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“The stigma and quality standards surrounding social housing need to change, but shouting about it is a double-edged sword!”

By Stephen Wasserman, National Housing Group CEO

The first line in the government collection on social housing quality is that “it is unacceptable in the 21st century that anyone living in social housing should be in poor-quality accommodation.” But most of what we see in the way of social housing news is poor. Poor quality, poor communication, poor show. At National Housing Group we think that four, mould-free walls painted magnolia don’t quite tick the box when it comes to quality housing – whether you are fortunate enough to own a property, or whether your home is provided by the state.

In August 2022 we welcomed the policy paper release for the naming and shaming of failing landlords, where “the Ombudsman can make findings of maladministration where they find a landlord has failed to do something, done something it shouldn’t have or caused unreasonable delays.” From the start, we made a very conscious decision to always go above and beyond the industry standard for social housing. We build sustainably, to a high standard and we guarantee to attend any issue at any of the properties we manage within 24 hours. Not because it makes us better, but because we believe that this level of service should be the norm. The impact that the quality of housing can have on a person’s wellbeing is huge.

Mental health charity Mind says “housing and mental health are often linked,” and a report from the charity Shelter shows that one in five people have suffered from mental health problems as a result of a housing issue. So, it’s hard to hear that since September 2021, 20 landlords have already received a severe maladministration from the Housing Ombudsman. When people operate in this way, the quality of housing tends to be extremely low, and this just perpetuates the problems, because you don’t create an environment where people can break the cycle. If you focus on building a little more sustainability, not just in the green sense but in terms of sustaining the success of housing projects overall, you can start to make a world of difference to people, and break the stigma surrounding social housing tenants at the same time.

We need to see more social landlords taking responsibility for their tenants and taking pride in their properties. But, here lies the double-edged sword. It feels wrong to celebrate great work and high-quality social housing, especially when comparing it to the rest of the industry. By sticking our heads above the parapet and shouting ‘look at how good we are!’ you might just say: ‘well so you should be!’ However, when you learn of the immense benefits that high quality housing has on people, it’s obvious that it needs to be shouted about more.

At National Housing Group, we work closely with local authorities, housing associations and charities to try to tackle homelessness and the housing crisis in this country. And we are trying to do this in a new way; the industry traditionally has been quite challenging and doesn’t put people first so we hope that through disrupting policies and introducing new projects we can remedy this.

We also want to demonstrate that social housing, when done properly, can be used as leverage for people for the better. Often, when private residents learn of a social housing development in their area there is uproar. Tenants are left with the stigma and often blamed for the poor quality of social housing. The fuel behind so much of this negativity is actually substandard landlords who aren’t doing the right things to look after their properties or their people. National Housing Group is trying to normalise quality, but we need to open up the conversation in order to achieve that across the board and make a real difference to the people who live in social housing.

The charter for social housing residents white paper states that “social landlords have a key role to play in supporting their residents to feel safe in their homes. For residents, knowing you live in a safe, secure building is of paramount importance, for your physical safety and for your mental health.” Landlords have a huge responsibility when it comes to supporting the wellbeing of their tenants, and are a key player in breaking the stigma through the quality of housing. In years gone by we may have disregarded the impact that property can have on a person’s wellbeing, but today’s reports and research – often conducted by charities – clearly show how closely linked these two things are, and highlight where our responsibilities lie.

There aren’t many circumstances where a business is celebrated for doing the bare minimum, and we don’t believe that property should be one of them. We’re hoping that we can provide sustainable properties that people can afford to live in and feel proud to call their home, because this is what will make the difference. In one of our properties, which was a derelict care home, we fitted solar panels on the roof that go to an inverter in every unit and one third of the building’s energy is provided this way. These tenants won’t have to worry about a cold night, or hot food, even as the cost-of-living crisis worsens. For us, sustainable and cost-effective living for our tenants and environmental benefits are our key drivers.

But we still get to have a lot of fun with our property developments. By using existing buildings which need some TLC, we can be creative and have a positive impact on communities around the country. We find innovative solutions and use brilliant environmental technology which means it’s a win-win-win for the tenants, for the local authorities and for us.

At National Housing Group we believe in the Housing First model, which essentially states that housing is a human right. Instigated by charity Crisis, the model “focuses on giving someone immediate access to a settled and secure home.” By treating housing in this way, we continue to put the tenant first, we provide them the services that they need to recover and even thrive, and we continue to make a difference to the homeless community. We know that the quality of someone’s home can have a huge impact on how their life turns out, and ultimately it can determine success or failure, or even life and death.

Whilst we might find ourselves on the receiving end of some criticism for shining a light on the quality of social housing, we strongly feel that we need to see more landlords putting people first. We want to break the cycle, turn it into something positive, and demonstrate that landlords have the power to make a real difference and instigate positive change. As the charter for social housing residents says: “A home should provide safety, security and dignity. An opportunity to put down roots and contribute to our community so we can enjoy social and civic lives. Regardless of who you rent from, your landlord should treat you fairly and with respect.”