Four things I learnt at the National Housing Summit 2022

Ewan Fulford, Policy Officer, National Housing Federation, 29 September 2022

After a three year absence, the National Housing Summit returned in its full form this September. This was my first Summit experience and it was a fantastic opportunity to hear from sector leaders, meet NHF members and discuss the challenges facing the sector.

Sessions were punctuated with videos showcasing the vital work of housing associations, with stories ranging from veteran housing to the success of partnership working in improving health outcomes. Despite challenges, housing associations are providing for their communities, fulfilling their social purpose and leading the way on issues such as decarbonisation.

So, reflecting on this, I have outlined the key themes from Summit 2022 below.

The economic environment is at the forefront of everyone’s mind

With inflation at around 10%, the pressures on housing associations and tenants was a key theme across the two days.

Summit began with some scene setting from Kate Henderson and our outgoing chair, Baroness Diana Warwick. There was a consensus that the sector has faced multiple challenges over the past few years, including navigating a global pandemic and the impact of Brexit.

What followed was a presentation from Rain Newton-Smith, Chief Economist at the CBI who discussed how high inflation has had a particular impact on supply chains and construction costs, which is likely to hinder regeneration projects. Newton-Smith spoke about the need to balance the short-term needs of housing associations with longer term strategy, particularly around decarbonisation work.

Compounding these issues is the live rents cap consultation which was launched in late August. Kate Henderson and Gavin Smart, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, discussed the impact of the decisions for our members, particularly those who run supported housing schemes.

Housing associations are ready to tackle the climate crisis

Discussions around the rising cost of living often centered on the need for a coherent, long-term decarbonisation strategy to eliminate fuel poverty. On day two, Kate was joined by Chan Kataria, Chief Executive of EMH Group, and Elizabeth Froude, Chair of our Sustainability Strategy Group, to discuss the role of housing associations in the climate emergency.

As Chan pointed out, there is much to be proud of. Social housing providers have the most insulated stock of any tenure type in the UK, with over 60% of households rated EPC C or above. Kate spoke about the retrofit projects she has visited and the positive feedback from tenants whose bills have been lowered and houses made weather resistant.

Innovation was a key word. This was made clear during a breakfast briefing by Vantage UAV who spoke about the role of drones in asset management to speed up data collection and minimise resident disturbance.

There is optimism that with appropriate levels of funding, this important work can be prioritised. We are pleased that Wave 2.1 of the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund has been launched, but as our speakers made clear, we need longer term commitment for funding over the coming years.

Quality and resident welfare

At the forefront of NHF’s strategy in recent years, has been work on the quality of existing homes and ensuring residents receive the best service.

Day two began with a discussion between Kate and Helen Baker, Chair of the independent panel on quality of housing association homes, where they discussed the work of the panel which has been set up in response to the quality issues highlighted by ITV and social housing activist, Kwajo Tweneboa.

Following this session, I visited the Together with Tenants stall to speak with residents involved with the Tenant Advisory Board. It was fantastic to see the how serious our members are about engaging residents in all aspects of management.

An example of this came in a discussion between Geeta Nanda, Jean Marc-Okende, resident at MPTV, and Sahil Khan from Peabody. They spoke about the impact of the housing crisis on the mental health of young people. As Sahil highlighted, young, disadvantaged people are often at the sharp end of low quality and overcrowded housing. Through engaging young people including them in boards, both organisations have ensured these voices are heard in policy making decisions.

Better representation equals better choices

Perhaps the highlight of Summit 2022 was the opportunity to hear journalist and author Reni Eddo-Lodge speak with Kate about diversity and inclusion. We were honoured to have Reni join us whose 2017 book Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race is a must read for those in the social housing space.

In December 2021, the NHF released its first report exploring the diversity of the housing association workforce. The report found there are particular issues across executive and leadership teams in the sector, with sector leaders tending to be White.

In response to a question highlighting this, Reni suggested that we can only tackle structural issues around race through including those with lived experience in the make up of our organisations. As she said, we have the data and the addresses of our residents – we should be able to engage them.

Save the date for next year’s National Housing Summit

I would like to thank all the fantastic speakers, delegates, partners and staff at the ICC Birmingham who made Summit 2022 such a success.

I left Summit with a sense of optimism that housing associations were more than capable of facing the challenges of the next few years, and I am sure anyone who heard our incoming chair, Maggie Galliers, during the final session feels the same.

So please, do join us for next year’s Summit on the 11 and 12 September 2023, to hear from experts, build new connections and enjoy all Birmingham has to offer.