Leadership and the housing crisis

Posted on March 30, 2015

I recently spent a day in the company of a group of CEOs, Chairs and leaders from the social housing world at the Leadership Summit 2015- ‘Leading by design’. I went there, by the kind invitation of the National Housing Federation who are my sponsors on the Clore Social Leadership Programme. I hoped to hear what leaders in social housing thought could be done to stem the tide of the UK housing crisis and how we could better influence the political scene, particularly with a looming general election. The event proved to be highly illuminating. 

The atmosphere in the room was earnest, but at times veering towards defeatism and negativity. We heard about some depressing facts on housing affordability and the increasing inequality this is giving rise to. Even more woeful were the shockingly low numbers of new affordable homes in the face of increasing need. It is difficult to comprehend that homelessness is still an everyday reality.

It was agreed, almost apologetically that housing wasn’t high enough on the political agenda. After all, it’s not as sexy as the NHS or as easy to understand as education. Changes can’t be made to policy that increase the numbers of housing within a five year term. Instead we end up with short termism and policies such as the ‘Bedroom Tax’ or  ‘Help to Buy.’

But that’s not the whole story.

We ignore at our peril the incredible resources we have when it comes to understanding and solving the UK housing crisis. The people we house and employ have some amazing stories to tell. They also have some pretty good ideas about how to make things better. Increase access to housing for young people.  Fund the building of real affordable homes where the rent is no more than 30% of your take home pay. Limit the amount paid by foreign investors on UK homes. The people power on our doorstep is too often untapped, unexplored and unspoken. If politicians really listen to the experiences of the tenants of some four million homes - their electorate - surely something would change.

I came away thinking that the housing crisis isn’t an opaque, unknown quantity that can only be understood and dealt with by policy makers or those with an interest in social housing. It is an issue facing millions of people every day. It is the story of the people we in the social housing sector meet and help provide homes to. It is up to the sector’s leaders to find ways to tell their stories to the policy makers.

Writer Will Self was at the event, helping us explore alternative ways in which we could better tell the story of social housing’s place in society. As he aptly put it, for social housing to be heard, we need to ‘roll with the punches’ and be supple enough to spot the opportunities and tell that story in the best way we can. I believe that this it is our obligation both as current and future leaders. We need to speak as one voice and better educate whichever government is in power.

All views and opinions are solely those of the author. Read more about Njoki’s leadership journey here.


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Njoki Yaxley

Njoki Yaxley

Housing regeneration expert

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