Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pushing Housing (Or Homing?) Up the Agenda

This afternoon, I took part in a panel session at the HOUSING 2010 event in Harrogate, organised by the Chartered Institute of Housing. BBC Home Affairs editor Mark Easton and Stella Manzie from the Scottish Executive, joined me on stage. We each spoke for 5 minutes and then answered questions.

When you think about it, housing ought to be at the top of the media and political agenda. After all it is one of the few things apart from death and taxes which affects us all. So why is it seen in either a negative light, or viewed with complete indifference? I tested this out on a small focus group last week. I asked them to give me a word they immediately associate with the word housing.

By far and away the most popular three were “Benefit”, “Crisis” and “Claim”. All negative words.
But then I asked them to do the same with the word “home” I got three very different words: “Life”, “Comforts”, “Cooking”. You can relate this to the reaction to the policy of selling council houses to their tenants. To the media, politicians and public we were selling council houses. To the people that bought them, we were selling them their homes. A house is an inanimate object built of bricks and mortar. A home is something very different – there’s an emotional attachment, even love. People cry when they move. I’ve even seen someone kiss a front door on the day they left their home for the last time.

So my message to the conference was that to change the image of housing there needs to be a big PR effort to associate the word with something more tangible than an inanimate object. Politicians, in many ways, will reflect the views of their electorate. Their views on housing will be formed by the letters they get – and most of them will be negative. So how do you counter that?
Two ways: Conduct a hearts and minds campaign. The House Proud campaign seemed to understand this message and was a success in that it did what it said on the tin. But it needed much more visibility across social media. I wonder how many people visit the Inside Housing or CIH website.

Secondly, remember what Margaret Thatcher said about Lord Young? “David doesn’t bring me problems. He brings me solutions”. All lobby groups should think about that next time they want something from government or a politician. Too often, lobby groups go to government with a problem, expecting them to provide a solution. The successful lobby groups and sectors are those that go to government saying, here’s the problem, we recognise your dilemma in this, but here’s a solution we think you will find politically acceptable and get some credit for.

If you’re offering a solution which isn’t politically acceptable, no amount of logical argument works. At that stage it is down to emotional blackmail. Joanna Lumley is proof of where raw emotion can win over any amount of logical argument, but she's the exception, not the rule.

But you’re only going to win with emotional blackmail if you have an army of supporters on your side who back you up and that’s why it is so important to use social media to build such an army of public support.

Think about it. There are millions of social housing tenants, both in local authority housing and housing association homes. Huge numbers of people are employed in the sector and allied industries. I have no idea how many people rely on their employment on housing related activities but there must be hundreds of thousands if not several million. They are all stakeholders and all potential allies in helping decision makers “get it” on housing.

The media can be an ally and an enemy, of course. The slogan Bad News is News and Good News is advertising is very relevant here.

TV documentaries are never made about the wonderful achievements of a particular housing trust. But they are made about housing disasters. TV dramas tend to reinforce housing stereotypes – look at Shameless. And I try not to. Look at Desperate Housewives.
But of course with the fragmentation of the mainstream media, there is a greatopportunity to break through this and get people to dance to your own agenda. Within 5 years I am sure there will be a Housing Internet TV Channel, where the sector could make and broadcast its own programmes.

In the end, any sector wanting to bump itself up the political agenda is going to have to do it itself. No one else is going to help them.

I have to say this wasn't exactly the size of audience I was expecting to turn up to listen to our pearls of wisdom, but the session was scheduled in the hour before the England game started. So instead of the expected 4-500, we actually only had about 100. But I hope they got something out of the three of us!

19 comments:

NoetiCat said...

"All lobby groups should think about that next time they want something from government or a politician. Too often, lobby groups go to government with a problem, expecting them to provide a solution"

Completely agree with that - My own experience lobbying for a more efficient and direct local bus route definitely confirms this. We managed to set up a meeting with local transport authorities, where I presented them with a fully worked out timetable - which was accepted and with some amendments implemented at the next timetable changes.

It does seem to be a bit of an attitude issue in the UK though, with people expecting perfect solutions that make them happy, without being willing to work on the solution, or to accept that compromise is needed. Sounds a little bit like the current government opposition... ;-)

Hubris69 said...

