How is instability in the housing sector impacting our own workforce? (2024)

Comment30.05.24byAlison Inman

If our own employees are poorly housed, what effect is that having our organisations and the services we deliver, asks Alison Inman, chair of Tpas

How is instability in the housing sector impacting our own workforce? (1)

Alison Inman

Alison Inman is a board member at Saffron and Tpas; former president of the CIH; and co-founder of SHOUT

Inside Housing is surveying housing staff on their personal housing conditions, which has got me reflecting on how much life for a young person in our sector has changed since I was young.

Earlier in the year I facilitated a few ‘campfire’ sessions for the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) at the Scottish Housing Festival. One session that stuck in my mind was on the changing role of the housing officer, which was attended by people at different stages of their careers.

At my end of the age spectrum, a man described his first job in housing, working for a local authority in Kent and spending his days riding around the Kent countryside on a motorbike, collecting rent.

This was followed by a young woman who is currently a housing officer in Glasgow – I think (the young have better memories on the whole). She talked about working with people in acute need of food, money, mental health support, as well as social care, help to escape cuckooing, addictions and much more.

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It is very difficult to compare the world of the housing officer in 1984 with that of 2024. Leaving aside the massive technological shifts and automation of so many clerical and admin jobs, I would argue that 40 years ago, housing worked alongside other public and third-sector organisations to support people who needed help.

Fast forward to now and it sometimes feels like social landlords are the last ones standing. There are arguments to be had about whether our determination to fill the space left by a hollowed out state have led to landlords taking their eye off other core functions, but this is the reality for housing professionals now.

So, if the job itself has changed beyond all recognition, what else is different?

“Forty years ago housing worked alongside other public and third-sector organisations to support people who needed help. Fast forward to now and it sometimes feels like social landlords are the last ones standing”

I was 22 when I moved to Basildon to take up a job with the council. As soon as I accepted the post, I was offered a council flat. I had been living in the private rented sector and could not believe my luck. When I arrived I quickly realised that most of my colleagues who had relocated to Basildon were in the same position: living in property rented from the council or the development corporation.

I look back at this time in disbelief. I don’t think I knew more than a handful of people there who were living in the private rented sector, it was either council or owner-occupancy. I wonder whether the new generation of New Towns promised by the Labour Party will look anything like this?

In other parts of the country, the private rented sector was larger but unrecognisable compared with today. Most tenancies were ‘protected and statutory’, with security of tenure that meant many homes were passed down through the generations and tenants could apply to the rent tribunal for a ‘fair rent’.

It is sometimes difficult for people who have always been well housed to fully understand the impact – and extent – of those who aren’t. For landlords, this often means the people within your own organisation. Too many of our staff spent the pandemic sitting on their bed in their parents’ home, or in an unhappy house share, and moving for work just isn’t a realistic proposition for many.

“An increasing proportion of housing professionals are amongst those who are badly housed, with no prospect of housing independence”

An increasing proportion of housing professionals are among those who are badly housed, with no prospect of housing independence, for whom not only has social mobility stalled but actual mobility has, too.

So what does all this mean? It means there are increasing demands upon younger people who have fewer choices than their predecessors, who have fewer opportunities to relocate for work and who are serving people who (rightly) have security of tenure and pay a sub-market rent. At the very least we need to be open about this.

We need proper workforce planning for the long term. As a starting point, we need to be conscious of the pressures upon staff – we need to know how to support them and we need genuine flexibility around how and where they work.

The well-paid, well-housed executives and boards need to really listen, not just to tenants and leaseholders but to their own staff, too. Their lives may be very different to how yours were.

Please take a look at Inside Housing’s survey and get as many of your colleagues as possible to fill it in.

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How is instability in the housing sector impacting our own workforce? (6)

With an upcoming election, and a raft of regulatory changes within the Social Housing (Regulation) Act aimed at improving communication between landlords and tenants, housing communicators are navigating a multitude of priorities in an ever-changing environment.

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ALMOAsset managementCouncil-owned housing companyHousing Association/RPHousing ManagementLocal AuthorityMembership/trade bodyPeoplePolicyPrivate rented sectorTenant

How is instability in the housing sector impacting our own workforce? (2024)

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