What Communities Without Stigma Mean for Housing Organisations Today
Witness how stigma affects your resident metrics and how you can lead the change in your communities.
In the government’s compilation of the Social Housing Green Paper: a new deal for social housing, almost 1,000 social housing tenants were interviewed and 7,000 contributed their views online.
Stigma was the most consistent subject brought up by tenants. Almost half (48%) of families in social housing who reported issues around poor or unsafe conditions felt ignored or were refused help.
In addition, almost a quarter (24%) of families in social housing said they feel looked down on because of where they live, compared with only 8% of families who are private renters or homeowners.
The Green Paper underlines a very human problem for tenants in social housing: that tenants feel they are treated like ‘second class citizens’.
In this retrospective, we discuss our thoughts on how social housing providers are currently tackling this stigma better. We also touch on the gaps in building thriving communities by addressing tenant concerns about landlord support - particularly when it comes to the maintenance of homes.
Ticking more boxes.
In November 2018, The London Assembly issued a report on hearing resident voices in social housing.
The report showcases the role of community-led groups such as Tenant Management Organisations (TMOs) and Tenant Resident Associations (TRAs) in managing resident expectations.
They're tenant champions, these organisations.
But without the support of landlords, they don't have the power to turn talk into positive change.
The report also states that landlord initiatives currently feel like ‘ticking proverbial boxes’ when it comes to active engagement and resolution of concerns. There are several reasons for this.
Despite admirable aspirations to offer better tenant services, more support for their voices and creating communities that work - housing providers are restricted by current pressures in the housing landscape.
There’s the pressure to do more with less, to re-align their KPIs with changing regulations. There’s pressure to build more affordable housing with tighter budgets but somehow not affect their repairs and maintenance spend (more on this below).
Navigating this, let alone achieving success and happier tenants with it, can seem impossible at first glance.
If it does to you, read on and find out why it doesn’t have to be.
Are Aspirations Enough?
It is understandable that the reasons above might not satisfy the collective frustration of a TMO or TRA. Or appease even a single tenant who’s embittered.
And yes, when it comes to checking the more tangible boxes the green paper brings to our notice, this approach can seem like it won’t suffice.
But the mission statements and core values of most social housing providers reflect the spirit of the themes championed in the Green Paper. This is evident. What may be less so is that transforming their processes can be hard, slow and feel frustrating in their own way.
So this causes a disconnect between their admirable aspirations of providing secure and decent housing for people, and the way existing systems and processes operate in making tenants feel heard, respected and valued.
The London Assembly report highlights some of the starkness of this: initial landlord approaches at widening channels of resident communication have been met with voices within the community that feel: “concerns raised by residents are seen as an attack on the landlord rather than a tool to assist with long term resolution.”
And to give you a better understanding of what the tumultuous housing environment is doing on the repairs front, is this fact from the report:
A trend to digitise landlord-tenant communication for quicker, transparent resolution of concerns has revealed that in certain communities, landlords increasingly expect residents to communicate directly with contractors to manage repairs and maintenance.
Safety, Stigma (and where repairs fit in)
A lack of responsiveness in dealing with resident concerns about repairs and maintenance can worsen a sense of stigma, making tenants feel like they are recipients of a second class service.
Residents don’t want to feel negatively stereotyped simply because of the housing community they live in. They are honest, hard working people who rightfully deserve responsiveness in their repairs service - to ensure the safety and security of their homes, to give them the peace of mind that they do belong to a supportive, caring community.
Here’s where we want to further unpack the role of repairs in exacerbating some of this shared feeling.
With rent reductions, stricter SLAs and ever more challenging metrics working their way into the new social housing landscape (not to mention that housing provider ‘leaderboard’ that everyone is talking about), repairs expenditure has been the first to get the proverbial axe.
Or at least an axing that’s severe enough to upset the balance in these communities and impact tenant satisfaction.
Look at North Hertfordshire Homes, which saw the biggest overall drop to its repairs expenditure (a whopping 54%) in 2016/17.
That’s about £8.3m dropping to a less-than-ideal £3.8m.
With responsive repairs being so essential - but also taking up such a significant share of repairs and maintenance expenditure - it is an area where answers are actively being sought.
L&Q has experimented with introducing a “routine repairs responsibility policy”, setting out which repairs it expects residents to take care of themselves.
It’s 2016/17 residents’ annual report showed that this led to a satisfaction rate of 73% - which was below the targeted 82%.
How can we fix this?
A responsive, streamlined repairs and maintenance function provides a housing organisation strong foundations on which everything is anchored - your tenant happiness, the quality and affordability of your service. Even longevity and success as a social business.
Get these foundations right, and you’re set up to cope with the rapidly changing environment that the Housing sector is experiencing. But we’ve seen first hand that it’s not easy. That coping with external changes, and matching it with internal operational responses often leaves organisations on the back foot, fighting for survival rather than success.
It often leaves tenants feeling like they are missing a voice, that they are powerless, that they exist as an inconvenience rather than as a source of pride to their very own community.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. The Housing sector in 2019 has seen positive as well as negative changes, and a range of organisations tackle these head on.
Notting Hill Genesis, Hammersmith and Fulham and Cromwood Group - some of the most progressive housing providers in the UK - work closely with us to improve their operations and repairs service. They save time and costs with our platform, which frees up resources to better engage with tenants, tackle stigma and create thriving communities. Get in touch below and see how we can help.