay them to do so. Maybe not directly, but what about a rebate on their council tax, or the provision of extra amenities for all. Put in some former homeless people, then ensure that the local police spend more time in the area, put a community pool in the local school, engage with local community groups. You need to create the sort of deal that the chinese do, a deal that works for both sides, so that it does not need to be tied up with legal paperwork, because no one would want to walk away from it.

Rather than the nimby argument, just put this somewhere else, communities should be offered such a good package that they want it.

Surprisingly Dounreay created a lot of jobs in a remote area, so by and large it was accepted positively by the local residents. With the right package, local communities will accept difficult choices. Local authorities need to treat communities as equal partners and engage with them in a meaningful way, a policy of simply imposing is wrong, imposing and listening, but not negotiating is wrong too, it needs to be a case of reaching agreement on what would be acceptable.

Because local authorities are in the business of social reintegration, they cannot just provide a roof over people's heads and hope that they get on with it. They need to create halfway houses, supported accomodation for far more people. Just as the elderly had sheltered housing, all sorts of groups would benefit from warden assisted housing. In some cases the warden would support, in some they would enforce, in most it would be a light touch that ensured neither support nor enforcement was called for. Bad things happen where no one is looking. The local authority need only have someone on the ground looking, and much will go much better.

These are modest proposals, but will require that local authorities take these issues out of their organisational silos, but until they start looking at the business they are actually in, they cannot deliver. Simply doing what you always did, simply gives you what you always got. Local authorities need to start doing different, and doing better.