Where are tomorrow’s heartlanders?, the enigmatically titled Hyde Housing and Demos study of social housing residents, which launched yesterday, dispels a number of myths about social housing and its residents as Patrick Butler’s article in the Society Guardianpoints out. The report argues that there is no single type of social housing resident, but rather a kaleidoscope of different types who, on the whole, are incredibly attached to their homes.  Traditional categorisation – single parent, unemployed, retired –fails to capture the richness of diversity among residents, and gives little indication of different residents’ desires, frustrations and aspirations.

The ‘heartlander,’ a phrase the report coins to describe the long-term but (generally) positive, active and engaged resident, is the unicorn of current policy interventions: everyone’s looking for them, but they are rarely found.

Housing Associations and Councils rely on these residents and not just because of the important community work they do, but also because of what they don’t need. Their higher levels of self-dependency allow social housing providers to focus time and resources on residents with much greater needs. They help create, as is the goal of all those in the sector, sustainable communities. Yet they are, quite literally, a dying breed and due to the residualisation of social housing they are not being replaced.

There is no blanket solution for fostering a new generation of heartlanders. As the report makes plain, different policy interventions are required for the radically different groups that occupy social housing. A rethink is also needed at the highest levels as these ‘groups’ bear little resemblance to how residents are usually divided and targeted. Yet there is a policy, currently in place, that will do more to foster a new generation of heartlanders than any other: security of tenure.

Time limited or conditional (on the basis of employment status or income) tenancies will simply lead to the perpetual residualisation of social housing and poor (in both senses of the word) communities. They conform to some Horatio Alger rags to riches myth that is not appropriate to the alarming number of social housing residents with multiple disadvantages. Those that manage to beat the curve and become receptive to their communities should not be rewarded with a possession order.

So far the Conservatives have remained quiet on security of tenure. Yet their preoccupation with ownership and concern over mobility and the conditions in the private rented sector are seen by many at hinting at something larger. However, the Tories also stress choice in social housing, whether it is in initial allocation, in a move to another location or, best of all to them, another tenure. The most fundamental choice of all is the choice to stay in one’s home. As the report shows, many residents chose to stay in their homes not because of a lack of aspiration, or even opportunity, but due to genuine attachment and an assessment of what is appropriate to them. It is a choice, and more fundamentally a right, that must be maintained. 


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