There may be difficult time ahead but housing looks set to take centre stage after the elections in Wales says Keith Edwards, HQN Cymru Lead Associate.

How close have you been following the run-up to the Senedd elections in May? Here’s a quick quiz to see how much of a housing politico / policy nerd you are.

Match the following commitments to the latest crop of manifestos:

A: ‘Build 50 thousand homes that people can afford’

B:  ‘A low carbon house building revolution creating 1000s of jobs’

C: ‘Build 100,000 houses over the next decade, including 40 thousand social homes, with all new homes carbon neutral by 2026’

D: ‘Tackle the climate emergency (and) see green homes built across Wales, which will cut bills and kick start our green economic recovery’

E: ‘Green Transformation Fund to raise and direct money locally into communities to create 10k jobs in the green economy and homebuilding’

F: Absolutely nothing

Answers and manifesto links

 

A: Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales

 

B: Welsh Labour – Llafur Cymru

 

C: The Welsh Conservative Party

 

D: Welsh Liberal Democrats

 

E: Welsh Green Party

 

F: Abolish The Welsh Assembly Party

 

 

A bit of fun perhaps but it tells us quite a lot of where housing sits as a priority across the political spectrum. OK so the policy of Abolish – total silence – is hardly a surprise. Their cupboard is bare apart from a single tin of exactly what it says on the label. They are unambiguously a one-trick political pony, only existing to convince us to press the devo-erase button.

But other answers are more surprising and say a lot about how things have shifted in Wales. Take the Conservatives. Their promise to build 40 thousand social homes will surely make some of their UK party colleagues shudder in their NIMBY boots.

This shift is in large part down to the work of retiring MS David Melding. A word of caution though. He and a number of fellow one-nation Tories are standing down or have failed to make the candidate list. The commitment may not be as strong if the new  intake as looks likely is made up of more right wing members less sympathetic to social housing.

The key point though is that almost all parties have made housing a major manifesto priority backed by some very specific pledges. This is in part due to the steady building of relationships with politicians. When I used to facilitate the cross party housing group we would often remark how much consensus there was on the main issues.

Successive Housing Pacts with Welsh Government have helped a grown up and mutually respectful partnership develop, one that has successfully delivered tens of thousands of homes and much more. The sector in Wales has become much better at not just articulating the problem but also presenting solutions to Government.

But the current elevation of housing is not only due to a cross party realisation that we need to build many more homes. What’s changed is housing has become one of best bets for an incoming administration in addressing two of the standout challenges it will face: economic recovery and climate emergency. And this is clearly acknowledged across the political spectrum.

This is very good news for the sector though it brings with it huge responsibility. So here are some thoughts about how we can prepare to step up.

The Bookies Favourites

All the polls suggest – even those less favourable to Labour and Plaid – both parties  together will get at least 35 out of 60 seats, easily enough to govern from left of centre. A right ward drifting Conservative Party and an intake that include devo-sceptics make any arrangement with the Tories virtually impossible for Plaid.

And the going-it-alone arithmetic doesn’t add up for Labour. It never really does. Their chances of a working majority have always been slim and most polls suggest a net loss of seats this time around. Yes there will be some huffing and puffing and a not a little poker playing but the ‘Cambrian Standoff’ means neither party has a workable strategy for governing alone.

Labour and Plaid will simply have to find some sort of accommodation.

This means next agreement offered by the sector is likely to be well received. After all the original Housing Pact was forged between the sector in 2007 with the Labour / Plaid One Wales Government.

The Can Do Sector

The cross party focus on the environment and economic recovery puts housing at the centre of delivering for Wales over the next decade. We have a strong record of working in this space. The Can Do Toolkits anticipated the foundational economy by some 10 years.

And even before, this was our ground – local authorities and housing associations are classic community investment anchors, creating jobs and developing supply chains. We are taking the potential to the next level by rolling out the Can Do Declaration with organisations across Wales.

There is much more joining up to do

Cracking the chronic challenge of adult social care is impossible without housing as major partners. And the time has never been better for making the case that good quality homes have a massive impact on health and wellbeing. But saying isn’t doing. As the Suffragettes said a hundred years ago it’s ‘deeds not words’ that matter.

Government will need to be leaner and better connected for sure. But we have to look in the mirror too. Sharing resources and ideas – within and between organisations – is getting better. The SERO led Optimised Retrofit project brings together 27 housing organisations. The four local authority retrofit pilots are learning from each other in real time. We need a lot more of this.

Hearing Residents Voices

Accountability to our communities and residents will be crucial. It saddens me to say that where we once led we are now lagging behind England. We should learn from the experiences of Merthyr Valleys Homes and embrace staff / tenant coproduction. We don’t have to transform into co-operatives to behave co-operatively.

The sector and Government has a role to play. I have long thought it unacceptable that there is no support for a national independent tenant organisation. We need to campaign for this to happen as soon as possible and be big enough to continue with  support when we don’t agree.

Public bodies – time to step up

Public investment has a huge impact on our communities. Resources may be tighter over the next few year but that makes straining added value from every penny spent essential.

We have the framework of the Future Generations Act and the wellbeing goals to guide us. Public Service Boards need to come of age. The three city regions have to prove their continued relevance. We need to declutter the myriad of networks and frameworks that serve to confuse and can ironically undermine common endeavours.

After the Senedd elections the focus will be as much on local authorities as anyone if we are to meet the housing challenges and deliver the wider economic and environmental benefits for communities. And new council housing at scale is back, at least in Wales, and not before time.

Keep the radical flag flying

The sector found it’s voice best of all through the Homes For All campaign in the run up to the 2016 Welsh elections. This time around, although not quite as unified, there are consistent messages emerging from national representative bodies like  Community Housing Cymru and CIH Cymru: build more homes, decarbonise new and existing housing, spearhead community economic recovery.

The most radical initiative will present the greatest challenge to an incoming government: enshrining the right to adequate housing in law. Thanks to the excellent work of Tai Pawb, Shelter and CIH Cymru this is now firmly on the agenda with a Draft Bill in waiting. Ending homelessness and making sure everyone has a decent home. What a challenge, what a prize.