CIH report: social & affordable housing key to sustainable communities

15 November 2018 - by Gráinne Walsh

This week, away from the drama of Brexit, the backstop and the Irish border, the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) launched a compelling new report.

Published as part of the CIH's Rethinking social housing Northern Ireland  initiative and chaired by Will Haire, this research project, sponsored by the Department for Communities and housing associations Choice, Clanmil, Radius and Triangle, is about ‘helping making sure social housing is the best it can be’ for the future.  

Drawing on a wide range of sources, including the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Tackling poverty through housing and planning policy in city regions, the CIH report states that ‘social housing has played a significant role to date in a wide range of social outcomes, such as addressing poverty and improving health and economic outcomes.’

What is clear from the research is that social housing continues to be valued by policy makers, elected representatives, service deliverers and residents. Housing provision, however, needs to change to reflect the current social, financial and public policy environment.  

In the continued absence of a Northern Ireland Executive, CIH recommends that, given the extensive planning powers for which local authorities are now responsible, the eleven councils should:

  • facilitate mixed-tenure schemes through the planning system;

  • and implement systems of planning obligations for social and affordable housing.

Turning to central government, the report recommends the:

  • introduction of a central developer contributions policy for social and affordable housing;

  • provision of a level playing field between new social and private developments at the community consultation stage.

Finally, the social housing sector is challenged to:

  • develop more mixed-tenure schemes;

  • ensure that housing staff are equipped with skills and competencies relating to good housing and tenancy management;

  • tackle stigma through a parity of tenure approach wherever possible;

  • challenge negative perceptions through educating the public on the benefits of the regulated social housing sector.

The move from large single-tenure social housing estates to mixed-tenure developments is identified as central to supporting mixed, sustainable communities – that’s mixed in terms of income and community background. Councils are identified as central to the successful delivery of this change, through forthcoming Local Development Plans.

Moving to the issue of affordability, the creation of accessible housing options for lower-income people who are paying high market rents is identified as essential given the increase in private renting and the particular vulnerability of those trapped in that market.  Finally,  the ending of the house sales scheme as a way of retaining our social housing stock is another important recommendation.

This initiative, supported by the Department for Communities should be welcome by anyone interested in housing or anyone interested in public policy development more broadly reflecting, as it does, movement within government departments despite the absence of ministers.

While decisions aren’t been taken yet, research and reports like this will shape advice to future ministers, whenever they take their seats behind their desks.