Housing Resources as a “Social Service”

by Robert Sexsmith

Instead of blaming everyone else for the historically low numbers of new affordable houses over recent decades, supporters of social housing should concentrate on demanding that some actually get built.

Social housing might have rebranded itself as “affordable”, but one precondition for all rents to go down would be to end scarcity by building a lot more houses. Availability also colours attitudes towards social housing tenants.

One does not have to be particularly nostalgic to realize that the massive expansion of social provision in the post-war period transformed public, non-profit or co-op housing recipients from mere beneficiaries of charitable largesse to citizen householders with rights. At the same time, housing associations offered membership and community-organized housing for those dissatisfied with inadequate local public authority provision. Either way, availability expanded.

Inevitably, policies that focus on vulnerability, encourage would-be tenants to stress their disadvantages and helplessness. This can only be fuel the most debilitating form of welfare or disability dependency and inevitably sap the morale and capacity of people, just because they want somewhere decent to live.

Modern housing associations even boast about an increasing colonization of their tenants’ lives way beyond the core mission of providing housing. Behavioural change is now a stated aim of many so called social housing schemes, often “encouraging” householders to reduce energy, to recycle, to walk not drive. While providing precious few houses, affordable housing providers now offer financial support service, skills training and employability initiatives, literacy schemes, local social enterprises that help people find work, self-esteem and confidence-building workshops.

But before we celebrate this new patrician turn of events, perhaps it is worth wondering whether we really should be celebrating the return of housing to the philanthropic plaything of the charitable classes. So called “Social” housing, if it is to mean anything, should have an aspiration to give people homes precisely so that they can be free and independent to live their own lives. If it carries on heading in the direction it is now, I for one won’t mourn its death.

Many initiatives show that social housing can be made to work, even the most difficult ones, with proper onsite management and resident involvement. Social landlords help to hold together the social fabric of low-income communities by supporting low-cost rents for disadvantaged households.

Social housing makes a big contribution to preventing social breakdown and “homelessness” So called social housing is not about to go away. It is far too valuable an asset to society to squander.

Many initiatives show that this kind of housing can be made to work, even the most difficult ones, with proper onsite management and resident involvement. Supportive landlords help to hold together the social fabric of low-income communities by supporting low-cost rents for disadvantaged households.

Public, non-profit and co-op housing makes a big contribution to preventing social breakdown and homelessness. So called social housing is not about to go away. It is far too valuable an asset to society to squander.

There is a problem that so called social housing must have addressed. That is “Health Care” housing providers have become a “social service” without funding. There must be “Harmonizing” of funding programs. The housing providers have one propose to provide purpose built housing and are the maintainer that housing.

The new housing funding from government is expected to provide affordable housing and programs with limits on the size and type of housing to be built that meet other policy objectives of the three levels of government.

Given the funding levels to providers at present rates set be government benefits. It is not profitable to the provider to continue maintain this housing beyond a minim standard level without some kind of regeneration funding to maintain this kind of community assets.


 

Robert (Bob) Sexsmith, the founder and former president of Huron Pines, is a tireless worker, affordable housing sponsor, union delegate, volunteer for a variety of community and neighborhood organizations, faith groups and Co-ops in London and area. His work with labour, Co-operative housing, broader housing issues, environment and poverty issues, has been well known in London since 1965.

Bob is serving as Director of London & Middlesex Housing Corporation, as Chair for Neighbourhood Legal Services for London & Middlesex. In 2012, Bob was one of the recipients of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in recognition for his contribution to our community.