Friday, 29 February 2008

New Poll - Should the Housing Market Renewal programme be abolished?

Voting closes at 12 noon (GMT) on Friday 21st March 2008. Comments to be emailed to the editor.

Poll Result: Should social tenants be evicted from their home for failing to look for work?

The poll results for the first poll are in. Perhaps unsurprisingly those who voted did so overwhelmingly in rejection of Caroline Flints proposal to evict social housing tenants who fail to find work - 83% said no to the proposition.

The following comments were received in relation to the votes:

"It is not clear whether such pronouncements are grounded on an understanding of legislation and policy and practice. The proposal is likely to be practically impossible even if it achieved political support."

"The new Minister appears to be more interested in sound bites than serious policy development. There clearly are many issues relating to work & benefits, inter-generational transfers of underclass culture etc - but this recent suggestion is ludicrous. Why should such a suggestion apply only to social tenants? Has the Minister also thought about about unemployed HB recipients in private tenancies or residents in homeless hostels or rehab centres for alcoholics?"

"I can sympathise with the motivations- my flat mate is basically lazy and lacks all initiative. He manages to lounge round the house all day playing computer games and making virtually no effort to get work and collects his dole every week with a tip of the hat (a bit like Nick Frost in Shaun of the Dead). But, I fear, it is impossible to use bureaucracy to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate slackers (is there a difference anyway?). Inany case, while the present system doesn't provide any incentive for the unemployed to upskill or change their behaviour the right wing political climate at the moment means any change would be ideologically motivated,and simply hurt those at the bottom of society."

"The speech by Caroline Flint was based on a number of assumptions and general policy goals. These included an assumption of the direction of the relationship between social housing and worklessness (i.e. that residing in social housing contributes to worklessness rather than the other way round) and also that most tenants were not receiving good quality Housing Plus services from landlords. The speech also raised the idea of 'earned citizenship' (which mirrors Margaret Hodge's contribution to housing allocation debates) and appeared to suggest that social housing should primarily be for those with mental or physical disabilities rather than providing affordable accommodation for those on low incomes. Each of these assumptions and longer term visions/goals require comprehensive scrutiny and criticism from the housing studies community."

It is clear both from the comments received by the HSA Blog to this poll and the general response from the Housing Community that the minister and her advisers have lacked thorough consideration and thought about the implications such a policy would have both on current statutory undertakings and about the wider role of housing and social housing in particular. If the aim of the speech was to spark debate it has clearly done so but has it necessarily begun in the informed and logical manner in which the Minister hopes it will carry on? The ominous silence from No. 10 probably suggest more about the future of the policy than anything else. But the underlying issues of poverty, worklessness and residualisation of social housing are those which have interested the housing community, be that policy makers, practitioner or researchers for over a quarter of a century and are unlikely to disappear in the immediate future.

Rob Rowlands

Forthcoming Conferences & Events

Symposium on the “The Irish in Britain: Issues, Evidence and Future Trends”, June 2008

The symposium, to be held in Sheffield Hallam University on Tuesday 3rd June 2008, will be focused on current research regarding the Irish community in Britain: housing, welfare, social issues and inter-generational ethnic identities. We are particularly keen to look at two broad areas: (a) the future needs and aspirations of the Irish community across Britain, and (b) the opportunities for inter-disciplinary research collaborations in the field of Irish Studies. As such the emphasis will be on an informed discussion prompted by the papers presented, with contributions from as many delegates (up to a maximum of 25 attendees to the symposium) as possible. The invited audience will include policy makers and practitioners, as well as academics from the fields of sociology, health and housing across the UK.

For further information contact the convenor Rionach Casey.

ISA RC43 International Housing Conference Announcement

The University of Glasgow’s Department of Urban Studies is delighted to announce that it will host the 2009 International Sociological Association RC43 Housing conference. This conference was last held in Toronto in 2004 and will take place from 1-4 September 2009.

Glasgow is an exciting location for such an event. The city and its surrounding region has been the locus of successive housing policy interventions in response to housing and neighbourhood deprivation, most recently through the largest stock transfer of its council housing to a housing association with a major reinvestment and neighbourhood change programme. Glasgow is Scotland’s largest city and is at the heart of the policy and institutional transformation underway since the devolution of government to Scotland in 1999. The city–region has undergone major economic and social change in recent years and is presently undertaking a massive regeneration of its waterfront area. The region is a major tourist destination, close to the West Highlands, Loch Lomond, 40 miles from Edinburgh and is culturally rich in museums, the evening economy and the best retail outside of London in the UK.

