Opinion: We must find the cash to fix the problem of poor housing | News

Opinion: We must find the cash to fix the problem of poor housing

By Alistair McIntosh, HQN CEO.

ITV’s damning coverage of social housing will keep on rolling. That’s for certain. As I go around I can see many places where ITV should pounce. We all do, unless that is, you walk about with your eyes closed.

The poor housing conditions that ITV exposes are shocking. What happens next?

The same thing that happens everywhere else after such headlines. We get an official investigation. That’s well and good, but surely we can and must do a lot better.

People will quite naturally think we either knew of the repair problems or ought to have known and did nothing. That is precisely  what makes us look weak and uncaring in the eyes of the public. Of course lack of cash is part of our explanation. But we will need to win back trust to make any sort of case to government for extra funding. How do we break this vicious cycle?

First of all let’s face up to the problem. Why don’t you take a report to the next board or council meeting identifying all the homes where conditions are poor and say what you will do about these?

We might as well be open about this as brushing things under the carpet isn’t going too well for us. In any case board members or councillors should be asking for such a report. If you sit on your hands Twitter and ITV will outrun you. It’s not if, but when.

Then stop hiding behind gobbledygook. So what if the law says the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) can’t take action unless there is “serious detriment” to your residents.

Good luck explaining what that means to anyone outside our bubble. Yes the law unbelievably says that the RSH “…has a duty … to exercise its functions in a way that minimises interference..” . That puts me in mind of Bill Shankly’s famous quote about the offside rule – “if a player’s not interfering with play he shouldn’t be on the ****** pitch!”

Don’t try and wriggle out of your commitments by playing the “serious detriment” or “minimise interference” cards here.  In fact, I’d ban boards from using these excuses by a tweak to the governance code. Why wouldn’t you sign up to this?

Confess to the RSH when you need to but get on with sorting homes out as quick as you can! That’s the right way to avoid interference.

Turning to the RSH itself, it’s obvious they need more people. The legal changes to turn them into a robust regulator of services are going too slowly. Real life is passing the parliamentary process in the fast lane.

Give the RSH more troops to get to grips with service standards in housing now. And make sure they are direct employees too. That would swerve any suspicion that private firms dragged interventions out to swell the coffers.

ITV won’t go away till we spend money. In a way that makes them our best friend. Let’s put a price on turning the homes we are ashamed of into ones we can all be proud of. How should we split the bill between landlords and the government? That’s never an easy dilemma to resolve. But we must make the case quickly before the UN climate change conference in Glasgow ups the ante on the costs of decarbonisation. 

Finally, don’t make this a choice between fixing our current homes and building new ones. We’ve got around 100,000 homeless households. They need help too.

We must find the cash. It’s far from easy and that’s a world wide problem. Joe Biden wants to put $40 billion into public housing. The Republicans think that’s way too much while the Democrats say that will barely cover New York City never mind the rest of the country.

Hat’s off to ITV for asking us some tough questions. But it will take more than apologies and promises of jam tomorrow to come up with real answers. ITV has done their job; we’ve got to do ours too.