I am also a professional that has worked with housing providers, for years, as a consultant (agent and advisor) to housing and construction clients.
It’s then a strange, and jarring experience also being a resident. It’s as though, unless I am ‘the professional’ saying suggesting something. It has more weight than if I am ‘the resident’. Whether this is true, or deliberate this has been my experience over a sustained number of years. I often ask, what’s the difference.
The difference is the stigma. Which is ironic in a number of ways. If they are true, then who better to advise those who are managing social housing than those who experience it every day? Yet, as a resident, my suggestions and insights often fall on deaf ears, dismissed as anecdotal or irrelevant. This dismissal not only undermines the value of my professional expertise but also the experiential knowledge that comes from living in the very system I seek to improve.
This discrepancy reveals a broader issue within the social housing sector: a failure to recognise and utilise the wealth of knowledge residing within its own walls. Residents are not just beneficiaries of social housing; they are its lifeblood, offering a perspective that is both unique and essential. Their experiences, if harnessed correctly, could drive meaningful and effective change.
However, the current approach to resident involvement is superficial at best. Training programs for residents often assume a baseline of ignorance, offering basic information while ignoring the diverse experiences and expertise present in any community. This not only patronises residents but also wastes a valuable resource. The potential for resident-led innovation and strategic input is vast, yet untapped.
Moreover, when residents are invited to contribute at a strategic level, they are seldom given the tools and resources necessary to make a meaningful impact. It’s like being given a seat at a table where the language spoken is foreign to you. How can one be expected to contribute effectively under such circumstances?
The focus on ‘best cases’ by landlords further exacerbates this disconnect. Celebrating successes is important, but not at the expense of ignoring areas that require attention and improvement. A balanced approach, one that values the voices of all residents, including those who are critical or facing challenges, is crucial.
In my dual role, I see the missed opportunities every day. The potential for a more inclusive, effective, and responsive social housing system is clear. It’s time for social landlords to rethink their approach, to see residents not just as end-users but as co-creators of the communities they manage. Only then can we hope to see a housing system that truly meets the needs of all its residents.