“We are becoming a sector of housing experts”: How problems with housing cut across other social issues people are facing

In October 2019, I was invited to chair Solace Women’s Aid’s launch of their new report, 'Safe as Houses', about the need for more safe refuges as well as long-term housing for women who have experienced domestic abuse.

The overwhelming theme of the day was about the injustice of women remaining in unsafe situations for fear of homelessness. The consensus was that in the VAWG (Violence Against Women and Girls) sector, charities had become housing experts by necessity, in order to keep women safe and on a pathway to a more stable life.

The need for stable housing is a concern that runs through the work of all the London Housing Panel members, not only the housing specialists like London Tenants Federation and Generation Rent, but also the members whose primary focus is, for instance, children, or disability. At Z2K, we prioritise those with complicated benefits problems who are at risk of losing their homes. We particularly pay attention to people living in social housing because we know that, once evicted, there is no way our clients will achieve such security of tenure ever again. It has become normal practice for us, when a person first enters our service, that we begin by asking them about any risks to their housing situation. We, like members of the London Housing Panel, have had to become housing experts.

It is an injustice that so many people live in circumstances that put them at risk of homelessness. It was with this in mind that I applied for the role of Chair of the London Housing Panel. The Panel was set up in the summer of this year as a formal mechanism through which to influence the Mayor of London’s housing plans. The process of recruiting members to the panel was overseen by Trust for London, who put together an independent recruitment team and invited applications to join the panel from the voluntary and community sector more widely. The outcome was a diverse group of panel members, all with an interest in the housing crisis – from the need to build more social housing, to high rents, to challenging statutory homelessness.

From Camden Community Law Centre to the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, all 15 panel members have had to become housing experts in order to deliver their aims and support their communities.

We shouldn’t underestimate the power of having the space to come together, to uncover common themes and issues and then collectively search for new ways of addressing the problems that have become so ingrained in our day to day work.

Whatever the differences in our work or where our focus lies, we are united by the challenges of helping people who are suffering the most because of the housing crisis.

This is a unique chance to come together and find ways to achieve change. The London Housing Panel has developed three principles that will guide its work together:

Principle #1

There is an urgent need to build more social housing in London to tackle its housing crisis and we will always push for prioritising the building of and increasing the amount of social rented housing over other forms of tenure.

Principle #2

By understanding the needs and aspirations of all Londoners, including those who are living most vulnerably, we can ensure house building creates better longer-term outcomes for Londoners.

Principle #3

In addition to the building of new, stable homes at social rent, we want more action taken now to address homelessness, particularly statutory homelessness.

We know that others are calling for more social housing and we plan to add our voice to their campaigns where we can. As Chair of the London Housing Panel, I have given a lot of thought to where and how we can really add value. I have concluded that, in all of this, it’s about people and ensuring their voices are heard and that housing is built with their needs in mind. This may seem obvious, it’s certainly easy to say, but there is a long way to go before it becomes the norm. The strong messages from the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and then-Deputy Mayor James Murray, delivered to the recent Homes for Londoners conference, were a fantastic endorsement, but we mustn’t underestimate the huge cultural shift that is needed.

There is no quick answer, and a happy ending to the housing crisis does not seem readily in sight. But it is important that as a sector we continue to talk about housing and hold to account those with responsibility for planning and developing the homes Londoners need. Today, the London Housing Panel formally publishes its principles and signals its readiness to press ahead with its housing asks of the presiding and future Mayors of London.

London Housing Panel logo

Documents related to the London Housing Panel, including the latest minutes, can be found here.