Rising Stars: the journey so far

It’s 10 days since the announcement was made by Inside Housing and CIH that I’m in the final of this year’s Rising Stars competition.

I was put through to the final following my entry to the question: how would you go about establishing a campaign which raises housing as a key issue for the forthcoming election?

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The title of my campaign idea is ‘Building Together’ and it’s very much rooted in the private sector leasing work we do at Futures Homescape. It’s all about doing something now rather than waiting for the outcome of the next election. We don’t need to wait for the government to issue a policy or create a pot of money that we bid for, there are a lot of things we can do now, with little or no government funding.

Throughout the competition, we three finalists have a number of tasks to complete, including producing a campaign plan. We’ve also been encouraged to shape and test our ideas so that they start to come to life and to get people to support and vote for us.

To this end, so far I have done the following:

  • Started my own blog and posted 3 posts which detail my entry to the competition, how we (PRS team) have adopted a commercial mindset to make profit for a social purpose and how we’ve recently worked in partnership to develop affordable housing without government funding.
  • Created a Pinterest board to inspire the housing sector with examples of developments funded either without Government grant or in a nontraditional way
  • Been interviewed by Inside Housing for the article announcing who’s in the final three of the competition
  • Contacted as many friends, family and colleagues as possible through email, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to ask them to vote for me!
  • Written an article for the Guardian Housing Network on how to turn empty properties into affordable homes
  • Been asked 10 questions by the CIH to find out more about me both personally and professionally
  • Submitted a blog post to the De Montfort University student blog page on the importance of being a student and the benefits that continued studying brings to your professional career. It will be published shortly so keep an eye out.

There are still 8 weeks of the competition to go and at least 3 tasks to complete (an Apprentice-style grilling, a Question Time session and a campaigning master class at Shelter) but I’ve got plenty more cards up my sleeve to further shape, test and promote my campaign idea, so watch this space!

If you’d like to make any comments, suggestions or get involved in any way, please do get in touch :)

And if you haven’t voted for me yet, here’s the link you need: https://polldaddy.com/poll/7973880/

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A royal partnership

Last week, two years of hard partnership working reached a significant milestone.

Back in 2012, a private landlord and local developer asked Futures Homescape if we’d be interested in working with him to build 18 two bedroom apartments on the site of an old Royal Mail sorting office.

Unlike traditional partnerships between developers and housing associations, the landlord was asking us to lease the apartments for 5 years, paying a guaranteed rental income each month. He wasn’t asking for any capital funding or grant.

Aside from a guaranteed monthly rental income and the hassle free property and tenancy management service we provide, the landlord has benefited from a more competitive finance deal from his lender as a result of his lease agreement with us.

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Last week the first tenants moved into their brand new affordable homes (we’ve set the rents in line with LHA to ensure they are affordable). And one of those tenants was our 100th tenant to move into a property leased from a private owner.

I’m thrilled that in just two years, we have built our private sector leasing scheme up from just an idea to managing over 100 properties, including new builds developed without any finance from Futures Homescape, the local authority or central government. What’s more, we’ve got plenty more in the pipeline, including more privately financed new builds.

Making a profit for social purpose

It is a much written about subject, the what, why and how of social housing providers engaging in profit making activities to generate funds for their social activities.

As the Government grant available to the sector continues to disappear (with ever more strings attached to what is left), local authorities and housing associations have increasingly embraced the need to secure funds from other sources so they can continue to provide affordable housing in their communities.

Some have chosen to build homes for market rent and sale, whilst others have diversified into other sectors such as leisure facilities, social enterprise, health services and education provision. To be successful in any and all of these endeavours, providers must adopt a commercial attitude.

At Futures Homescape, in April 2012, we began leasing and managing properties on behalf of private landlords. In just two years, we’re really proud to be leasing over 100 properties, which are offered as affordable housing, often to those in housing need stuck on the waiting list. Many of these properties were previously empty, some for 3 or 4 years, but thanks to HCA funding we’ve helped owners complete the required renovation works using only a fraction of the grant normally used for new builds (around £11,000 per property).

Recently, we’ve started to work with local developers to lease properties that they have built and wholly funded themselves. We’re really keen to do more partnership working like this as it creates so many benefits for local people, businesses, economies and councils, and all without any government funding.

A commercial attitude has been a really important part of this work; without it we wouldn’t have enjoyed the successes above or generated sufficient income to cover our expenses, let alone make a small surplus.

To achieve these successes, we have:

    • Continually developed our products and services in response to what our customers tell us they want, we use every conversation with our customers as an opportunity to find out what they think.
    • Considered anything, no matter how wacky or unusual, such as barn conversions in the middle of a golf course or renovating a pub with a chequered past.