Had I known you were in my neck of the woods I would have attended, but tragically I was sorting out a viewing of some football match for me and my staff on a v large screen (at work!!)

steve said...

Want I want to know is there any link between the horrendous rise in housing benefit costs and the previous administration's open door policy for immigration?

trevorsden said...

Interesting post and you certainly get around. if your engagements continue to be varied you will have a ;lot to write and tell us about.

But 2 thinks.

What was the BBC Home affairs editor doing? Is he supposed to have opinions r is he meant to be just a reporter.

And the millions of peoples who are supposed to be linked to social housing ... If there are so many then maybe they can stump up any shortfall they feel like protesting about.

And are Housing Associations a charity? No they are a means of providing rented accommodation.

Anoneumouse said...

Dwell up on Dwelling

swampedbycars said...

Ahouses; for our rapidly expanding population, to stimulate all the housing trades and regenerate the economy. I would like to see scrap land and perhaps even a tiny fraction of 1% of green belt land released for individuals to build their own houses - not national house builders, they have their own land banks. If the Government allowed councils to identify land and share in the increased value of that land, it would also help council funding. A large number of individuals building their own houses, using local tradespeople and materials would be a proper stimulus to the economy and generate a spirit of enterprise. And, it costs the Government nothing. This is a national emergency we need low cost economic stimulation for the health of the economy.s a country we need to build

swampedbycars said...

Ahouses; for our rapidly expanding population, to stimulate all the housing trades and regenerate the economy. I would like to see scrap land and perhaps even a tiny fraction of 1% of green belt land released for individuals to build their own houses - not national house builders, they have their own land banks. If the Government allowed councils to identify land and share in the increased value of that land, it would also help council funding. A large number of individuals building their own houses, using local tradespeople and materials would be a proper stimulus to the economy and generate a spirit of enterprise. And, it costs the Government nothing. This is a national emergency we need low cost economic stimulation for the health of the economy.s a country we need to build

Frugal Dougal said...

What worries me is the occasional rumbles to the effect that social housing should be for the vulnerably housed only, and once people are more securely housed they should move on. I've seen that policy in action in Glasgow, under the guise of not maintaining your council housing to the point that council officials admit that nobody who can afford to live elsewhere does.

The result is an inexorable sinking of estates. God knows we need to look at the problem of homeless and vulnerably housed people, but many of them bring issues with them that need to be dissolved in a larger pool of more stable tenants.

Techno Mystic said...

I grew up believing that I would always have the choice between renting and buying, and that I could delay getting into debt and buy when I felt ready.

As a result of being responsible and prudent I have now lost that choice due to the ridiculous price of housing in this country. Having bailed the banks out with my tax money, and now facing the austerity measures, I also face having to spend the rest of my life in rented accommodation, under some of the cruelest tenancy laws in the developed world - even tenants in the free market USA have more rights.

It is an issue that incenses me, it really does. The fury and betrayal is beyond words, I can tell you.

Ean Craigie said...

You need to past a speaking diary somewhere, could have made that discussion had I know you were there.

John said...

http://www.localis.org.uk/images/Localis%20Principles%20for%20Social%20Housing%20Reform%20WEB.pdf

I wrote this last year as a think piece. Selected bits of it were used by Labour to attack the Conservatives, claiming, because it was co-written by Stephen Greenhalgh, Leader of Hammersmith Council, that it must be Tory policy.

It may well have cost Shaun Bailey a seat in Parliament.

Until we can have a sensible debate about the whole structure of Housing Welfare and how we support people to secure a suitable home, rather than narrow arguements about who should "own" the actual bricks and mortar, or on what terms, then I'm afriad any attempt to provide solutions will be mired in political name-calling and scare-mongering of the sort that greated my pamphlet.

javelin said...

One thing is certain, that housing is too expensive and has turned living into an arms race. Mothers of young children are forced back to work, savings are not made and pensions not paid for. High cost housing is an evil of our times.

I would strongly advocate much higher taxes on second homes and more stringent checks of peoples salaries. There needs to be stress tests of peoples ability to pay their mortgages.

This culture is now a debt culture rather than a savings culture. By way of example I went to open an HSBC bank account to deposit £100,000 in a savings account. I couldn't believe it when they told me that they DID NOT HAVE savings accounts. The only account that they had I had to deposit £500 a month into. I told them to stuff their bank accounts and they couldn't have my money.

