Tuesday, December 16, 2008

UNISON Housing Seminar at House of Commons

Yesterday morning I was present at an early UNISON seminar on responses to the Housing Crisis.

There was a pretty wide range of speakers. Heather Wakefield (Head of UNISON Local Government), John Cruddas MP, Cllr Tony Newman (LGA), Allan Riddell (Old Ford HA), Mark Thomas (Shelter) and Toby (forgot surname from Compass). It was chaired by UNISON Labour Link Steve Warwick in his capacity as a UNISON NEC Policy committee member. I was there as a London UNISON representative who works in housing.

UNISON is the largest Housing union in the UK. We have members in Council housing departments, ALMOs, Registered social landlords (Housing associations) and the supported housing sector. But also our 1.4 million members are either homeowners or tenants themselves or in need of affordable housing.

Some things I found interesting:

Heather – “Good Housing is the rock of social well being in our society”.... the BNP are the only ones to benefit from poor and adequate housing...many housing organisations up and down the country are getting rid of staff...our members should not be forced to buy”

Mark – “the government has to be bold”....need to increase grant rate....rethink tenure and the risks of homeownership.

John – need to “rebuild the mixed economy in housing”...the government target was for 240,000 properties per year....3 million in total...last year only 170,000 built, this year 100,000 – next year who knows? Need for state to step in and take the strain. Relationship between state and economy being fundamentally redrawn...not a great issue in ideology but a change in relationships...question of political will rather than economic...he is “optimistic” ...need to keep up the pressure.

Toby – reminded us that at current rate of new build each home will have to last 1200 years...it’s not possible to return to previous housing model...there was a housing cartel of private house builders who restricted supply to keep prices high...

Tony – Need a change in housing finance...there could now be cross party consensus in the LGA for Councils if they wish to start building again in partnership with RSL’s

Allan – New Housing Development used to subsidise management. Due to recession RSLs will face pressures due to increased rent arrears...there is still in London a £60-80,000 funding gap between the cost of new build and grant. Picture of Allan (bottom right) making everyone laugh is when he reminded everyone that RSLs do not want to buy the “off the shelf” new developments currently being offered to them by private builders because many of them are indeed “crap”!

There was a good Q&A. I asked the panel with my Housing Association Branch officer hat on whether it was a premature that some Housing associations are laying off development staff since everyone agreed there was a housing crisis and most thought that the government will have to provide extra funding soon? Much of the panel were very supportive and the words “crime”, “insane” and “short-sighted” was used to describe the sacking of specialist development staff. Some pointed out if they are unable to actually develop currently then they are in very difficult place.

On the Inside Housing web site here there is a piece on the seminar.

Afterwards while scoffing House of Commons “bacon and cheese” croissants (delicious but should be served with statins and aspirin) there were some very good ideas discussed about campaigning and what to do next.

I just might be, repeat, might be, finally understanding how housing development finance works.

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