Digital Housing Week

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07 July, 2020

The week commencing 22 June was due to be The Chartered Institute of Housing week, however given the current pandemic this was not able to go ahead, although it was replaced by Digital Housing Week. This adaption is just another example of how the housing sector can quickly innovate.

The event was a great success and included prominent speakers from the both the housing sector and the construction industry, as well as the Rt Hon Christopher Pincher, MP housing minister and hosted by Inside Housing, who did a fantastic job. A number of very important topics were discussed during the week, including:

Homelessness

Chris Wood, assistance director of policy and research at Shelter, the homeless charity, said that they have had an increase in calls to their helpline, including people concerned about eviction (including from NHS workers), those currently homeless and families unable to isolate and locked down in overcrowded, poor quality homes. With more people potentially losing their job due to the pandemic, this shows that more affordable housing is needed. Chris noted that investment in grant for social housing provides countercyclical investment and certainty in the housing market. We agree that more affordable housing is needed to not only create certainty in the housing market but also to help reduce the level of homelessness.

Ligia Teixeira, the chief executive at Centre for Homelessness Impact said that homelessness has progressed over the past decade, but the pandemic has made a challenging situation more difficult. Temporary accommodation is not good enough and those who end up in hotels are usually the most vulnerable. It is important to create of a better data foundation to strengthen the sector's capacity to act on robust insight.

Harry Swales, executive director of Homes England, noted that some local authorities have done good work in providing safe spaces for rough sleepers to isolate and said that we can use the pandemic to make positive changes.

Matt Downie, the director of policy and external affairs at Crisis, a homeless charity, noted that it is still legal for council to turn people away and allow them to sleep rough; this is simply not good enough. We at Forbes could not agree more, more support should be given to those in need and it is disappointing that it has taken a pandemic for people to take the homelessness crisis seriously. There is a need a continued sustained commitment.

Diversity

CIH Futures, a board to ensure the housing sector has a viable future and providing opportunities to young people, noted the need for diversity in the sector, where it be age or ethnic diversity. Patrick Fleischer-Annang, a member of the CIH Futures board has created a vlog series about his experience working with the sector, which can be found here.

Cym D'Souza, the chief executive of Arawak Walton, noted some of the inequalities and lack of access in the BAME community. The BAME community are 3 times more likely to experience homelessness, 2 time more likely to be unemployed and a higher rate are on zero-hour contracts. These figures are shocking and Cym says that it is important to remember that the solution is not always more stock as not all affordable housing is suitable, for example, shared ownership isn't always accessible to the BAME community given they don't have the same access to mortgages with a lot being on zero contract.

Here at Forbes, we know it is important that all in the sector recognise any lack of diversity and work towards addressing it. The UK is a diverse country and both the housing and construction sector should reflect this.

Innovation

Both the housing sector and the construction sector have adapted to the issues created by the pandemic and come up with solution. Many of these solutions have created a better way of working and could continue long after the pandemic has ended.

Property law can very archaic, and a number of RPs execute documents with a seal, however, the sector has reacted quickly to the change in working, with many putting in place a power of attorney and adapting their processes.

Stephen Teagle, the chief executive of partnership & regeneration at Vistry Partnership said that the within 4 weeks of being off site, the majority of their sites were back up and running to an extent. They have been looking daily at processes and increasing productivity and in the main on sites they are back to an average of 90%.

There was talk about the modern methods of construction (MMC), in which fewer construction workers are needed but they require different skill sets, would be able to assist in rebuild given the post-Brexit shortage of construction staff. Planning for Brexit had created a level of preparedness for the sectors, but the problems have not gone away, and the problems caused by the pandemic are much worse. As mentioned, investing in affordable housing can create the certainty needed in the housing market, which can help us build out the pandemic as well as help lessen the effects of Brexit.

Moving Forward

Tom Copley, the deputy mayor of London for housing & residential development, said that we not only need to bounce back but we need to emerge with a more resistant house building sector.

Speakers from Rider Levett Bucknall, a leading independent organisation in project management, and Consortium Procurement Construction, provided detail about the recovery programme for the construction industry, which includes the 'reset' phase, which involves the need for economic stimulus measures to increase workload, as well as new approaches to help productivity and investing in training. Followed by the reinvestment phase, where sustained economic growth through the adoption of digital and manufacturing technologies are required to consistently deliver low carbon, sustainable and better-quality output and outcomes. As well as adopting procurement models and approaches across the industry to deliver better value and also building stronger partnerships between the industry and its clients, supply chain firms, investment in upskilling the workforce.

Rt Hon Christopher Pincher, MP housing minister said that we need to build a new Britain out of this pandemic. This will no doubt be assisted by the Governments recent pledge to "build, build, build", and to increase construction and infrastructure spending in a bid to boast the economy.

The week was very informative and important issues were discussed, which gives us all food for thought on how we can be better. Although there is still a lot of uncertainty, RPs are in a robust position to help the economy and in our experience RPs are always diversifying to find solutions for their community needs and will continue to do so regardless of the pandemic.

For more information contact Lyndsay Baxter in our Housing & Regeneration department via email or phone on 01772 220384. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

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