If anybody from Government is reading this I would ask them to make it mandatory for banks to offer savings account with interest rates fixed relative to LIBOR. How the helll can we have a stable banking system where even the most stable bank doesn't offer a deposit and saving account !!!!

javelin said...

One thing is certain, that housing is too expensive and has turned living into an arms race. Mothers of young children are forced back to work, savings are not made and pensions not paid for. High cost housing is an evil of our times.

I would strongly advocate much higher taxes on second homes and more stringent checks of peoples salaries. There needs to be stress tests of peoples ability to pay their mortgages.

This culture is now a debt culture rather than a savings culture. By way of example I went to open an HSBC bank account to deposit £100,000 in a savings account. I couldn't believe it when they told me that they DID NOT HAVE savings accounts. The only account that they had I had to deposit £500 a month into. I told them to stuff their bank accounts and they couldn't have my money.

If anybody from Government is reading this I would ask them to make it mandatory for banks to offer savings account with interest rates fixed relative to LIBOR. How the helll can we have a stable banking system where even the most stable bank doesn't offer a deposit and saving account !!!!

neil craig said...

It isn't a matter of spin & names it is a matter of bricks & mortar.

Over the last century house prices have risen 4 fold compared to the RPI. There is no technological for that it is entirely because government regulation has increased prices & restricted building. We build equal to well under 1% of housing stock annually. That means that if houses last 100 years on average the housing supply is being kept articially constant. The demand is obviously increasing.

If government would simply allow people to build & allow them to use modular off site building systems (essentially allowing nass production which made cars affordable) almost everybody could have affordable & high quality homusing (or homes if you prefer)

Since the building industry is a major part of the economy it would also get the economy growing.

The only downside is the unholy alliance of "big government" politicians who want government to control everything & established homeowners who like seeing their house values going up (even though it is meaningless if they can't sell them & housing shortage is preventing their 20 something kids moving out) & don't want the working classes moving in nearby.

blemster said...

NoetiCat hit the nail on the head with her comments, at the end of the day real people make real differences, i have seen this so often. Government is always going to be cumbersome and slow to react to changes, i run a SME and we adapted far quicker through the ressession than the big players in our field. when somebody owns a piece if property they will take pride in it at the end of the day, if it is owned by somebody else it does not matter to the individuals.
I am from Northants British national Party we have tried to make a difference locally, as we do not have the giant cash rich backers, nor would we welcome them at local level.

Cynic said...

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jun/24/housing-benefit-poverty-outer-london

Interesting post budget to see whats going on in Guardian comment is free post budget.

Whether their readers have been closet Tories all along or the Austerity years are making them re-evaluate. A typical post is "why should poor people live in expensive houses at my expense"

Kate said...

Social and affordable housing is the most successful PPP in Europe - shame that even Tories like you don't emphasise that, Iain!
Only a handful of people in this country have an understanding of social housing as a business, yet there is tons to learn which could be applied to the rest of the public sector, in terms of finance, efficiencies, structures and legal issues.

If we want more efficient public services, we should start by learning what the social housing sector has to teach us.

It's a real shame that the business side of the social housing sector has been stifled by the social emphasis. You speak about Inside Housing magazine, Iain, but I bet you don't know about Social Housing magazine, which actually covers the meat of the sector.

Grant Shapps has so far proved very open to the business side of social and affordable housing, and very welcoming to the lessons it offers to the rest of the public sector. It would be great to see the wider Conservative party taking a greater interest too. It offers a lot of lessons which other public services could learn.

Lola said...

Gawd sake man. The housing bubble was the credit crisis. Yes, get the 'home' bit over. But do not for Heaven's Sake start trying to boost housing as a panacea for job creation and all the rest of. It is arguable that what is needed now is a massive correction in over-inflated house price, and the Institute for Housing was dead against that.

Lola said...

TechnoMystic - How can the uS be free market if tenants have rights (by implication rights in excess of their landlords). Well the answer is that the US is not 'free market'. It is business friendly but it is also hugely protectionist. And such rent controls lead directly to landlords being forced to abandon many buildings in NY leading to all thoe dystopian urban landscapes so atmospheric in Kojak.