CBHAs

Housing Association as Community ‘Anchors’

Posted by admin on January 21, 2012
CBHAs, community, housing policy, regeneration, social housing / 1 Comment

Taking advantage of the inter-semester break I’ve been out and about doing fieldwork for my current Carnegie funded project on the contribution of housing associations to Cameron’s ‘Big Society’.  One idea that has really taken my interest is that of housing association’s as ‘community anchors‘.  As regulated, financially stable, social businesses with effective local partnerships and a commitment to transforming their communities for the benefit of local people, this ‘anchor’ concept seems a useful one for describing the work of the sector.  It showcases what can be achieved through community asset ownership and community governance, and underlines the importance of connecting housing to other social policy agendas around health, education and so forth.

The idea that housing associations are more than just landlords is not a new one.  Many have long been active in community development and community regeneration projects to tackle the social and economic challenges within their neighbourhoods as well as the physical ones.  But as social housing budgets shrink whilst at the same time the relative poverty experienced by Scotland’s most fragile communities grows, the need for associations to connect the dots between housing and regeneration becomes even more critical.

In our most disadvantaged neighbourhoods housing associations are quite often the only agency with a physical on the ground presence.  The relationship they have with their tenants mean they are often the first port of call when problems arise. Whilst many directly provide support services to local people, they are also enablers working in partnership with other agencies to deliver services such as money and debt advice, childcare, education, employment training, welfare rights etc.

Whilst I have been really impressed at the depth and range of community projects offered by the case study organisations I have been visiting in recent weeks, I was also struck by the sheer scale of the issues they have to deal with on a daily basis.  Whilst they can use their skills and experience to attract funding and work with partners to alleviate some of the worst effects of poverty, on their own they cannot address the root cause of the issue.  And for me, this is where Cameron’s Big Society falls down.  I’m all for ‘local’ solutions and decentred decision making, but it is not cost free and it needs resourcing if it is to deliver real change.  The long-standing, entrenched inequalities experienced in many of Scotland’s communities (which are still experiencing the fall-out from de-industrialisation) cannot be effectively tackled by volunteering or philanthropy alone; what is needed is a serious commitment to tackling the growing inequality in this country: and the ever widening gap between rich and poor.  Given the changes afoot in the UK Welfare Reform bill it seems hard to imagine this will be achieved during the lifetime of the current coalition government.

 

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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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