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  • Thinking creatively to make a difficult project work, often through partnership working. We fully explore every leasing opportunity, we hardly ever say no straight away no matter how weird or wonderful it may sound (see above!)
  • Let our products and services speak for themselves; we’ve focused on providing excellent products and services and we’ve really felt the power of word of mouth, no flashy or gimmicky marketing tricks have been required.
  • Thoroughly researched our competitors and what customers think about them to learn what works well and what doesn’t.
  • Scrutinised and questioned every penny of expenditure.
  • Supported colleagues to develop their commercial skill sets and recruited from the private sector where necessary.

I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of developing the private sector leasing scheme, and I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved in just two years. Things have never been easy and we’ve hit numerous bumps in the road along the way, but as I read on LinkedIn recently, a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. It’s fantastic that this work has been recognised by Inside Housing and CIH, who have shortlisted me and my work in this year’s Rising Stars competition.

Whilst some may still be questioning whether or not and how to diversify, for me it’s vitally important that the sector maximises its financial strength and experience to ensure our communities are provided with the affordable housing they so desperately need.

I’m a CIH & Inside Housing Rising Stars 2014 finalist :)

So my first blog post is more of an announcement… I’m in the final of this year’s Chartered Institute of Housing & Inside Housing Rising Stars competition!!

The first Inside Housing article is here: http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/home/analysis/7003301.article

I’m so thrilled to be one of just three people chosen by an expert panel of judges. I wasn’t sure if the ideas in my entry would appeal to the judges so I was certainly shocked when I received a phone call to tell me otherwise!

What makes this really special is that the ideas in my entry were based on the work I’m doing at Futures Homescape, so it makes me incredibly proud to have my team’s work recognised in this way :)

I’m really passionate about my work so I’m really looking forward to sharing this with others and encouraging and supporting them to develop their own schemes.

At this stage all I know is:

  • Between now and CIH Housing 2014 in June, we three finalists will be asked to perform a range of tasks that will showcase our skills, knowledge and professionalism.
  • Colleagues from across the housing industry will be encouraged to vote online for their favourite Rising Star throughout the process and specifically after each task
  • The overall winner will be announced at a gala awards ceremony on Monday 23 June 2014

I’m feeling a whole world of emotions at the thought of what the next two months have in store for me: nervous, scared, excited, optimistic, challenged, ambitious… but I know that it’s going to be a great experience no matter what.

I’ve reproduced my entry to the competition below, if you like what you see please share, like and vote for me here: http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/SPIN2_NO_ADS.aspx?navCode=2098

And of course please leave comments, ask questions, share your experiences and join the debate.

 

Without promoting any political party, how would you go about establishing a campaign which raises housing as a key issue for the forthcoming election?

  • Your campaign title: Doing it for ourselves

 

  • Who your target audience would be and why you would target them? (max 150 words)

The housing sector needs a new approach to how it funds and develops housing at an affordable price. Government funding for the sector is increasingly limited and, no matter which party is in power following the 2015 elections, this looks set to continue.

I would call upon all housing associations (HAs) and local authorities (LAs) to focus on what they can achieve without Government funding.

We are an innovative, financially robust and committed sector that can do much for ourselves and much for the communities we serve. Indeed, our communities are relying on us to provide the affordable housing they so desperately need.

We are well placed to forge strong relationships with the wide range of people and organisations that support our work, such as credit unions, local faith groups, training and apprenticeship providers, local developers, self-builders, local investors and entrepreneurs, etc.

  • The key message(s) of your campaign? (max 150 words)

That housing associations and local authorities can do so much without Government funding.

That we can start now, we don’t need to wait for the outcome of the next election to provide more homes in our communities.

That the words profit and commercialisation are not necessarily dirty words if you still have a social purpose at your heart.

That housing needs local solutions and we are well placed to deliver the right solutions, at the right scale, with the right partners.

To inspire HAs & LAs to action by highlighting examples of how others have innovated to meet the housing needs of their communities without Government funding. For example, as part of our private sector leasing scheme in Amber Valley we have worked with a small local developer to transform an empty office into 18 brand new apartments at a rent local people can afford. The developer has wholly funded the development, no HA, LA or central Government funding has been required.

  • How you would engage with people to get your message across? (max 150 words)

I would contact LAs and HAs directly to discuss how they are and can develop affordable housing without Government funding through local partnership working.

