By Clare Budden, Chief Executive, ClwydAlyn

As landlords we face a multitude of challenges in our communities every day.

Our teams deal with people facing homelessness, domestic violence and anti-social behaviour. We are there for them when ill health makes them a prisoner in their own homes.

Some days the impact we can have is so great it can move me to tears.

On other days it feels like we’re fighting a losing battle.

Reports of anti-social behaviour rose by more than 290% in Wales at the start of the pandemic, during the lockdown period contact with Wales’ national domestic abuse and sexual violence helpline rose by 49%, with those making contact often reporting more frequent abuse with shorter escalation periods.

The people who live in our homes have felt the biggest impact. Across Wales the poorest areas have seen the highest death rates during the pandemic.

Over the past 18 months the deep divisions in our society have become even more visible. There isn’t a gap between the haves and the have nots… there’s a chasm. And it’s getting wider.

At times it can feel like all we can do is put our finger in the dyke. That our role is to stop things getting worse rather than make things better.

Underlying causes

That’s not enough.

If the housing sector is serious about improving lives and having a lasting impact on the communities we serve then we must get serious about tackling the underlying cause of the issues we face in our neighbourhoods each day – and that is poverty.

We can not continue to do battle on the front line and hope that new systems are put in place that offer a fairer deal for tenants. That inequalities and injustices will self-correct. They won’t.

We’ve got to be part of a wider system change. We’ve got to get better at making the weather.

Challenge Poverty Week

During Challenge Poverty Week, ClwydAlyn has teamed up with HQN to host what we hope to be the first in a series of events to discuss the role of housing associations in tackling poverty.

We’ll be focusing on some of the work we’ve been doing in North Wales, including our commitment to zero evictions and the progress of the 2025 Movement, which is focused on tackling avoidable health inequalities.

It’s a chance to learn from each other and build new partnerships. But we want to ask some tough questions too.

Are we really using our resources as strategically as we can to ensure tenants have more money in their pockets? Where does our role in challenging poverty start and end? What should we be asking of UK and Welsh Government? And how can we make our collective voice heard?

A cautionary tale

In many ways COVID-19 has acted as a change agent. A line in the sand where we can leave the past behind and start afresh.

For those of us driven by social justice, it’s an exciting opportunity to try and reframe society. To try rip up some of the old rule books and create something fairer.

But we won’t be the first group of people to sit around a table and plan for a brighter future. We must learn some important lessons from the past.

Too often ideas on how to improve neighbourhoods have been developed by those on the outside. By people like you and me who have good intentions and want to make a difference.

By the time the people who will be impacted by the change get a say it’s too late. Change is done to people not with them.

That can’t happen this time.

If we want to address poverty in our communities then our strategies and decisions must be driven by the voices of people who live there – while also building partnerships with other agencies and cut across different systems so we’re all working to the same goal.

Rich conversations

We have tough choices to make over the coming years.

We need to make huge investments in our homes so that they are kinder to the planet and cheaper to run.

At the same time many of our tenants are still dealing with the financial aftermath of Covid.

The end of furlough, cuts to Universal Credit and rising food and fuel prices will leave people having to make tough choices.

With rent increase due in April, we’re already starting to talk to tenants about what our approach should be.

We have targets to hit around EPC ratings – but is sitting on top of a league table more important than the will of our tenants?

We also need to consider the ethical dilemma of disposing of stock during a housing crisis if we know those homes won’t meet net zero targets.

These are complex decisions. They require rich conversations and meaningful engagement and debate.

Across the sector we often talk about empowering tenants, but for that to happen we need to give up power. To give tenants more control over what happens where they live.

That will be central to our plans to challenge poverty.

Anyone interested in attending the events on poverty in Wales should contact Keith Edwards or Bobbie Hough.