Cobalt Housing chief executive Alan Rogers believes that, for communities to thrive and everybody to have a safe and secure home to call their own, the social housing sector and government come together…
Housing associations provide affordable housing in almost every community across the UK. Indeed, many would argue that affordable housing offers a central foundation from which many communities were formed, a place where people can feel secure, thrive, and importantly, build a home for their family that will sustain them long into the future.
Now, more than ever, it is clear that a home is far more than just bricks and mortar, and creating affordable places for people to call home is something the government must pledge its support for in its upcoming autumn statement.
According to the Housing Statistical Release in 2019, in the UK, only 57,485 new affordable homes were delivered in 2018-19. This equates to just 3.6% of the true number of households in need of social housing in England, according to recent figures shared by the National Housing Federation (NHF).
Fundamentally, the added social value that housing associations bring, working alongside local authorities and other stakeholders, has a significant impact on both the economic growth and the building and supporting of thriving communities in the UK.
According to NHF statistics, housing associations’ planned investment in 2020 accounted for around 1% of GDP, and for every £1 of government investment, they add a further £6 of their own and other funding.
At Cobalt, we recognise that we have a duty of care to our communities and continuously work with our tenants to create positive change that will sustain them long into the future. The contribution of developing and sustaining affordable housing is essential to help and support the most vulnerable in society to live independently and contribute to the local economy.
It is this consistent cycle that housing associations create by focussing on the wants and needs of their communities, together promoting positive economic change that the government must recognise and value.
Update and innovate
This month, the Affordable Housing Commission (AHC) has encouraged the government to launch a £1.3bn National Conversion Fund that would provide an alternative method to purchasing land intended for new developments. The fund would not only allow more investment into improving existing housing conditions, but improve jobs and growth while helping homes become greener.
This fund would be used to rebalance the rented market to benefit existing communities, by making more effective use of existing homes and land that would help regenerate areas and support the most vulnerable people in ways that the building of new homes does not achieve.
The UK needs 145,000 affordable homes every year to prevent homelessness and tackle overcrowding and poverty. Housing associations are best placed to deliver these affordable homes and create these strong and sustainable communities. This will of course require buy-in, investment, and support from many areas, particularly the government, local authorities, and the community.
At Cobalt Housing, our ambition is to deliver 500 new homes by 2023, building on our strong relationships with Liverpool City Council, Homes England, strategic partners Torus62, academics, and our local community to create the right homes, strengthen our communities and provide the foundations for families to feel safe, live, achieve, and grow.
During lockdown, we’ve seen a huge demand and need for homes in the areas in which we operate, and regularly see almost 100 applications for a single ready-to-let home that might be advertised in a single post on social media. There is a real need for larger family homes as well as smaller homes that are adapted for older individuals in our communities.
An upcoming development by Cobalt, Altbridge Park site in Croxteth, sees us building 57 new homes for this purpose. This will be the first development both designed and delivered by Cobalt since our demerger in 2017.
At Cobalt, we really value working with our community to make sure we’re focussing on the right types of homes that meet the wants and needs of our residents. These new homes are designed around our residents, and all will meet current accessibility standards by being wheelchair accessible and ensuring they are fit for the future.
It is important to show the government that building affordable housing is about much more than homes. At Cobalt, part of our pledge to our community is not only to continue to maintain our homes to a high standard and talk to our tenants about services, but also, and more importantly, to create thriving places where people live and chose to stay.
“People must live in a safe and secure home that they are proud of – without this it is very hard to build a career, manage your money or even look after children”
We work with tenants and residents to help find opportunities to create choice and give individuals the chance to fulfil their employment goals. To achieve this, we need to know and understand the needs and aspirations of our tenants, to listen to what they want, and provide the support they need to do it.
For this to be a success, people must live in a safe and secure home that they are proud of, and one that can serve as an anchor as their journey develops. Without this, it is very hard to build a career, manage your money or even look after children. Therefore ‘homes at the heart’ will continue to be an important maxim at Cobalt.
We currently manage over 6,000 homes across Croxteth, Norris Green, and Fazakerley, and our purpose is to support people to achieve their best. In order to do this, though, they must feel they are living somewhere warm and well maintained, and that their tenancy is secure so they can set down roots.
To make sure individuals and families are supported, we have a pre-tenancy process that makes sure that new tenants have the right support in place to sustain their home. We also, in some instances, provide white goods and other furniture if needed. All this creates a solid foundation for people to gain the confidence needed to help achieve their goals.
Keeping it local
We believe strongly in working with children and young people in local schools, and we are proud to continue our partnership with Positive Footprints, a programme that aims to raise aspirations in primary schools.
Through the support of the team at Positive Footprints, we have been able to talk about employment and aspirations to hundreds of primary school children in Norris Green. This has helped these children to think about and understand various roles and to discuss their aspirations in a positive and supported environment.
Linked to this, we are keen to ‘keep it local’, and as such we ensure our suppliers consider local employment and training commitments in our tender process. This helps support the local shops and businesses and retains the wealth generated in our area.
Our social media channels help us to enhance our relationship with those living in our communities, and we regularly share local job opportunities in the area for people to like and share with their families. One of our recent posts for a retail vacancy reached over 10,000 individuals on our Facebook page, proving to us that we must continue to promote local opportunities to our tenants and wider communities.
This year has been the most challenging I can remember. At Cobalt we, now more than ever, continue to put our community first and support our tenants in every way we can. We have found that one of the biggest positive outcomes to COVID-19 is that we now work even better with our local community groups.
They have been fantastic in pulling together to provide support to vulnerable people in the community and have helped to feed, clothe, and support them when no one else could. Key learning outcomes from this period include continuing to grow our relationships and supporting our community into the future.
“This year has been the most challenging I can remember – we now more than ever put our community first and support tenants in every way we can”
Our Cobalt community fund awards provides funding to local groups every year to help them make a positive difference in our communities. In 2019/20, we allocated £40,000 to 28 local community groups, enabling the launch of 47 community projects.
These projects were delivered across our neighbourhoods and included supporting the Norris Green debt advice service to provide an advice line and funding the Cells Project to deliver a behavioural awareness course to pupils at De La Salle Academy.
All projects we fund meet key criteria to ensure they benefit our neighbourhoods, and we are proud to support projects that will create positive change in our communities.
At Cobalt all we can do is help, however; we cannot do this alone. To make a real and lasting difference, we need to work with partners such as the Liverpool City Council, the local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Merseycare, the local hospital trust, and importantly, the voluntary sector.
As an organisation, we’re pleased to see these partnerships developing, and as part of Liverpool’s City Plan, all these groups are coming together to look at how we can work effectively to deliver the services people need and deserve.
If successful, this will see significant improvements to the health and wellbeing of the local people. Across the city, there will be increased financial benefits that will ease the burden on the public purse. Projects such as this are all about creating a sustainable future for friends, families and neighbours.
Only with commitment from the government can such projects continue. Cobalt and other housing associations need to look forward positively at place-based regeneration that not only involves the building of new homes, but looks at how we can create affordable and thriving communities. We must ensure that communities can grow in an efficient and effective way.
This is an ambitious, but achievable plan. We must ensure that the homes where people live are of the right quality, to enable long-lasting achievement in people’s lives. Housing associations need investment from the government to make this happen. Only by working together can we make sure that homes are at the heart of every community.
Main image: Cobalt Housing chief executive Alan Rogers
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