The furious commitment of Chris Holmes

Originally posted on December 21 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

When Chris Holmes died this time last year we lost one of our most passionate advocates for better housing and against homelessness

A collection of essays in his memory published today reflects on an extraordinary career that spanned the voluntary sector, local government, housing associations, co-operatives and community activism as well as roles advising central government and on housing commissions. That combination of campaigning, policy, politics and practice is rare enough in any career but the essays also reveal a bigger story (much of it new to me) about what can be achieved with the right mix of principles, purpose and pragmatism. ‘Furious commitment’ is what Jeremy Swain calls this ability to go beyond outrage and get things done.

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Concerned eyebrows

Originally posted on August 26 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

Housing protests burst on to the stage at this year’s Edinburgh Festival.

One of the best shows I saw on the Fringe was E15, a play devised from verbatim accounts of what’s happened since 29 single mothers were told they would be evicted from the Focus E15 hostel in Newham in October 2013.

For a mainstream audience it shows the extremes of the housing crisis in a borough where severe homelessness and deprivation co-exist with the post-Olympics boom. It’s also the inspirational story of a group of people who in their own words knew nothing about politics and protesting but who refused to be marginalised.

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The sharp end

Originally posted on August 11 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

Wales is setting an example on homelessness prevention but can it escape the UK-driven logic of austerity in housing?

The question is prompted by today’s Homelessness Monitor Wales 2015, the latest in a comprehensive series of assessments from Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on progress (or otherwise) in the UK nations. This one arrives just at the point where Wales is using its relatively new legislative powers to take a different path to England on housing policy.

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Under pressure

The latest homelessness figures confirm some disturbing trends over the last five years in why people lose their home and what happens to them once they get help.

The statistics for England published by the DCLG on Wednesday run up to the end of 2014/15 and so allow the record the coalition to be assessed for the first time. The headline measure of households accepted as homeless (unintentionally homeless and in priority need) rose 36 per cent between 2009/10 (the year before the coalition took power) and 2014/15 to 54,000.

But this figure is heavily influenced by other government policies, not just the coalition’s reforms of the system but the last Labour government’s too. For example, the acceptances figure was more than double what it is now in the early 2000s, before prevention and options approaches were widely adopted by local authorities.

As the UK Housing Review briefing pointed out on Monday, combined acceptances and prevention cases (not published yet) are likely to top 300,000 in 2014/15 compared to just over 200,000 in 2009/10. And even these figures take no account of hidden homelessness, whether it’s overcrowding or concealed households or single people and childless couples who do not have priority or rough sleeping.

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Last words

As the election campaign for the next government officially gets underway what did we miss in the dying days of the last one?

The end of last week saw frenzied activity to clear the decks before the dissolution of parliament. Here are three things I picked out:

1) A good day to bury bad news?

That was the accusation from Labour’s Chris Ruane as he raised a point of order with the speaker about why it had taken almost five months to answer a written question he had tabled in early November about how much money was spent on social housing in each of the last 15 years. The speaker said he was ‘taken aback’ by the delay and that ministers must do better.

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10 things about 2014: part 2

The final part of my look back at the issues I’ve been blogging about this year also looks forward to 2015.

6) Maybe to homes

If words were bricks the housing crisis would have been over long ago. Instead housebuilding continued to flatline in 2014 even as the political rhetoric soared.

In January I compared politicians arguing about who had the worst record since the 1920s to bald men squabbling over a comb. A month later Eric Pickles perfected his combover by claiming that in 2013 the coalition had built the most homes since 2007. He’d chosen to emphasise housing starts rather than housing completions. That was understandable but you can’t live in a start and completions were lower than in 2012, 2011, 2009 and 2008 and still less than half the level needed to meet demand.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing


‘We are not a charity’

An eloquent argument for social housing came from an unexpected source on Panorama last night.

The programme covered what it called a new housing crisis: homelessness and the private rented sector. The hook for Britain’s Homeless Families was the fact that the number of people being made homeless by private landlords has trebled in the last five years but it also looked at families stuck in temporary accommodation and facing eviction because of the benefit cap.

It began with the case of Vicky, who was forced to leave her home in Kent because she was on housing benefit despite the fact that she had never been in rent arrears and never had a complaint about her. ‘I’m a bit shocked actually,’ she said. ‘If you treated the property well and you paid your rent I couldn’t see what the problem would be.’

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