Sue Chalkley - Four suggestions for a long-term national housing agenda

Sue Chalkley has retired from Hastoe after 11 years as Chief Executive of Hastoe. In a final blog for Inside Housing, she makes the case for a non-political housing programme


Blog originally published in Inside Housing on 1 June 2018, which you can read here.

It is an honour to have spent more than four decades working in the housing sector and an enormous privilege to finish my career at Hastoe, a fantastic and unique organisation.
Thank you Inside Housing for allowing me this chance to speak one more time!
When I started in housing, housing associations were up-and-coming, the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act was new, the Right to Buy was being introduced and councils were still proudly building the homes their communities needed.
Today, we understand that the long-term consequences of the Right to Buy, combined with the loss of council building in the mid 1980s, marked the beginning of today’s housing crisis.
Looking forward, we need long-term solutions that do not shape-shift at every election.
A long-term, non-political national housing agenda should include:
Using the unique contribution of housing associations
Our sector’s founder, Octavia Hill’s goal was (in the language of the time) to make “lives noble, homes happy and family life good.”
She recognised families needed safe, secure and affordable housing if they were to keep good jobs, settle at schools and contribute to the community.
Insecure, short-term arrangements did not – and still do not – provide adequate family homes.
This is our differentiator. Housing associations build and manage homes for the long-term, supporting tenants at every stage of their life – we do not ‘house dump’ and move on.
That’s why our sector should lead innovation in housebuilding – because we are not driven by profit or a conservative build/sales model. For example, Hastoe is pioneering a long-term Passivhaus programme, building homes with fuel bills of £30 per quarter. The affordability is built into the fabric of the building and sits outside any rent or benefit regime.
Learning the lessons from Cathy Come Home
This film should be mandatory watching for all housing staff.
It shows how a happy and healthy young family’s life can spiral downwards as a result of external factors and bad decisions (and we all make those): the couple split up, the children are taken into care, Cathy’s mental health deteriorates and she ends up on the street.
It is sickening to watch and a call to action.
This film is not about street homelessness, it is about the times when the family was vulnerable, unsupported and let down.
There are many complex stories behind homelessness and every housing association has a role at some stage. If you agree, please join Homes for Cathy – a national alliance of housing associations, working together to end homelessness.
Recognising the rural housing crisis
Nearly one in five people live in rural communities, this is not a marginal issue. Families are being driven out by affordability gaps which, in some areas, are similar to London’s, and functioning multi-generational communities are being rapidly dismantled.
By 2039, nearly half of rural households will be aged over 65. Once local schools and other services are lost, families won’t return and, on top of this, there is little or no planning for services for the growing older population.
The rural context is often different to the urban context. All housing policies should consider, specifically, its impact on rural communities.
Giving communities the right to choose their developer
At Hastoe, we develop on invitation from a Parish Council. This often follows a selection process, where the community considers whether to choose Hastoe or another association to provide the housing it needs.
This model sounds ‘brave’ – but if every developer was chosen by the local community, they would have to improve standards and deliver on their promises.
Adversarial relationships and ‘Save our AnyTown’ campaigns would be a thing of the past and we would have a model for engagement and pride in new homes.
Many villages invite Hastoe back for a second, third or even fourth scheme – surely a strong indicator of a model that works.
Hastoe built a scheme in Wiltshire which the landowner insisted was called ‘IMBY’ (In My Back Yard) Close. We could have many more IMBY closes!
There is no better lasting legacy than building quality homes with and for communities. Octavia Hill summed it up beautifully, make “lives noble, homes happy and family life good”.
Over the years, I have worked with some incredible people and learned so much along the way.
What can be more important than providing people with good secure homes that allow them to live well and contribute to their community?
An enormous thank you to all the tenants and colleagues who have shown me this and taught me so much.
Sue Chalkley, outgoing chief executive, Hastoe Housing Group
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