“Rigid, inflexible, dogma doesn’t get houses built”: what does the Tory manifesto tell us about housing policy?

Well, I'm convinced. Image: Getty.

As the lobby journalists left Halifax to return to their desks, on a very rickety northern rail train, we were left wondering: what did the launch of the Conservative manifesto tell us about where housing is on Theresa May’s agenda?

Well, quite a lot really. The first thing that you notice is the tone. In the lead up to the publication of the manifesto there had been a range of pieces trying to pin down what “May-ism” is. None of them successfully did this – indeed, today Theresa May denied there even was such a thing – but there are certain themes that since May took over as PM have been a touchstone for her Premiership.

They are all here in the manifesto. You can tick them off one by one: references to governing for everybody, a belief in the role of government to intervene and, critically, lots of references to the interests of “ordinary working families”. There is also a rejection of “rigid dogma and ideology not just as needless but dangerous”.

From a housing perspective this is welcome. Rigid, inflexible, dogma definitely does not get houses built. Trusting responsible people and organisations to work flexibly does.

For too long housing policy has had a strong whiff of dogma about it – particularly around tenure. The view that all paths led to home ownership didn’t reflect the different circumstances in which people live, or the economics of modern society. It was something that we have consistently challenged and the outgoing government, to their credit, started to listen – with a significant shift in the last Autumn Statement.

In addition to this increased pragmatism, there is much else about the tone of the Conservative manifesto that gives us cause for optimism. Firstly, and most importantly, there is a real show of faith in the housing association sector, which is framed not as a problem to be solved, but as a key part of the solution to the housing crisis that the country faces.

We have worked hard as a sector to strengthen our relationships with all parties, and all parts of government. But, more importantly, our solid relationships have been built on a strong, growing and demonstrable track record in driving supply.

Our own figures show this. In 2015-16 housing associations made over 40,000 starts, and we are expecting to see an increase when the figures for 2016-17 are shortly available. This could put us on track to deliver our aspiration of building 250,000 homes over the next five years.


Parties have woken up to the fact that housing associations are a growing player in supply terms – providing a range of homes for different groups, for rent and sale, as well as supported housing for thousands older and vulnerable people.

The other welcome signal is an acknowledgement that a sensible housing policy needs to take a broad view which recognises that there is life outside of London and the South East. The manifesto talks about rebalancing housing development across the country, and rightly sees housing in the context of a modern industrial strategy.

The drivers behind this may be political – with a desire to have an offer that reaches far into areas that are not traditional Conservative strongholds. But the impact is welcome – and would be felt in places like Greater Manchester, West Midlands and the North East.

There are of course areas where more detail is needed. For instance, whilst we are really pleased to see a commitment to work with housing associations to build more specialist housing, we know this cannot happen without sustainable long-term funding for supported housing. We will be working with whoever forms the next government to make sure this is understood and addressed.

However, on the whole there is much in here that housing associations will welcome. We share the supply ambitions that the manifesto sets out, we welcome the tone of collaboration and partnership, and we echo the view that a national housing policy needs to reflect the challenges that are faced in very different markets.

As a sector, housing associations deliver a lot - but we are ambitious to do even more.  Whoever enters Number 10 on 9 June, we are ready to work in partnership to do just that.

Rob Warm is head of member engagement at the National Housing Federation.

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This app connects strangers in two cities across the world. But can it tackle urban loneliness?

New Delhi, in India, where many of Duet-App's users come from. Image: Ville Miettinen

“You can be lonely anywhere, but there is a particular flavour to the loneliness that comes from living in a city, surrounded by millions of people”. Olivia Laing, The Lonely City

Our relationship to where we live and the spaces we inhabit define who we are and how we feel. But how often do we articulate the emotional impact of this relationship, whether this be loneliness, frustration or even civic pride?

“When I moved to a new city, started living alone, wanted to drink less, stay indoors more, and when I realised that I cannot make any more best friends.”

A new social network, a simple app that connects two individuals from the UK and India, aims to counter some of these issues.  Over the course of a year connected pairs receive one question a day through the app and their responses are exchanged with each other. A simple interaction that gradually builds a series of one-on-one relationships and invites users to imagine, over time, the other person living their life.

Distant geographies are an implicit part of the experience, therefore many of the questions nudge users to explore correlations between their physical and emotional landscapes. The data shows us that many of the Duet-App users are located in populous urban cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Manchester, Leeds and London, places that can just as often discourage feelings of belonging and place-making as much as they foster them.

“I had thought I'd never be able to live here again. but here I am living again at home after almost a decade living elsewhere. Living in Mumbai is a contact sport, and I can't do without it's chaos and infectious energy.”

Mumbai, India. Image: Deepak Gupta

In general cities are getting bigger and spreading wider at the same time as our communications are increasingly being conducted online and via digital gateways.

There is a sense that much of our online personas project an idealised version of ourselves; we increasingly document and express our daily lives through a filter and we are not always comfortable with a spontaneous expression of ourselves. Duet-App seeks to foster alternative digital relationships that through their anonymity allow us to be more honest and free.

“I feel a lot of people assume that I always have a lot going on for me and everything's always happy and amazing. I wish they could appreciate... how much of my own anxiety I swim in every single day. I appear and behave “normal” on the outside, calm and composed but there are always storms going on in my head.”

In exploring the responses to the questions so far, those that often garner the most replies relate directly to how we feel about our personal position in the world around us. Often these questions act as provocations not only to share responses but to reflect and articulate our thoughts around how we feel about what we are doing in the here and now.

Manchester, another popular city for Duet-App users. Image: Julius 

“Sometimes I feel sad about it [getting old] because I saw how easy it would be to feel lonely, and the fact that the world is set up for able-bodied young people is a bit of a travesty.”

Although many social media platforms allow for distant engagement and access into the lives of others we are in the main still curating and choosing our friendship circles. Through Duet-App this is randomised (and anonymised) with the intention of bypassing the traditional mechanics of how we broker online relationships. While directly exploring the digital space as a place for intimacy.


“Where do you go for peace?

“Well the internet, really. I do some mindless browsing, peek into the fandoms, listen to a few songs. Calms me down.”

Snapshots into the lives of someone existing and playing out their lives remotely can highlight shared concerns that break down preconceptions of how life is lived by others. Prompted by the reflections of a stranger exposed to our lives, digital relationships can encourage us to address the physical space we inhabit and the effects that the cities we live out our lives in have on our own well being. 

Catherine Baxendale is director of Invisible Flock.

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