Building Together – why bother?

Some of you following my Rising Stars journey may be wondering why I’m even bothering with the Building Together campaign idea, why it’s important and if it’s even a realistic idea.

Hopefully, by the end of this post you will understand why I’m so passionate about it and will want to join me on my quest for the housing sector to develop new and creative ways of working in partnership to Build Together without Government funding for the benefit of their communities.

There are a whole host of financial based arguments that I can make as to why the sector needs to pull out every stop it can find to build more homes, but I want to start with my personal view of the situation.

Essentially, it boils down to this: life is short and I want to make the most of it by having a positive impact on the world. I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to go to a good university to study a good degree subject (Law with French at the University of Sheffield), which opened my mind to some of the problems in the world (crime) and some ideas about how to change things. In my final year I decided I didn’t want to follow the traditional law student path to practising as a solicitor or a barrister, I wanted a meaningful career.

For a number of reasons, I set my career sights on the housing sector and I was fortunate to discover and successfully apply for the Futures Housing Group graduate scheme in 2009.

Of my 4 and half years of working at FHG, I have spent 3 of them as a member of the Housing Advice team, which advises around 700 homeless households each year. In my early days with the team, I would advise some of these households and although my role has changed since then, I still deal with families in housing need on a very regular basis.

And this is why I’m bothering with the Building Together campaign, because of these experiences on the front line, with people from all sorts of backgrounds, who all want to know why is it so difficult and why do they have to wait so long for a place they can call home?

As a committed housing professional, passionate about the work of our sector, I have always found it really challenging to say to people: “well, it’s because of X Government policy”, or “we’re waiting to hear if we’ve been successful in our funding bid”, or worst of all “I know you have nowhere to stay tonight, but you’re not in priority need, so you’re only option is to travel 15 miles to the nearest emergency hostel, queue for a space and hope they can put you up for 3 nights”.

The Building Together campaign is all about what the sector can do now, without waiting for Government policy, election results or funding bids. We are an innovative, financially robust and committed sector that can do much for ourselves and much for our communities that are relying on us to provide the affordable housing they so desperately need.

Since 2012, I’m honoured to have had the opportunity to coordinate a scheme that provides affordable housing by working in partnership with local property owners and developers. Admittedly, we have received some HCA grant for part of the scheme, but at an average of £11,000 per unit (with owners often contributing significant funding of their own) to bring empty properties back into use as affordable housing, I hope you’ll agree that we’ve made good use of the grant.

Recently, the scheme has started working with local developers who are building significant numbers of new houses and apartments at their own cost, which are leased and let by my organisation at LHA rents. This means we are providing much needed homes to our local residents without central or local Government grant and even without funding from my own organisation. It also means that when I speak to a family in housing need, I can now say “would you be interested in a brand new apartment at LHA rent?”, which is such a good feeling. Already, I can look back on my career and think, I’ve done my bit to sort out the housing shortage and as I’ll probably have to work until I’m 80, I’m excited about what other schemes and opportunities the future will bring my way.

And in case that isn’t’ enough to convince you that my campaign idea is worth bothering about and that it can be achieved, here are some facts and figures that might help (also available as an infographic here) (p.s. if you are convinced, please vote for me as your Rising Star here: https://polldaddy.com/poll/7973880/):

It makes economic sense:

Every pound spend on construction generates £2.09 of economic output

92% of all housing investment stays in the UK

56p of each pound spent returns to the exchequer, of which 36p is direct savings in tax and benefits

There’s an affordable housing shortage!

Around 250,000 new homes required each year, but in 2013, only 110,000 were completed, of which 87,000 were complete by private house builders.

1.68m households on social housing waiting lists in 2013

53,000 households statutorily homeless in 2013

13 million people in the UK live in poverty (2011/2); more than half of these are people are in work (6.7m)

More than 1 million working households claim housing benefit and in 2010/11, 93% of new claims were from working households

We are financially strong:

The sector has a combined worth of £360bn; housing associations posted a surplus of £1.8bn in 2012 and a turnover of £13.8bn

£3.8bn raised by housing associations through public bonds and private placements in 2012/3; the HCA Affordable Homes Programme 2015-18 offers £1.7bn funding

Times are changing:

77% of respondents in a recent survey of the housing sector said they do not anticipate an increase in bricks and mortar subsidies at all; 77% also thought a self-financing sector is desirable and already 24% of respondent’s development plans are for market rent.

It helps the public purse:

Decent homes save the NHS £39.2 million each year

For every property developed, local authorities receive an extra £3,000 each year for six years on average (£1,464 council tax per year plus £8,784 New Homes Bonus)

Poor housing causes many problems:

Poor educational performance and attendance

High crime rates

Increased risk of accident and

Increased transaction and production costs for goods and services

Low-paid workers are unable to live close to centres of economic activity

Serious health problems

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