The third housing and young people seminar took place at Groundwork HQ in Birmingham, filled with housing association leaders committed to responding effectively to young people as residents and tenants, including through supporting effective youth work provision.
Graham Nolan, Sanctuary Housing’s Head of Community Investment set the scene indicating that “young people are a priority, but we have not been using our position, clout and skills as an organisation to best advantage. We need to focus on what’s happening in each local area and to bring our position and influence to bear as part of creating vibrant partnerships to best effect for the neighbourhood.” He suggested some key challenges, including:
· How can we scale up activity to deliver community development priorities?
· How do we develop a more strategic and therefore proactive not reactive role?
The three hour seminar then explored a number of challenges and solutions, summarised below, with some quotes from participants.
1. This is our business.
The case that social housing is about helping build and sustain vibrant communities is well established with a fine track record. But it is not accepted across the whole sector. Seeking to change the narrow builder-landlord mind-set is still a formidable and continuing challenge, including among some national bodies. At what cost to sustainable communities?
2. Consider our role.
Local authorities are withdrawing whole scale and redefining more tightly what might be seen as statutory responsibilities. In Manchester, the youth service has been slashed from £6.5m to about £2m. These cuts impact massively on young people in poorer areas. How do housing leaders change the tone of the debate from local authorities expecting housing providers to pick up the tab for what they no longer do, to being about housing providers as energisers of local community owned solutions? At the same time, supporting young people not only means attending to their wider needs, but also responding to the “appalling challenge for the housing sector of rising youth homelessness.”
3. Recognise rural isolation.
In a rural community, the place of the housing association as sole provider, connector and social glue is even more acute. Does the housing provider step in or argue that it is not a core responsibility to do so? “If we don’t, what are the consequences? Will the cost be greater downstream? Can we afford it? Can we afford not to?” We may choose to act at least in “defensive preparation”. Rural housing providers have often been acutely aware that they are critical to the lived lives of their residents and tenants, involved through more than housing and key to facilitating, for example, local transport arrangements and access to facilities.
4. Reframe rather than cut the threatened services.
In Cornwall, Supporting People budgets have been cut by over 40%. This has led to a direct loss of income of £750k for one housing provider. But this provider cannot and will not walk away as some are able to do; it has reconfigured the service it can provide, focusing on long term support and sustainable tenancies, rather than the local authority insistence on high numbers of short term interventions.
5. Consider co-location and means of reducing duplication.
One housing provider has been the energiser among local partners in encouraging co-location of services and reducing duplication. This is sadly sometimes greeted with suspicion and rivalry but has already seen community benefit and cost savings. “Impressive silos and empires exist with strong resilient walls even in market towns! A challenge is to convince partners of the benefit and ways to share the credit for outcomes achieved.” How can the national conversation help local practice?
6. Beware of those who say they bring free gifts!
Nothing is for free and certainly not pots of money which prescribe outputs and outcomes which may not correspond to the priorities of community residents and the housing provider. The Big Local Trust has the hallmark of being there as an endowment working to local need and owned by the community. It will benefit from the active engagement of housing providers as honest brokers with long term ambitions with and for the community as for example in Scarborough with Sanctuary Housing. http://www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/prog_biglocaltrust
7. “It’s our neighbourhood too!”
Children and young people for many years have contributed to an understanding of their needs which is in keeping with other residents, namely a safe and well maintained neighbourhood, with places to go and things to do. They also express passionately their desire to be part of the solution and not defined as the cause of the problem. Within this there are a range of complexities. “As housing providers sometimes we are not sure what the wider purpose of the home and neighbourhood is. There is a tension between supporting sustainable communities through young people getting local jobs and staying in the area and seeing them leave, including into the private landlord sector. One CEO highlighted that “Social housing is a contributor to homelessness” when it is not resolving or lessening underlying problems through supported tenancies and managed housing pathways.
9. Consider size and position.
What enables a social housing provider to be part of the action in building neighbourhoods and communities, not retreating behind a tight definition of being only the builder of houses and rent enforcer? How important is size and the nature of the stock? Do those with small stock, ALMO / LSVT, have the advantage of being locally focused? Do larger national providers driven by growth run the risk of being too distant and removed where the span from head to neighbourhood level is too big to bridge? In a medium scale or small provider it may be a badge of honour for the chair of the board or CEO to walk the streets, knock on doors and know the names of local movers and shakers. What of this gets lost as the company gets much bigger? How can this be remedied? How can regional and local offices ensure vibrant connections with local partnerships?
