While housing associations build everything from foyers to hostels, homes to communities, it is influence the sector needs to build if it wants to end the housing crisis.
And that is the purpose of the National Housing Federation (NHF) Influencing Academy, which kicked off in Manchester last week. The academy brought together sector leaders as well as operations, policy and communications professionals from across the country and from every corner of the housing sector.
I was proud to be involved and to be part of telling our shared story better, demonstrating the difference we make and starting to redefine our relationships with those who have a say over our future.
It’s stronger, more strategic partnerships that’ll help us build more, give us greater control over our destiny and ultimately mean we can provide the homes our communities need now and in the future.
One housing sector
I’m passionate about housing and proud of the sector I work in. I see the value each diverse organisation brings, often having been created to solve a problem others had been unable to tackle.
However, at times I’ve felt our sector is too diverse to come together with a single voice. When I walk around Tesco to get the weekly ‘big shop’ it can be hard to see the connection to my local grocer. When I’m choosing an energy company, I see more difference than similarity between the big four and the new wave of environmentally-friendly energy companies.
But housing is different.
What struck me from talking to others at the academy was our similarity at the heart of what we do. Whether we managed 100,000 homes or a single hostel, whether we build 1,000 homes a year to rent and buy, or build homes specifically for our former military men and women.
We all genuinely cared about people.
We all want to provide decent, safe, secure places from which to build a life.
We all want to do it better, learn from others, innovate.
It didn’t matter if we were supporting the elderly or selling homes to first-time buyers. Our purpose, fundamentally, is the same.
More relationships, less conflict
In its perception audit last year the NHF found those in government saw our sector as inefficient, not building enough, not doing enough to bring down the benefit bill.
And they have a hand on the big levers that affect us, whether that’s reducing our rents, regulating our business or creating policies that impact our residents such as benefit or Local Housing Allowance caps.
We need to change their minds about us. We need to be part of the conversations that take place before the announcement. Then we need to show that we dondeliver – that means taking control of our statistics as well as our story too.
This also includes working strategically with our partners in local government, the new metro mayors, our house builder colleagues, investors and think tanks.
People make change happen. We’re all influenced, positively and negatively, by the world around us. Opinions can be moulded, or can become long-held and entrenched.
So we need open, long-term relationships to turn it around. We need to understand what they need, clearly set out our stall and then work pragmatically towards solutions.
This has not always been easy given the average lifespan of a housing minister, but it also means having a longer-term, apolitical view.
Building relationships locally, where we deliver for communities every day, talking to those rising stars coming through the national ranks on both side of the House, will mean we’re not continually stuck in the five year spin cycle of government.
It’s important to note that a new relationship doesn’t mean less challenge; when they get it wrong, we should be able to tell them so and then work towards fixing the problem together.
Time to stop talking…and start talking
Success, health, happiness, financial security – it all starts at home. Without one, none of it is possible.
We all build homes, invest in our communities, and change lives.
Our sector has a big responsibility to deliver, but as we touch the lives of so many, it also means we have a lot of power among politicians – power we’re not making the most of at the moment.
So we need to get our story straight, building on that shared purpose – and I’m excited to be part of that work in the south east.
Then we need to be bolder, sharing stories of how we make the difference, showcasing our new homes, introducing our residents to those that can help us so they can hear their story first hand.
Then we can have those equal, open and strategic conversations about how we can work together to end this housing crisis once and for all.
You can read more about the NHF’s Owning our Future work, or get in touch with me here or via Twitter.