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The End of ‘Social’ Housing in Scotland? Consultation on Allocations Reform

I finally sat down to read the Scottish Government’s consultation on ‘Affordable Housing in Scotland’.  And was very surprised, shocked and angered at some of the proposals being suggested.  Not only do they seem to be informed by quite negative perceptions of social housing, but they also threaten the entire notion of a ‘secure’ social housing tenancy and the future cohesiveness and stability of low-income neighbourhoods.  The entire consultation seems to cherry-pick the worst elements of recent social housing reforms in England, as reflected in the shift in language from ‘social’ to ‘affordable’ housing.  The sub-heading for this consultation is:  “creating flexibility for landlords and better outcomes for communities”.  But my feeling is these proposals would actually do the opposite, and are potentially extremley damaging for low-income neighbourhoods.  The main points I have an issue with include:

1) Whilst I can understand the desire to prioritise those on the lowest-income when demand outstrips supply, introducing an income assessment contradicts other government policies around mixed-communities, and is likely to exacerbate geographical concentrations of poverty.   As research shows there is already a strong correlation betweeen social housing and poverty in Scotland. Not having an income test is a strength not a weakness of our sector.  Instead of creating a new tenure (intermediate rent) we could widen access to ‘social housing’ to include middle income groups.  Everyone should have a right to housing regardless of income.

2)  Introducing a short Scottish Secure Tenancy for all new social housing tenants undermines security of tenure, which is a defining feature of the sector.  Justifying it on the grounds of possible ASB is extremley stigmatising and stereotypical (ASB is not unique to social housing tenants, nor are all social housing tenants anti-social).  Moreover, ASB is not just a housing issue.  More recognition of this and the role of non-housing agencies in tackling  it would be welcome.  It also seems an impractical measure if it is not to apply to existing tenants.

 

3) Allowing intermediate housing to be let using SSTs would seem to be replicating the practices of the private rented sector.  One of the major disadvantages of this tenure from the renters’ perspective is the lack of security of tenure.  How can people make a house their home if they don’t know how long they will be there?  If public money is to be used to fund this then security of tenure should be a cornerstone, especially if these properties are owned and managed by social landlords.

 4) Limiting succession rights where the home would be under-occupied ignores the fact this is the persons’ home, which they may have lived in for years.  A social rented house is more than a housing asset; it is also a home. This measure would also create inequities between social housing tenants.

If like me you are unimpressed by the proposals contained in this consultation, I would encourage you to return a response to the Scottish Government’s consultation, which ends on 30th April.  To my mind the key problem with this paper is that it seems to be underpinned by a very negative view of social (or affordable) housing.  It’s only ever conceived of as a welfare safety-net, for those who lack the material resources to undertake normalised acts of housing consumption (i.e. homeownership).   I would argue we need to recognise social (and affordable) renting as a positive choice; it should not be as the consultation claims, only a sector for “people who cannot afford to rent or buy on the open market” (p8).  If we have learned anything from the credit crunch and resulting global economic downturn it should be that as a nation we need to get over our obsession with homeownership.

One of the strengths of devolution is surely being able to do things differently from the rest of the UK, but these proposals demonstrate a real lack of original thinking on social housing policy.  Yet the social rented sector in Scotland is, and always has been, fundamentally distinct.  It’s a bigger tenure for a start, and historically was much more socially mixed.  This is it’s strength and we should resist attempts to dilute this by making it a ‘tenure of last resort’ for only the most poorest, vulnerable members of society.  Given, as the consultation claims, that 128,000 households are on the social housing waiting list, isn’t the answer to build more social housing, so people have access to the secure, affordable, good quality housing that they clearly want?  I happened to watch Ken Loach’s classic film ‘Cathy Come Home’ last weeked and it underlined to me the importance of having good quality, affordable rental housing, and that social landlords are best placed to provide this.

 

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Achieving a Sustainable Future? the Scottish Government’s regeneration strategy

Posted by admin on December 12, 2011
CBHAs, community, regeneration, Uncategorized, Urban / 2 Comments

The Scottish Government launched it’s Regeneration Strategy today: Achieving a Sustainable Future?

No big surprises; rather it represents a reply to the previous discussion document and the responses received to this.

Whilst I was pleased to see a strong emphasis on Community-led Regeneration I find this at odds with the emphasis on Local Authorities and Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs) as lead agents of regeneration. There is an important question of scale here in terms of what is the best ‘scale’ at which to deliver regeneration. To me, ‘community’ and ‘municipalism’ aren’t the same thing (although I imagine there are people who’d disagree with me on this) … indeed many community organisations report very negative experiences of CPPs, not least because of local ‘politics’. Alas, it seems however that the re-establishment of a national regeneration housing agency (a la Scottish Homes) is not on the cards.

A major criticism I had of the previous discussion document (as outlined in my response to it on behalf of the GWSF of HAs) was a surprising lack of awareness of the contribution community-based houisng associations (CBHAs) have made to Scotland’s renaissance over the last 30 years. Thankfully this iteration of the document demonstrates a more nuanced and informed awareness of the contribution of Third Sector organisations and their capacity to act as ‘anchor organisations’ in a regeneraton context. I was also genuinely excited by the prospect of the new People and Communities Fund and the Community Ownership Fund. Nonetheless, the SG’s assertion that an “asset-based approach will also help to overcome stigmatisation and will support communities to have a positive identify in the future” (p19) seems at worst ill-informed with regards to the research on poverty and place, or at best very naive.

At the end of the day Scotland’s deprived communities are the product of deeply entrenched material inequalities. Giving people more control over local assets and decision making although important and welcome, cannot on its own address poverty and its damaging effects. This requires redistribution of wealth. Something that was largely absent from the regeneration strategy discussions. Perhaps this reflects the limits of the currenty devolution settlement, for control over the benefits and tax system (which are key tools for redistributing wealth) are preserved powers of the Westminister Government. Targeted place-policies, I fear, on their own are not enough to tackle the scourge of poverty in Scotland. We need to think about people as well as place policies.

On a final note, I was extremley pleased to see the point about the negative effect of stigmatising language (p46) as this was something I stressed in my own response to the discussion document. Nonetheless, despite this insightful reflection the document then continues to use exactly the type of language it admits to be stigmatising (‘disadvantaged communities’, ‘our poorest places’), so still more thinking needed on this one me thinks. Perhaps they should read the excellent report they commissioned from John McKendrick earlier in the year on ‘Writing and Talking about Poverty’.

Overall, an interesting paper which ticks all the regeneration buzz-word boxes, but I would have liked the SG to be bolder in its vision for regenerating Scotland’s low-income neighbourhoods, and to not shy away from talking about inequality. After all, as recent reports from the OECD and the JRF highlight the UK (and Scotland as part of that) is an increasingly divided nation.

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