The University is the fourth oldest in the UK, established in 1451, and is ranked in the top 100 Universities in the world. A broad-based civic University, Glasgow has taken a long-standing interest in housing and urban questions, supporting ESRC Research Centres in housing and urban studies, and, since 1996, a Department of Urban Studies. Apart from its international multi-disciplinary research and teaching profile, the Department has hosted several successful international conferences in its own right, including the European Network for Housing Research, the European Real Estate Society and in 2007 the European Urban Research Association.

There will be further regular announcements about the conference in months to come including a call for participation and papers in 2008. If you would like to learn more about the conference, the host Department or Glasgow - please contact the conference chair, Professor Kenneth Gibb, at the Department of Urban Studies. More information will shortly be available at the Department’s website.

Housing Research and Intelligence Conference, 7 May 2008

The Northern Housing Consortium’s annual Housing Research and Intelligence Conference will be held at York Racecourse, Wednesday 7th May 2008. This year’s theme is Housing and Communities: Linking Research, Policy and Practice, and keynote speakers include Professor Steve Wilcox (University of York), Dr Paul Hickman (Sheffield Hallam University), and Dr Phillip Brown (University of Salford).

This practical event will appeal to anyone working with data or research projects; from commissioning, analysing or interpreting results. This will include those from a policy or strategic background, those involved within primary and secondary data collection, or with academic experience.

For further details about the programme and how to book please contact the events team on 0191 556 1000, or visit the website for further information.

Evaluation of Intensive Family Support Projects

Researchers from Sheffield Hallam University have just completed a study examining the longer term outcomes associated with the provision of intensive support for families at risk of eviction as a result of anti-social behaviour. The study formed part of a three year evaluation involving over 256 families who had been referred to 6 Intensive Family Support Projects (IFSP) after their behaviour or that of their visitors had resulted in them being threatened with eviction and homelessness. The interim research report published in Oct 2006 (Anti-social Behaviour Intensive Family Support Projects: An evaluation of six pioneering projects (Housing Research Summary 230) found that in the short term Intensive Family Support Projects were a cost effective way to reduce problem behaviour, prevent family breakdown and avoid homelessness for the families involved. This final piece of work confirms that in the longer term families were able to sustain the progress they had made once they were living independently in the community. In seven out of ten families positive change had been sustained and family members enjoyed an increased sense of social inclusion and well being. A small minority of families (8/28) however, continued to experience considerable difficulties and for these families, their lives remained dominated by complaints about antisocial behaviour, managing ongoing support needs, homelessness, risk of eviction and/or family breakdown. The full report can be downloaded here.

For further information contact Judy Nixon on 0114 2254268 or Sadie Parr on 0114 2254525

Thursday, 28 February 2008

How to get a PhD and look after yourself

To kick start a regular series of contributions from Early Career Researchers, Rowland Atkinson offers a reflection on his own expereince of undertaking his PhD research and provides some advice for surviving the process.

I don’t remember the final months of my PhD with a great deal of fondness. Stuck in my bedroom because my campus had closed down (ok, so it was unusual as circumstances go) I cranked up from around seven hours of writing and analysis per day to a seven day week that ran into the evenings. Amazingly my wife is my then girlfriend and without her ministrations I probably would have become a bit of a wreck, but I do still find it hard to work at home and much prefer the relative sociability of the office. Of course it shouldn’t and doesn’t need to be this way, there is no reason why doing a PhD should be the hard task that it often is. In this brief piece I want to locate a number of anxieties and fundamentals about the PhD process that reflect on my own experience and that of some that I have supervised.

I remember picking up the book, How to Get A PhD, the message that still stays with me from that was the importance of recognising that isolation is a key feature of the doctoral student experience. People’s experience of this varies a great deal of course and much may depend on how well the student culture of your institution is orchestrated, often it may come down to a key member of staff or a student with a penchant for organising festivities in breweries. Even better than this is to take charge of the social scene, bearing in mind that contact with your peers is important for your own sanity and for checking and sharing your own learning. Don’t be fooled into thinking that someone specialising in housing finance cant talk to a Bourdieusian expert on domesticity. We have masses to learn from each other and cross-fertilisation is essential to the creative writing process, go and speak to the nerd down the corridor, you can bet that they think the same of you but they wont half appreciate a cup of tea and a chat to relieve their eye strain.

Other aspects of exchange and contact are open to PhD students, make sure that you take part in existing seminar series and if the chance isn’t offered make a point of offering to present your results to these forums or strike up a group of students and present to each other. These skills are not only critical but these kinds of supportive environments, even if they don’t seem it, diminish nerves, boost confidence and make these encounters more predictable. Generating the skills of an ad-libbing confident presenter is one of the great transferable skills and getting stuck in makes a massive difference. Feel the fear and do it anyway, a warning though, it really is scary – but we often need that pit in the stomach to make sure we do a good job, breath it in and go for it.

