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How housing associations can deliver the homes the UK needs

The chief executive of the UK’s largest housing association on how it’s delivering much-needed investment in the country’s housing stock.

By Clare Miller

Over the past year, the housing debate has risen up the political agenda. With interest rates now well above 5 per cent, hotels increasingly filled with people in acute housing need rather than holidaymakers, and more than one million people languishing on social housing waiting lists, it is not hard to see why.

With the general election on the horizon, we need to add impetus to the debate on how we address the housing crisis. I am clear that there must be a central role for housing associations like Clarion in delivering and maintaining the homes we need.

I think it’s important to go back to first principles and set out why housing matters. Housing forms the foundation of a person’s life. It is where they make memories and start families and is the platform from which they can lead active and healthy lives.

Housing associations often play an outsized role in housing the most-in-need and increasingly we find that providing a roof over people’s head is just the start of what we do. We have a charitable foundation, Clarion Futures, that invests millions of pounds a year in the communities where we have homes. In the past year, we have supported more than 2,100 of our residents back into work, supported almost 6,000 residents with training opportunities and provided more than a hundred apprenticeship opportunities.

In the past 12 months we’ve had to switch investment so we could support our residents through the cost-of-living crisis, and while the headline rate of inflation may be moving in the right direction, the crisis shows no sign of abating. In the past year, 41 per cent of our residents have told us that they have had to borrow money for essentials. We have spent nearly a quarter of a million pounds in the past year supporting residents in extreme poverty. Whether it is a bed or a school uniform, we’ve seen more of our residents reaching out for help than ever before.

When we look at how to address UK’s housing crisis, it’s clear that we cannot do so without action on climate change and sustainability. While tackling climate change is a mission in and of itself, it also means we can ensure we take steps that directly benefit our residents’ day-to-day experiences. In March 2023, we were awarded £48.9m from the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, enabling us to upgrade the energy efficiency of thousands of our hardest-to-heat homes. This was on top of an additional £59m we will invest.

Clarion will collectively retrofit around 5,700 energy-inefficient homes across the country, reducing their carbon footprint while making them warmer in winter and cooler in the summer. We’re also ready to do our bit in helping to roll out these plans to homes across the country, and were delighted to meet with Keir Starmer and his team to talk through the jobs, skills and training required to scale up to the level of delivery that is needed.

It’s important that when we build our homes for the future, we build them to a high standard. Over the past year, Clarion has spent more than £1m every day (£397m in total) on improving and maintaining our residents’ homes. Alongside this, we have invested £40m over the past year on fire-safety works alone, including cladding remediation, installing fire doors and fitting fire alarm systems.

While that is good news for our residents, across the social housing sector there remains a huge challenge to address standards of living. We partnered with the Social Market Foundation on a piece of work this year, which estimated that it would cost £2.3bn just to bring all non-decent homes up to standard.

So I’m here at Labour Party conference with colleagues from across the social housing sector with a clarion call: we are ready to do all we can to deliver the safe, affordable and sustainable homes this country needs, but we cannot do it alone. The first of our residents will soon move into the Cocoa Works in York, where we are restoring and bringing back into use the original Rowntree factory. I’m proud that we’re doing this, as a social housing provider, and bringing back into use one of the most important historical buildings in this country.

It is almost a century since Joseph Rowntree died, yet many of the social ills and evils he tried to address remain – some even more acutely so. Housing is so fundamental to people’s life chances and their opportunities for success and happiness. I want housing associations to be seen as part of the solution and hope that we can work collectively with the next government to deliver the changes and improvements that we all want to see.

For more information on the work of Clarion Housing Group see here.

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