To inspire people to answer my call to do it for ourselves, I would highlight the financial and non-financial benefits of taking this approach for the benefit of our communities, including, creating local training and employment opportunities, supporting local supply chains, increasing council tax and New Homes Bonus receipts, increasing footfall in local towns to support local businesses, supporting local developers, reducing waiting lists, improve health outcomes through quality housing provision, reducing poverty through affordable housing provision and reducing benefit dependency. All without Government funding, and even without LA or HA funding. How could anyone say no to all of this?

As detailed above, I would give examples of how others have innovated to meet the housing needs of their communities without Government funding. This would give HAs and LAs confidence to do it for themselves.

  • How would you judge whether your campaign was successful? (max 150 words)

This campaign would be successful if every HA and LA recognise that they can do much for their communities without Government funding and they embrace and utilise their ability to do it for themselves.

As a result of this campaign HAs and LAs would work in new and creative ways with their partners for the benefit of their communities; in every borough and district, HAs and LAs would develop quality housing at an affordable price through local partnerships rather than with Government funding.

Most importantly, communities would benefit hugely as those stuck on waiting lists, in expensive temporary accommodation or sofa surfing are provided with quality, affordable housing, jobs and training opportunities are created, local business are supported through supply chains and increased footfall and poverty, poor health and benefit dependency are tackled. And all thanks to LAs, HAs and their partners building homes.

 

 

Welcome to my new blog :)

Hello and welcome to my new blog :)

I’ve blogged previously on my organisation’s intranet site and I’ve copied my old blogs over to this site.

I’ve also been tweeting for a while but 140 characters is never enough, so here I am in the blogosphere!

Here you’ll find my thoughts on a range of housing issues that I find interesting, such as developing and financing new housing, bring empty properties back into use, homelessness and the cost of living to name a few.

I’ll also write about what I get up to as a housing professional, a student at De Montfort University, a board member of the CIH East Midlands board and an associate at HQN.

Find out more about me on the ‘About my work’ page and if you’re interested in developing affordable housing without Government funding through local partnership working, check out the ‘case studies’ page.

I’d really like to hear what people think about this blog, including suggestions for topics and your views and experiences compared to mine.

HELP TO BUY WON’T HELP THE AVERAGE FIRST-TIME BUYER (November 2013)

I’ve been keeping a keen eye on the news and reaction surrounding the second stage of the Governments Help to Buy scheme. I’m interested on both a professional and a personal level; personally I hoped it would offer an affordable route into home ownership with a small deposit.

Unfortuantely, it offers no more than any other 95% mortgage, i.e. high monthly repayments. Rather than stretch myself to my financial limit just to achieve the dream of home ownership, I have decided to continue renting and saving until I have a larger deposit to ensure I can access an affordable mortgage.

Whilst some may consider rent as ‘dead money’, what I pay in rent is broadly equivalent to what I would pay in mortgage interest on a 95% mortgage and I think that interest is truly dead money (at least I get something in return for my rent). In the mean time, whilst a homeowner would make capital repayments, I will save as much as I can but with the flexibility (which you don’t get with most mortgages) to save a little more or less each month to suit my situation.

Last week Priced Out Uk (the campaign for affordable house prices) released some research which demonstrates many others will be better offer renting and saving rather than buying a house using the Help to Buy scheme:

Interest rates are so high under the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme that the monthly repayments for the average first-time buyer in England and Wales with a 5% deposit are more expensive than the monthly rent on an average home – by between £26 in the North East and £296 in London.

This means that it would be cheaper for people with a small deposit to continue renting and use the difference to keep saving – unless house prices rise by more than is predicted. Depending on the region, house prices would need to rise significantly – by 6% per year in the North West, by 34% in the South West and by 28% in London – for it to be worth using Help to Buy now. Despite this, PricedOut warns that the government is putting families under pressure to get on the ladder by taking on unaffordable levels of debt.

As an example, the average rent in London is £1141 per month. An average first time buyer in the capital using Help To Buy can expect to pay £1437 per month, based on average price of a first home of £256,000, a 5% deposit of £12,800 and an interest rate of 4.99%. With the prospect of the Bank of England base rate increasing, repayments will only increase in future. Instead, by saving the difference someone in London considering Help to Buy could instead increase the size of their deposit by an average of 28% over the course of a year.

Monthly repayments of a Help to Buy mortgage are around 40% higher than those for a typical 3.8% mortgage with a 25% deposit.

PricedOut spokesman Dan Wilson Craw said:

“This analysis suggests that Help to Buy will not help the average first time buyer, despite the government’s insistence to the contrary. When tenants see house prices rising they will feel pressure to take advantage of a 95% mortgage, but in doing so, many will find themselves overburdened with debt and will be paying vastly more than they would in rent, particularly in the South. And that’s even before you consider the impending interest rate rises a few years down the line.