I often see post-grads burning out as a result of plugging away analysing data or writing for long periods of time without taking a break. Routines are the death of creativity and often knock confidence. It is important to see breaks as constructive ways of getting on track in the longer term. This doesn’t mean boozy lunches or extended coffee breaks. Remember that the PhD is essentially a job, but outside of doing this as a 9 to 5 (always a good mindset to be in) you need to vary your daily patterns. A key reason for this is that research tells us that varying routines and taking breaks spurs the creative process, brains straining at the seems with new information and stressing over deadlines tend to close down. If you can recognise when you are beginning to struggle and have the confidence to shift into a different mindset (take a walk, have lunch out of the office for once etc) you will find yourself making connections and generating ideas much more quickly. Even varying your route to work and ensuring you talk to your peers are simple strategies to get out of ruts.

At the back of your mind it is important to remember why you are doing this and what it is that you are doing. This may sound too obvious but at times when it is all too much you are going to need to be clear about why you are slaving away while everyone else appears to be having all the fun. For me I was committed to what I felt was a concealed social problem, for others there will be other conundrums, the lifestyle itself and, most likely, the prospect of a job in a related field. For all this it is essential that enjoyment is the core of the experience, obvious but central to ensuring completion and a less stressful experience. Remember that doing a PhD is supposed to be a training in research methodology and that your expertise will be much stronger if you are able to situate your research questions and approach in a broader universe of knowledge. I still cringe at the ten minute responses I gave to the casual conference dinner question, “so what is your PhD on?” It is important to get distance to the extent that an academic, and any other, career will invariably involve a much greater emphasis on broad areas of knowledge and expertise. Remember that not everyone speaks Deleuze and that not everyone may care about the latest developments in statistical techniques.

Is there life after a PhD? I’m not sure if I am evidence of that, but labouring to make the PhD part of a broader plan is essential to getting on to a place in which new challenges can be started. I still value the days of doing my PhD and what was initially an opportune choice has felt like the revelation of a vocation. My English teacher would often say, we now have the luxury of a full hour to discuss literature, it is important to remember that we have the privilege of spending three (ok, sometimes four) years concerning ourselves with the all of the minutiae of a particular topic, its important not to waste that feeling and to ensure that you are in charge of a process which is still likely to remain a core part of your identity, either as an academic or in any other career.

Rowland Atkinson

Contributions from Early Career Researchers are actively encouraged by the HSA Blog. Please contact Rob Rowlands or Kim McKee with offers of articles.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

HSA Blog Polls

The Blog will be running regular polls in the right hand column. Please feel free to vote and to send comments to the editor. Polls will be run for one week and the results posted on the blog.


Book Review

Heino, J., Czischke, D. and Nikolova, M. (2007) Managing Social Rental Housing in the European Union: Experiences and Innovative Approaches. CECODHAS European Social Housing Observatory, VVO-PLC, Finland.

Billing itself as the first pan-European study to explore social housing company strategies within their rapidly changing economic social and political context, this report is based on a survey of 42 such companies in 12 EU member states and case studies of six companies in six different states. Instead of the usual financial and housing policy focus found in most comparative studies of social housing (Boelhouwer, 1997, Whitehead and Scanlon, 2007) here we have an account that gets closer to the reality of decision making and priority setting by a powerful set of institutions who touch the lives of around 25 million households across Europe and sit between state and market influences.

Unusually within the literature in this field the study draws mainly on strategic management concepts such as mission and values, core activities and diversification, comparative advantage and strategy formation rather than concepts drawn from social policy or economics. Nevertheless we also find some analysis of housing systems and institutional frameworks, welfare states, privatisation and residualisation more common is such studies. Empirically the study has the benefit of a grounding in the work of CECODHAS European Social Housing Observatory in outlining the different national contexts for social housing (informing Annex II) and in mapping the extent and nature of social housing provision (CECODHAS, 2007).

The most striking empirical findings of the survey and case study are that despite sticking to a core task of meeting housing needs of low income households there has been a general tendency across Europe for company activities to widen in scope to include urban regeneration and neighbourhood management and other ‘non-landlord activities’ to fill gaps in a retreating welfare state. A scenario with analogies to the role played by the third sector in earlier liberal welfare settlements before social democratic welfare states expanded. At the same time we have seen a change in the business models of these companies to include more commercial activities and to adopt more strategic management approaches. It is argued that these changes are partly a response to a rapidly changing environment in which there is less public funding and more intense pockets of social need as a result of the retreating state. This chimes with other recent work on drivers for diversification by European social landlords (Brandsen et al 2006).

