Whoever becomes the first GM Mayor in May, will have housing as one of their priorities. It is important that they don’t just fixate on creating new supply irrespective of price, affordability and location, but have a real plan for how they ensure that all housing is affordable and sustainable for the people living in it, and that it creates genuine communities and neighbourhoods.
This requires a clear strategy for regenerating areas with older housing, that does not mean enforced gentrification or displacement, but creates an environment where people can start to flourish and feel part of a vibrant community. Sounds like common sense, and not very revolutionary, but it is something that as a society we get wrong more times than we get it right. It requires as much focus on jobs and training, economic infrastructure, good schools, good energy policy and great , cheap transport links across the conurbation.
The idea that this can be left purely to the house building market is a nonsense, as we will end up with more and more detached houses on the periphery of the conurbation relying on increased car usage, and only affordable to those on middle to higher incomes. There are examples of good urban developments that have contributed to regenerating inner urban areas, but without jobs and community services these cannot turn round more deprived areas. It has to be done through good, simple and flexible partnership at a local level, involving Local Authorities, Housing providers, developers, employers and the local community to get the best, most sustainable results.
Get it wrong, and we will be demolishing the new apartments in a similar timescale to that which saw the end of 60’s deck access flats, get it right and GM could be one of the best city areas in Europe. It requires the new Mayor and the Combined Authority to have partnerships in place that allow the strengths of those partners to let rip, with each recognising and valuing the role of each other. It needs a structure and a framework but not micro management. In GM we are further along the journey than many other regions, but we are still only at the start. Targeted spending into those areas, mainly across the north side of GM that have lower wages, poorer infrastructure and more poverty is vital to ensure that the City Region grows, it will not trickle out from just spending in the city centre.
Housing Associations can play a key part in this, with our local links into the community, unique business model of reinvesting surplus and building in less fashionable areas. But it is only a part we need a supply of good quality, remediated land in the heart of the towns that make up GM. We need to be good partners to the GM Mayor, Councils and Health providers, and importantly for them to be good partners to us. That is a challenge we are up for, and have demonstrated it by committing resources to enhance the GM offer.
In addition , GM needs to focus on good quality support to tackle the growing homelessness problem, the solution to which is not clear until the Government sorts out funding for supported housing solutions. The ticking time bomb of increasing resources needed to deal with an ageing population is one that the new GM Mayor will need to grapple with straight away. New Extra Care schemes, respite accommodation, joint health/social care/ housing projects are key, but like the rest of the country we are well back from where we need to be.
So a bit to do, much of it involving housing, but if there is one task that makes a real difference it is that people start to see GM as a place they identify with, have a stake in and engage with. The turnout at the election will be a good lightning rod for this. An apathetic population , that does not want to engage in the process will mean we miss our opportunities to create something special. Lets hope the candidates can enthuse people!
You can sign the #GMMayor housing pledge here- http://ow.ly/vDI430aiI4w