Hair brained schemes and crackpot ideas…..it can be said that this has been a theme of my nearly 30 years working in housing. Alongside others, I have been involved with helping to identify new solutions to problems others may have considered unsolvable or had simply filed under too difficult. Although starting off in mainstream housing management, I quickly went off on tangents around homelessness, homeless families and temporary accommodation – helping to address some of the extreme manifestations of need.
And now as Chief Executive of Commonweal Housing, we are focusing on a wider canvas of enduring or seemingly intractable social injustices. This includes injustices faced by marginalised groups such as women with complex needs seeking to exit prostitution or asylum seekers trapped in destitution within the asylum system. However, Commonweal also addresses challenges faced by the majority at key trip hazards or tipping points in peoples’ lives such as journeys to adulthood.
Commonweal, along with our expert delivery partners is achieving success. Last week we held an important event for those delivering the Re-Unite project across the country – helping women homeless upon release from prison to access suitable family housing and assisting them to be re-united with their children. Commonweal was able to bring together a group of housing associations to hear about the model; to find out about the benefits it might have for them and to encourage them to make a small number of homes available to our Re-Unite partners. The response from both sides was very positive and we are hopeful that more homes will flow from it, allowing more families to be re-united.
But one cannot help having moments of reflection and asking the bigger question: are we spending our time just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?
The initial response, well we know at Commonweal that we are increasingly busy – even if we are working at the margins. We know that day by day these margins – these areas of injustice, are getting bigger. People falling though the gaps and facing injustices and systemic nonsense are increasing. But, the bigger picture is that the Titanic itself is at real risk of sinking even faster!
I have recently attended another barnstorming speech by David Orr the Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation at their Annual Conference. David made it very clear that there is a real housing crisis NOW.
What is fuelling this crisis? The decades long under delivery of much needed new homes – widely recognised as being around 245,000 each year. This means that the future needs of the latest baby boom – the millions of children born in the UK between 2001 and 2012 – will be even worse that the current generation rent. Those in their 20’s and 30’s wanting to become first time buyers of the average UK house now need a total household income of £38,000 a year – a figure HIGHER than the average household income level in the country today! This means that more than half of households, half of working households, that may have a hope or ambition to buy a home, can’t – plain and simple!
This is a simply shocking statistic and one that of course masks huge regional variations and the far greater hurdle facing those wanting to live in Bristol or Oxford, Brighton or Exeter let alone London and the wider south east.
The scale of the crisis is indeed large and significant changes will be needed, as promoted by the NHF. Those significant changes need to be undertaken by others – with all our help.
At Commonweal we know that the injustices felt by those at the margins cannot be ignored and whether the ship sinks or not, we cannot allow people to be needlessly washed overboard. So, for the foreseeable future, the Commonweal band plays on, it is much needed, and we will continue to make sure as many people as possible have that deckchair available for them!
Chief Executive – Commonweal Housing
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