Housing Digital talks to NHF Chief Executive Kate Henderson about the sector’s handling of COVID-19, the government’s renewed appreciation for social housing, and the Federation’s focus going forward
How well has the sector responded to the COVID-19 crisis?
I’ve been so impressed by the way housing associations have responded to the Coronavirus crisis over the past few months. Straight away, we saw the sector do everything it could to keep residents and staff safe and make sure they had the support they needed.
I lost count of the number of housing associations that told us they were doing things like calling every one of their older or vulnerable residents (often thousands of people) to offer help.
I was also so inspired by the ways in which our members have been able to support the wider community. Like the housing association in the Midlands that redeployed their repairs and maintenance staff to refit an old hospital, turning it into a working 21-bed facility to help take pressure off the main local hospital.
What key challenges does the sector face in the near term?
I think the main challenge facing the sector for the next few months is how we can help the country recover from a public health crisis and an economic shock. It is likely there will be a serious recession, and this could hit our residents hardest.
While housing associations are working hard to provide support to residents, we must also make the case to the government for homes to be put at the heart of the country’s recovery from coronavirus, and that’s our priority for the coming months.
Have your main areas of focus – promoting great quality, building tenant trust, driving delivery – changed in light of the COVID-19 crisis?
In many ways, those themes are just as important now as they were when they were first identified last year, but what they mean in practice might have changed. For example, we still desperately need to build more social housing. Our research shows we need 90,000 new homes for social rent every year, and that need hasn’t gone away because of the Coronavirus crisis. In fact, the recent lockdown shows just how important it is to build these homes.
We recently published some research showing that one in three British adults have had health problems because of overcrowding or poor-quality housing during lockdown. The only solution to this is building more decent, secure housing that people can genuinely afford.
We need 90,000 new homes for social rent every year, and that need hasn’t gone away because of Coronavirus – in fact, the recent lockdown shows just how important it is to build these homes
The same goes for our other vital work, like rebalancing the relationship between landlords and tenants, or fixing the systemic issues with our building safety regulations. We can’t allow these issues to be held up by this crisis.
To what extent is the NHF factoring in the effects of coronavirus in its long-term strategy/outlook?
The Coronavirus crisis is going to change the way we all do things, and that applies to the NHF too. Our main priority for the next few months is doing everything we can to see that homes are put at the heart of the country’s recovery from coronavirus. But the virus is going to be with us for the foreseeable future, and we are thinking about how we need to respond to that.
You’ve recently launched your Homes at the Heart campaign. At what point would you consider the campaign a success?
Ultimately, our aim for the campaign is to increase public and political support for social housing, so that it is put at the heart of the country’s recovery from Coronavirus. This would mean homes for social rent being part of the government’s fiscal and policy solutions over the coming months.
It’s also really important that we show the wider support that exists for investment in social housing beyond the housing sector itself, which is why we’re working with four partner organisations and over 60 supporters from NatWest to Save The Children, as well as our members, to deliver the campaign.
Read more on how COVID-19 is affecting the housing sector:
- Riverside Housing helps vulnerable residents connect during COVID-19 crisis
- 187 local authorities call for freeze of housebuilding targets amid pandemic
- Retrofitting old homes should be “at heart” of economic recovery in Wales
What kind of engagement have you seen with your Communities Together campaign? How important is it that the work of HAs during this crisis to support tenants and communities gets highlighted?
The response to the campaign has been absolutely fantastic. Lots of members have been involved in helping us to highlight the sector’s work. The combination of our social purpose, local roots, and economic weight means that our sector has a unique role to play in supporting residents and communities, and it’s absolutely vital that we showcase that.
One of the few upsides of this pandemic is that it has brought focus back to the benefits of social housing. Will this new-found appreciation last? Will it result in any meaningful change and investment in the sector?
It’s really encouraging that the government has said that this crisis will not lead to a return to austerity. Instead, there seems to be real willingness to invest as a way to help grow the economy and recover from this crisis. We’re working hard to make the case that social housing has to be part of that.
The combination of our social purpose, local roots, and economic weight means our sector has a unique role to play in supporting residents and communities, and it’s absolutely vital we showcase that
As well as helping millions of people to find a safe, secure and affordable home, investing in social housing always pays dividends through support for jobs, businesses, and the wider economy. For instance, our research shows that we could add £4.8bn to the economy and support 86,000 jobs by building the 90,000 new social-rented homes the country needs every year.
Recent government announcements seem to suggest a government that is committed to making homes more energy efficient and greener. But is the government is investing enough in the decarbonisation agenda?
It’s really good to see that the government has recognised the need to make homes, especially social housing, greener. The sector has already been putting money into making its homes more energy efficient, and we’re glad that ministers have listened to our calls for public funding to help us build on this.
Read more on the green agenda:
- New gas boilers should be banned from 2025 says commission
- Green Homes Grant scheme must ensure quality home insulation, say campaigners
- Nottingham Trent University finds ‘dramatic’ housing improvements needed to meet climate targets
But there is still a long way to go. The Conservative manifesto promised a £3.8bn, 10-year fund to retrofit existing social homes. This is the scale of investment that we need to see, especially if we are to meet the country’s net-zero carbon emissions targets by 2050.
Read next: Going Digital: Housing in a post-COVID world
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