Lives shared, housing cares

by Jeremy Porteus, Managing Director of the Housing Learning and Improvement Network

The tenth anniversary of the publication of Putting People First slipped by as the festive season got underway last month. It was a ‘landmark’ moment that could secure independent living for all adults. It was also supposed to usher in a care system that offered people personal choice and control, alongside active participation in community life.

I had the privilege of working in the Putting People First team at the time and, since then, the Housing LIN has been championing the role housing can play in helping to deliver those aspirations.

Over the last decade, we’ve seen many targets set for the building of new homes. However, we don’t just need to physically build more homes, we need to build the social capital that underpins the communities in which those new homes will sit.

Indeed, whether we’re building starter homes, family homes, specialist or supported housing, we need to ensure that the social architecture is in place to support those who will live in that housing. This means building neighbourhoods that promote and support wellbeing and healthy living for people of all ages. It is, after all, also ten years since the publication of another document we could still learn from; Lifetime Homes, Lifetime Neighbourhoods – a ground-breaking housing strategy for an ageing population.

Specialist housing can be about more than supporting the most vulnerable. It can promote links between the generations and provide educational and employment opportunities for a community’s young people.

But we also need to be clear about the types of housing that we’re talking about. Innovative and collaborative organisations or groups of friends have in recent years pioneered a range of new citizen-led housing models including:

  • ‘Care ready’ housing
  • Co-housing
  • Community-led housing
  • Land trusts
  • Mutuals
  • Co-living
  • Intergenerational housing and
  • Home-sharing

They have much in common and all are vehicles for giving people greater choice and voicing the opportunity to manage their own care and support. However, by their very nature, these projects are largely micro-commissioned and small-scale.  In my view, these need to come in from the margins and be mainstreamed so that they can become an essential component in providing different solutions to fix our broken housing and care markets.

It’s sad to have to acknowledge that such repair work is still needed nearly four years after the Care Act came into force – complete with the duties it placed on local authorities to shape local markets and to cooperate with ‘relevant partners’. Ministers now have another opportunity in the coming months to foster the growth of community and cooperative specialist housing via the social care green paper and social housing green paper, both planned for this spring.

However, we are beyond the days when a passing reference in such documents to the role of housing in preventing demand for social and health care is sufficient. And, as some of the small-scale innovative schemes show, housing can be the foundation of a social care system that puts people first when meeting their needs and aspirations. Let’s hope that it isn’t another ten years before we see this become a reality.

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