July’s Levelling Up, Housing & Communities Select Committee report on the regulation of social housing had some sensible advice for the next housing minister;


‘Whatever the precise extent and causes of housing disrepair, we call on everyone in and connected to the sector to prioritise above all else the quality of housing being provided to existing tenants.’


It is now a truth universally acknowledged that housing has been starved of investment for decades and the consequences of that are now being played out in story after story of terrible living conditions which seem to dominate both the sector and national news.


We have had 20 housing ministers since 1997 (20 and a half if you count when the brief was split between Nick Raynsford and Hilary Armstrong in the nascent Labour Government). It is a dizzying number for a sector that is a long-term business, which craves stability and feels the consequences of policy change for decades.


Who knows whether either Greg Clark or Marcus Jones (who?!) will survive beyond 5 September? It seems unlikely, but whoever takes up the reins in a Sunak or Truss-led Government will face the same challenge: how to square with needed investment for the sector with the fact that the UK is facing an unprecedented public sector spending squeeze.


Right to Buy 3.0, or whatever version we’re on now just won’t cut it.


For my money, I think there are big conversations to be had about the future of social housing.


Firstly, if the Government can’t find the money for new homes or to refurbish existing ones, but the private sector can, how can we make it easier to channel that money into the sector?


It’s time to bust the myth that institutional investment means high rents for the customer. Quality will only be driven up from its current threadbare level for those experiencing the worst housing disrepair. Government needs to show some leadership to help overcome housing association scepticism and tackle regulatory barriers to investment.


Secondly, customer engagement and participation are critical to driving operational improvement. You can have as many fancy schemes as you like, but if you don’t have empowered residents at the board table it’s still just lip service.


I am privileged to be a NED for a couple of housing providers. I grew up on a council estate in east London, but this lived experience is still pretty rare amongst my fellow board members. The new housing minister needs to think about how we could grow a pipeline of resident talent, equipped with the skills and confidence to get involved.


Thirdly, net-zero targets are a ticking time bomb for many housing associations. For old stock, large panel concrete system buildings, off-grid homes and so on the solutions are complex and costly and many RPs just don’t have the resources or the in-house skills to plan let alone deliver. We could make this a national infrastructure priority. Leverage government procurement power to help housing associations meet the deadlines.


None of this is easy, but we can’t go on as we are.


If we want to drive up standards in delivery, build the homes we need and reduce built environment carbon emissions we need a long-term vision for the sector, not just election slogans.