“It is a disgrace that housing association workers are living in worse conditions than the people they are trying to house.“
That was UNISON community service group executive speaker John Gray quoting a housing association chief executive at the annual conference of community delegates in Southport this weekend.
He was speaking as delegates debated a motion noting that “years of below-inflation pay rises and massive increase in rents and property prices mean that many housing association and voluntary workers live in privately rented shared, damp, expensive, overcrowded and insecure homes.”
Like many who provide public services, housing association and voluntary-sector workers find themselves spending most of their wages on rent and travel, leaving nothing over to save for a better home.
It is time for community, voluntary and housing association staff to be recognised as key workers, when it comes to getting access to “affordable housing,”, declared Mr Gray.
Conference agreed, and called for a campaign to “provide safe, secure and affordable homes for them” alongside working for extra funding for the sector, and better wages.
But delegates recognised also that “affordable housing” doesn’t necessarily match the description on the tin.
In particular, “affordable rent” isn’t something that’s calculated by looking at real incomes and working out what would be a reasonable housing cost.
It is defined as 80% of market rents. And market rents are calculated essentially by asking estate agents: “How much could we rent this home for on the private market?”
But housing is more than a simple market calculation – especially when the market is one where private landlords are trying to maximise their income in the midst of a housing shortage.
“Access to good quality social housing,” declared Lola Oyewusi from the union’s housing associations branch, “is essential not just to provide shelter, but to good family and social health.”
As delegates debated an emergency motion on the back of a UNISON Greater London report on how the lack of truly affordable housing is driving key public service workers out of the capital, Tony Power of the service group executive told delegates that “the issue of affordable homes is an issue across the country”.
And yet, he added, “truly affordable homes are what housing associations were created for.”