10. Form follows function.
Whatever the size of the organisation, determining core function is critical. There are enough strong examples of larger organisations keeping focus on people and communities to indicate size does not have to be a problem. It requires a clear vision, mission and strategic leadership to ensure the longer chain of command does not dilute the message. On the other hand Large Stock Voluntary Transfers have in part been driven by wanting closer connection between housing provider and local residents. Models such as Rochdale Borough agreeing stock transfer to RBH on condition it becomes a multi stakeholder mutual is showing how this philosophy can move to another level with staff, residents and key professional stakeholders being legal members of the organisation with a stake in the company and influence in its governance – by right not by request. Are these sorts of developments more likely among medium or smaller housing providers?
11. Agree strategic priorities.
Are we prioritising investment in neighbourhoods or in growth? The vision and leadership of the Board and Directorate is key in deciding whether to be a neighbourhood investor. And what weighting will it be afforded? Is it in the company DNA or part of short term tactical positioning? When it isn’t on others agendas, is it still on ours? When we are not being told to do it, will we still do it because we know it is the right thing to do? Do we have a strategy that gets the buy in across the organisation and sets out our ambition and demonstrates intent?
12. Balance care and control.
As landlord and rent collector, there will always be a balancing act between enabler and enforcer, care and control. It can be hard for the one person to take on both roles with tenants, especially those needing additional support. One supported housing provider has split the tasks between landlord and support worker functions. This has helped change the point of tension and redress the power balance so the tenant in difficulty themselves can in effect have an advocate.
13. Celebrate success.
There are many success stories to be told, both short term projects and longer term neighbourhood renewal. Gathering and telling these stories is important as evidence and in building a positive culture within the organisation and in communities. This in turn can help challenge negative assumptions about the young, demonstrating the positive contribution of the majority and, for example, that anti-social behaviour where it does exist is largely caused by those over 30.
14. Build in scrutiny.
Have we built in the means of measurement of achievement in a way that helps bring stats and stories together and draws on the direct evidence of those who are the intended beneficiaries – the residents and tenants? Do we both make the most of the short term success as well as the long term changes over 5, 10, 15 years? The stats will include reduced arrears, evictions and letting delays. The stories will tell of improved environment, better networks, liking life in the area and wanting to stay. Who hears these stories?
14. Support young leaders.
There are many young residents with keen interest to take part in what’s happening in the area and to help make where they live a better place. A wide participative base where the many feel connected to decisions that affect them will also best support the some wanting to take part in representational forums like community panels and youth boards. Intergenerational activities can help exchange knowledge and skills and build a shared experience and common identity. Some young people will be keen to take part in exploring innovative way to tackle significant problems, including housing design and housing pathways. There are a range of free resources on line to support youth leadership including at www.wcf.practicalparticipation.com
15. Make good use of the rent.
Some tenants may criticise social investment, arguing they want lower rent and faster repairs, not their money spent on community activity, sponsorship and things that don’t affect them. This tone is also heard among some national support bodies. The importance of communication and demonstrating the benefits of social investment is important. One Chief Executive described how she also robustly responds to such comments with pointing out the rent is one source of income paying for an excellent level of accommodation and repairs at a fair price with a range of additional benefits. She highlights that the organisation has a wider remit for which it is funded and that these social and community benefits in turn add significant benefit to the community. One housing association increases the involvement among residents in wider community benefit by having local grant panels, funded by a third of annual surplus. Panellists choose the winners and see the value and results to local groups.
Next steps toward building a strong coordinated message and integrated approach for a positive housing platform in advocating for young people
· YPFN continues through to April 2013. The ambition of the programme is much wider and longer across Groundwork Trusts and housing partners.
· To support housing providers further, there is a free residential to build on the seminars and help prepare a business case for housing’s key role in partnerships seeking to secure commissions for future youth provision.
· The YPFN partnership will continue to work with and seek to influence CIH and NHF.
· The key role of housing providers in sustainable youth provision will be explored with national voluntary sector organisations through the Youth Action Group and other networks.
· Key messages and learning from YPFN will be shared back into government through DfE, DCLG and the Cabinet Office Open Public Service.