Social housing is popular, but social landlords are not. Is that the message?

Since September dawned, two interesting reports have been published recording views about social housing and social housing landlords.

The first, from the Housing Partners consultancy, reported on a huge (but self-selecting) survey of tenants. It said that only 22% of the 61,000 tenants surveyed felt that their landlord ‘cared about them or their family’ and less than one-third felt that their landlord listened to their concerns.

The report focused on failures in communication and recommended that landlords should put much more effort into getting to know their tenants and treating them as customers. Although the results are much poorer than the picture painted by landlords’ own satisfaction surveys, there is plenty in the results to raise concern amongst landlords (the report draws no distinction between housing associations and councils).

The Fabian Society’s report Silent Majority, based on a national survey and focus groups, looks at one of the often-cited reasons given for poor performance in housebuilding – that there is not widespread support amongst the public for social housing.

Even though most people see social housing as a service for other people, ‘not for me’, a clear majority (57%) support more social housing being built, and only 15% oppose the idea. The proportion opposed rises when the question refers to the local area, but only to 27% – much lower than many would suppose given all the talk about NIMBY opposition.

The report notes that stigma remains a problem for social housing – calling for more effort to be put in to addressing it – but this concern does not translate into opposition to more being provided.

Political differences emerge from the survey. Net support for new social housing was at +66% for Labour voters and +62% for LibDems but fell to +27% for UKIP and a very low 16% for Tory supporters. The authors comment:

The survey provides a clear steer on the characteristics of people more likely to oppose new social housing in their area. They are people in rural areas; people in the south of England; home owners; and those intending to vote for the Conservative party or the UK Independence Party (UKIP) at the next general election.

Both reports contain intriguing and thought-provoking survey results. But for me two points stand out. First, NIMBYs should not be feared as much as they are because there is good support – the silent majority – for new housing and much more support than is commonly recognised for social housing. Developers thinking clearly about how to get local communities on their side and how to ameliorate the local impact of development are working along the right lines. Secondly, it might just be social landlords that are failing as organisations, and not social housing that is failing as a tenure. Landlords could certainly do more to improve their tenant services and to boost their own popularity with their tenants – and more widely.

Hopefully these reports will encourage those landlords who describe social housing as ‘a failed brand’ to think again. It would help all of us who want to see more affordable homes built if they could be more positive about the sector’s key product.

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2 Responses to Social housing is popular, but social landlords are not. Is that the message?

  1. The stigma issue is an interesting one. The reality is that the small minority of social housing residents that cause the trouble tar the rest with the same brush.

    Destigmatising social housing is not going to be easy, unless it can rid itself of those undesirables.

  2. Simon Watson says:

    Steve,
    A thought-provoking article (as ever) but my contacts amongst tenants – as well as workers – in the housing associations that UNISON covers suggest that the problem is more to do with housing associations becoming bigger, more corporate, more ‘surplus’-orientated, and more remote. I wonder how the figures split down for council housing, or housing associations that are still really local. I looked, but there doesn’t appear to be any source data.

    Best wishes,
    Simon Watson
    National Officer (Community and Voluntary Sector)
    UNISON

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