Yorkshire Housing resident and Customer Voice Panel member, Brenda Hodgson, writes about her experiences at a conference on social housing held on December 6 in London. The event was organised by the Housing Quality Network (HQN). Brenda travelled to the capital with Alice Keirle, our customer insight and engagement officer. Here’s what she had to say about the day:
I was really pleased to be invited to attend the conference by Alice. The conference was organised by the HQN, which provides training, advice, conferences and networking to housing association and council housing managers and their teams. The HQN offices are based in York, so hopefully, future conferences might be based in York or Harrogate, with shorter distances to travel, giving members the excuse to visit “God’s Own County” in lovely North Yorkshire.
On the day of the conference I was due to sing with the Communitas choir that evening at the York St. John annual carol service held at the Minster. This meant that I had to leave the conference a little early to get back on time – thank you to the North East Mainline service, as both trains were more or less on time.
As a person with a disability, and therefore facing barriers to employment, I would never have been able to own my own home, so I am grateful to Yorkshire Housing for providing me with the house where I live. I am very lucky, with really good neighbours on both sides. But due to council houses being sold and not enough social or affordable housing being built, other people are on the waiting list for years.
As the spokesperson for Shelter reinforced at the conference, private renting means very high rent payments (especially in London) and insecure tenancies. The Shelter helpline is the number to ring as soon as possible if anyone is facing any housing issues, as prompt action may prevent evictions/homelessness.
At the conference, the venue was really good with refreshments and a lovely lunch break with good food. A historian who had written a book about the subject gave a very interesting talk about social housing down the years, and different types of schemes in different parts of the country. Following the tragedy of Grenfell, the social housing green paper is looking at ways to prevent this kind of tragedy ever happening again, making sure that tenants’ concerns are listened to, especially regarding safety. This made me consider the multi-million pound upgrade to Buckingham Palace; is this an example of social housing for the Royal family, with the taxpayer footing the bill?
There were interesting talks by Phoenix Housing (London), which is led by tenants, and they have even managed to build their own community space for residents. Yarlington Homes were also a good example of listening to tenants and making communication much better between tenants and the association, using IT as part of this, but not exclusively (depending on tenant needs).
I have been lucky to have a very good neighbourhood officer, who helped us to get a neighbourhood action group together to improve things in the local area. It was effective, improving social cohesion and problem solving where necessary. The whole community benefited from this, and the housing officer did everything to bring about the changes needed, including attending meetings in the evening when she could have been at home.
A struggle for many
I wanted to have my voice heard at the conference, so I asked some questions after being handed a microphone to address the whole room. I mentioned the problems created by Universal Credit, where delays in payments mean that people can fall behind with their rent and are in danger of becoming homeless.
Also with the payments being monthly to a joint bank account and not going directly to the landlord (such as Housing Benefit), people not used to budgeting could struggle, especially where there are social problems such as a gambling addiction, alcohol problems or illness.
Depending on food banks to feed their families, people who have difficulties should be given more help. Housing associations need the rent paid to maintain their organisations, but they should be there to help those who are struggling, because these are the people who need this kind of accommodation. If they get the appropriate help they might thrive, which benefits the whole community in the long term.
I mentioned that if someone has had a bereavement and is suffering from depression, this should be considered, with help from organisations such as Citizens Advice giving people a lifeline.
Having attended meetings in Leeds for housing association tenants, I know that more needs to be done to address security and anti-social behaviour problems that some people face in their locality.
I hope that I can attend more conferences and meetings in the future, to make sure that people with disabilities are being listened to, cared about and helped to live happily in their community, with enough support to thrive.