“The millions of us renting want to be able to buy our own home eventually but, with house prices too high, all David Cameron and George Osborne have offered us is a Ponzi scheme to pull the wool over our eyes and help inflate the value of their London property portfolios even further. Continuing to rent and save appears to be the better option for most tenants.

“Instead of showering us with debt, the government need to make the actual houses cheaper and the only way they can do that is to build more of them.”

High house prices? Blame the Normans (September 2013)

Whilst I’m not usually one for history, below is an interesting article from the Guardian blaiming the Normans for the high house price and property owning elite of the present day. The article explains the main driver behind the absurd expense of owning land and property in Britain is that so much of the nation’s land is locked up by a tiny elite. Just 0.3% of the population – 160,000 families – own two thirds of the country. Less than 1% of the population owns 70% of the land, running Britain a close second to Brazil for the title of the country with the most unequal land distribution on Earth.
Nearly four years ago, I began writing a novel, set in the aftermath of the Norman conquest of 1066. Before I began to write, I spent six months sitting in the Bodleian library poring over books and journals to familiarise myself with the period. I soon realised that, apart from the story of the Battle of Hastings that everyone learns at school, I knew hardly anything about the impact of the conquest. I began to understand, too, how much of that impact is still with us.

By the end of the process, I had come to a slightly disquieting conclusion: we are still being governed by Normans.

Take house prices. According to the author Kevin Cahill, the main driver behind the absurd expense of owning land and property in Britain is that so much of the nation’s land is locked up by a tiny elite. Just 0.3% of the population – 160,000 families – own two thirds of the country. Less than 1% of the population owns 70% of the land, running Britain a close second to Brazil for the title of the country with the most unequal land distribution on Earth.

Much of this can be traced back to 1066. The first act of William the Conqueror, in 1067, was to declare that every acre of land in England now belonged to the monarch. This was unprecedented: Anglo-Saxon England had been a mosaic of landowners. Now there was just one. William then proceeded to parcel much of that land out to those who had fought with him at Hastings. This was the beginning of feudalism; it was also the beginning of the landowning culture that has plagued England – and Britain – ever since.

The dukes and earls who still own so much of the nation’s land, and who feature every year on the breathless rich lists, are the beneficiaries of this astonishing land grab. William’s 22nd great-granddaughter, who today sits on the throne, is still the legal owner of the whole of England. Even your house, if you’ve been able to afford one, is technically hers. You’re a tenant, and the price of your tenancy is your loyalty to the crown. When the current monarch dies, her son will inherit the crown (another Norman innovation, incidentally, since Anglo-Saxon kings were elected). As Duke of Cornwall, he is the inheritor of land that William gave to Brian of Brittany in 1068, for helping to defeat the English at Hastings.

The land grab was not the only injustice perpetrated by the Normans that has echoed down the centuries. William built a network of castles with English slave labour from which he controlled the rebellious populace by force. This method of colonisation and control was later exported to Ireland, Scotland and Wales, as the descendants of the Norman kings extended their empire from England to the Celtic nations. They taxed the poor harshly (the Domesday book is a tax collector’s manual), deepening rural poverty to enrich royal coffers which were used to fight the continental wars that ravaged medieval Europe. Not without justification has one historian referred to Norman rule as a system of “medieval apartheid”.

These days, I can’t stop myself wondering what kind of country this might be now if William had lost at Hastings. Would we have been spared the aristocratic estates and the hereditary monarchs? Could the industrial revolution, even the empire, have happened in the same way without that intense concentration of land and power? Would the English be a less deferential people than they often still, frustratingly, are?

Questions like this can never be answered. But I think it’s worth noting that in 2012, as in 1066, the ruling class still drink wine while the “plebs” drink beer, much of the country remains the property of a few elite families and the descendants of the Normans remain wealthier than the general population. Meanwhile, the nation as a whole is paying the price for the rapacity of a wealthy elite which feels no obligation to its people.

But it’s worth noting something else too. The Norman conquest spurred a decade-long campaign of underground resistance by guerrilla bands across England – a story that is largely forgotten now. The Normans called these rebels the “silvatici” – the men of the woods, or the wild men – and they proved as hard to defeat as guerrilla fighters always are. Though the Normans were never expelled, the spirit of the silvatici can be traced throughout later English history, from the Peasants’ Revolt to the tales of Robin Hood. Not everyone takes conquest lying down. Today’s elites might like to take note.