London Housing Panel - in conversation with outgoing chair Loretta Lees

Outgoing chair for the London Housing Panel, Loretta Lees, shares her thoughts on what drew her to the panel, why its work continues to be so important and what qualities make a good candidate for the role

Loretta Lees is a Professor of Human Geography at the University of Leicester. She has a PhD in urban geography from the University of Edinburgh, with previous academic positions at Waikato University in New Zealand, the University of British Columbia in Canada, and from 1997-2013 at King’s College London where she was Chair of the Cities Group. She has an international reputation for her work in urban studies, specifically on urban regeneration, urban policy, and gentrification. She is the only woman in the top 20 most cited urban geographers world-wide. Since 2009 she has co-organised The Urban Salon: A London forum for architecture, cities and international urbanism.

Loretta has lived in London for over 25 years, working closely with local communities on housing issues across the capital. She is committed to the future of the city, especially to housing Londoners in a socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable way.

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Why did you decide to apply to be chair of the London Housing Panel?

Some of the community groups and housing campaigners I had worked with in London urged me to apply. I had lived in London for over 25 years and was (indeed still am) committed to the future of the city, especially to housing its inhabitants in a socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable way. I felt I would bring both academic and non-academic expertise in London housing policy especially on social/council housing, in relation to low income and vulnerable groups, and beyond to the table.

You do not need a university degree for this role – you could be working in housing, a campaigner around housing issues, or even a regular Londoner with housing experience.

As a social scientist and housing scholar-activist I had long been deliberately apolitical in my work, and as such I felt I would be totally independent as housing chair. I had worked with the GLA as a stakeholder on a recent 3-year research project, and both voluntary and community organisations, so felt I could hit the ground running.

I also had a very strong record of promoting equality, diversity and inclusion. I was involved in EDI – equality and diversity issues - in my ‘day job’ and had a track record of involving people with direct experience of the issues I was working on. Having been involved in a number of funded research projects on housing in which I had promoted and encouraged collaboration beyond my organisation both with other academic organisations but more importantly non-academic organisations was useful experience that I could bring to the role as Chair.

Why is the London Housing Panel’s work important?

The London Housing Panel is a distinctive and much needed body that brings London-based voluntary and community sector organisations working on housing issues together with the Mayor of London and the GLA housing team. Its reach, through its 15 panel members, enables access to the voices of a multitude of Londoners on the ground. The panel acts as a critical friend for GLA officers working on housing, and it seeks to provide feedback and also to input into housing policy and practice as it is being developed.

Panels like these are growing as governments in cities around the world try to be more participatory and democratic. The London Housing Panel’s work is important quite simply because top-down housing policy and practice is no longer in vogue, nor should it be. Input from Londoners with real life experience on the ground is invaluable.

The London Housing Panel’s work is important quite simply because top-down housing policy and practice is no longer in vogue, nor should it be.

What would you say to those considering applying for the role?

Have a good think about how you might Chair – everyone does this role differently. You need to be independent, on top of your brief for the meetings, and to be inclusive of all, and to make it as informative, stimulating but also relaxed and fun as possible. Think about what YOU can bring to the role – expertise, managerial skills, communication skills, personal skills, etc. You do not need a university degree for this role – you could be working in housing, a campaigner around housing issues, or even a regular Londoner with housing experience.

All should consider applying if they have something to offer and can fill the day to day needs of the role. If you’re committed to attaining high quality housing policy and practice for London and good at both building relationships with stakeholders and also keeping them engaged in the short and long term, and being a critical thinker but not critical for the sake of it, then this is a wonderful role!

27 April 2022