How do we step back from the cliff edge?
There’s a lot of talk in housing at the moment about examining our fundamental purpose – why are we here, who do we serve and how do we deliver that? In Wales we perhaps have a shade less existential doubt than colleagues in England, but for us a bigger question looms – are we at the cliff edge?
You only have to look at the unprecedented level of unknowns that are moving towards us to understand why that is a pertinent question. What will Brexit do to our ability to build? What will the removal of European Investment Bank funding mean for business plans, and the development of communities? What will the Local Housing Allowance cap and roll out of Universal Credit do to the people who live in our homes? That last one is perhaps a known-unknown – we have a fair idea that the fallout may be extremely difficult at a personal level for many people. But to what extent do we have the levers to effectively soften the landing when our ability to provide truly affordable housing is teetering at the cliff edge?
We must collectively try to understand the economic big picture. Without doubt there are social and financial pressures that will influence and shape our sector over the coming years. We must recognise that planning for a response that maintains financial sustainability, and a secure future for our ability to provide services to those most in need, is one of the key responsibilities of those looking at the sector at this macro-level.
Welfare reform provides a similar case in point. The changes, past, present and future, are an extraordinary challenge. How can we continue to offer affordable housing when the goal posts of collecting rent through housing benefit, or the position of under 35s, is so radically altered? The way ahead must surely be to share stories and lessons learned by those with direct experience of new welfare regimes, or how private sector partners have existing expertise in the types of new models of shared tenancies that will become the new norm. Our role as the professional body is to share our expertise, providing housing professionals with as much detail on this vital area of legislation as possible.
In order to step back from the cliff edge, or at the very least make a soft landing for ourselves, it’s vital that we get our response right. Asking difficult questions should lead us to finding positive solutions. Whether that’s new technologies, new approaches to how our staff can instigate change, or looking at the diversity of activities housing organisations are involved in – the underlying task must always be about finding the right way to ensure that the crucial work housing organisations do, providing truly affordable homes to those that need them most, never falls off a cliff edge.