Because of their long term local anchorage housing organisations have been strongly drawn into strategies to turn around declining areas, both through their asset management and investment activities and though their emerging wider role in promoting local economic revival, and improving local social and community services. While such involvement has led to legitimacy challenges, many housing companies believe that they are uniquely placed and have the organisational capacity and resources to take on this role. However, we might question the extent to which the ability of housing companies to plug gaps in wider welfare provision is contingent on the ways in which the state has withdrawn from housing itself. The huge assets inherited by Dutch housing associations from decades of earlier investment and ten years of house price inflation cannot be compared to the position of housing associations in countries like Ireland where rental policies prevent organisations from accumulating sufficient surpluses to keep their own homes maintained let alone subsidise wider social welfare. Similarly the ability and willingness of housing organisations to take on social tasks is a reflection of internal goals and missions.

Another added value of this study is in clarifying the active agency played by the companies themselves, with mission statements and core tasks being defined in generally social terms rather than market terms (with the exception of the growing emphasis on customer satisfaction). This mirrors earlier work in England (Mullins and Riseborough, 1997,2000) which found that housing association executives valued both social purposes and business efficiency but when forced to choose consistently saw social purposes as more important than business efficiency. Similarly recent Dutch research has found the hybrid model to be central to organisational identities, with social and commercial purposes much poorer differentiators than a division between entrepreneurial prospectors and defenders (Gruis, forthcoming). With the Robin Hood principle deployed to reinvest commercial returns into social purposes these hybrid organisations can always present their commercial activities as a means to an end, funding social investments.

Inevitably the six case studies that illustrate the company profiles generally focus on socially driven activities that embody these organisations’ missions: energy saving in Finland, eco-building in Brescia, historic quarter rehabilitation in Metz, 24 hour drug centre in Wilhelminasingel, a call centre in Bromley and resident artists to refresh declining neighbourhood in Hamburg. However, while private companies might have selected similar examples to illustrate their sense of corporate social responsibility, it still seems reasonable from the evidence presented in this report to believe that there remains a significant distance in terms of mission, activities and outcomes between these social entrepreneurial organisations and private companies that operate in the same field.

In their conclusion the authors call for further work to explore the tension between social and commercial objectives but this will demand new methodologies and perspectives. Earlier writers (e.g. Walker, 2000) had suggested that the adoption of private finance models and new public management would cause housing associations to shift from a people to a property focus. It has also been suggested that commercial drivers could see harder nosed approaches to social housing management itself (for example in relation to access policies and eviction procedures). But as we have seen the Robin Hood principle makes it hard to unmask these tensions, since commercial behaviour can always be justified by social investment of surpluses. Perhaps new evidence will begin to emerge from situations where there is direct competition between social landlords and the private sector and where we may begin to see which business models are adopted and adapted by whom (Mullins and Walker, 2007, Elsinga et al 2007). Social housing remains an intriguing field where further research is required, however Heino, Czischke and Nikolova have done a great service by opening up a strategic management perspective and an organisational level focus to these questions in a variety of European housing market contexts.
David Mullins, Centre for Urban & Regional Studies, University of Birmingham

Boelhouwer, P (1997) Financing the social rented sector I Western Europe. Housing and Urban Policy Studies 13, Delft University Press.
Brandsen T, Farnell R and Cardoso Ribeiro T (2006) Housing Association Diversification in Europe: Profiles, Portfolios and Strategies. Coventry, Rex Group.
CECODHAS, (2007) Housing Europe 2007 Review of Social Co-operative and Public Housing in the 27 EU Member States. Brussels, European Social Housing Observatory.
Elsinga M, Haffner, M, van der Heijden, H and Oxley, M (2007) How competitive is social rental housing in England and the Netherlands. ENHR Conference, Rotterdam.
Gruis, V (2008, forthcoming) Organisational Archetypes for Dutch Housing Associations. Environment and Planning C
Mullins D and Riseborough, M (1997) Changing with the Times. Critical interpretations of the repositioning of housing associations. School of Public Policy Occasional Paper 12. University of Birmingham
Mullins D and Riseborough M (2000) What are housing associations becoming? Final report of Changing with the Times project. Housing Research at CURS Number 7. 102 pp.
Mullins D and Walker JB (2007) Mixed Motives? The impact of direct public funding for private developers on not-for-profit housing networks in England. ENHR Conference, Rotterdam.
Walker R.M (2000) The Changing Management of Social Housing: the Impact of Externalisation and Managerialisation Housing Studies 15.2 281-299
Whitehead, C and Scanlon, K (2007) Social Housing in Europe.