Teatime with Tenants
Bonding over biscuits could be the key to a more tenant-centred approach to social housing.
Last week I attended the launch of Growing up in social housing in Britain, a report authored by LSE’s Ruth Lupton and Rebecca Tunstall among others. The report is ambitious, based on all four British birth cohort studies, and looks at how social housing and the profile of those within have evolved since WWII. It builds on previous research demonstrating a correlation between social housing and negative life outcomes since the 1970s, and demonstrates how, contrary to its aims, social housing may be exacerbating social and economic exclusion.
However, pouring over the glossy pages of illuminating graphs and charts left me wanting more; a sense of individual stories, of neighbourhoods and areas. What are the different lived experiences of social housing from those within? The LSE report doesn’t give us a flavour of these stories and social housing tenants remain not only increasingly deprived but faceless as well. Despite the promising title, we have no sense of what it’s like to grow up in social housing in Britain.
The authors are sober when it comes to policy, with changes likely to be incremental and effects marginal. Yet, social housing landlords need not wait for direction from above in order to begin implementing a more tenant-centred approach. More qualitative research could reveal resident stories but this needn’t be left to external researchers. Its techniques – hour long informal chats in tenants’ homes – should be incorporated into the actions of landlords themselves to create stronger bonds with tenants.
Our research has shown the importance of an ongoing relationship with housing officers for tenants to feel supported and more positive about social housing. Many tenants felt that housing associations were more “caring” than councils because there was a stronger and more engaged relationship. However, they also felt more needed to be done. In addition to improved resident wellbeing, more face-to-fact interaction is needed to ensure residents are aware of social and economic services offered, such as skills training or debt advice.
As a first step, housing officers ought to schedule tea with every single one of their tenants in their homes, listen to their stories and not worry that such engagement will simply led to ‘repair rants’. This simple, everyday action will require significant time and resources but it could be an investment well made if housing associations are serious about a more tenant-centred approach.