It’s been four years since I attended the Chartered Institute of Housing conference.
The last time I was here, in June 2013, the coalition government was in power and it was placing all of its emphasis on home ownership. Meanwhile, the mainstream media continued to pretty much ignore housing.
The sector adopted what Boris Worrall, chief executive of Rooftop Housing Group, perfectly described in a session on Tuesday as a “Millwall FC attitude”: “No one likes us, we don’t care”.
That defiance, as far as I can tell, has been eroded by a combination of factors, including the four-year, 1% rent cut; government scrutiny of chief executive pay; and welfare reform.
And then the tragedy that changed everything: the Grenfell Tower fire has led to serious introspection within the sector, with difficult and awkward questions coming from all angles.
Yes, this is an awful moment, but it’s absolutely not time for social landlords to keep quiet because they’re concerned about criticism.
This was brought home to me on Wednesday, during a particularly gloom-filled, but hard-hitting, conference session at which Sinead Butters, chief executive of Aspire and chair of the PlaceShapers group of housing providers, talked about Aspire’s tenants who aren’t ‘just about managing’: they’re not managing.
Keith Exford, chief executive of Clarion Housing Group, spoke about our increasingly divided society, as highlighted by Wednesday’s Social Mobility Commission report.
Paul Beardmore, director of housing at Manchester City Council, talked about the freeze on Local Housing Allowance increases and how, in high demand areas of Manchester, private landlords simply do not need to rent homes to those who rely on benefits.
Lord Best pointed out that there are 900,000 people in the private rented sector within the LHA system. “When their tenancies come to an end and they’re told, ‘Sorry you’re out’, where are they going to go?”.
Well, hopefully they will have the opportunity to join the many people who are already offered help, support and stability by the social housing sector.
With her PlaceShapers hat on, Sinead Butters also helped launch a report this week that showed PlaceShaper members plan to build 152,000 homes over the next decade – doubling recent output.
And this is the point: social landlords house a huge range of people, including those who are vulnerable and those who are working hard but still struggling to cover the increasing cost of living – they all need the sector to stand up and advocate on their behalf.
The spotlight is on housing. It’s time to engage. It’s time for providers to talk about all the good work their teams do and to tell their residents’ stories.
Instead of “No one likes us, we don’t care” – it’s time to prove “We do care, we care very much”.
See Media is attending the three days of Housing 2017 in Manchester. We will blog each day on our take on the highlights at www.see-media.co.uk