The monthly magazine Housing Scotland regularly features an opinion column by SURF Chief Executive, Andy Milne. In his contribution to the February edition, featured here, Andy highlights some enterprising housing associations that are keen to help build communities as  well as homes.

A 2014 Reality Show

by Andy Milne

It’s all getting a bit Dickensian. Inadequate housing can look rather charming on the front of a Christmas card. Sadly, we seem to take a less charitable view of homeless families as we step around them in the seasonal rush for bargains and booze.

Meantime, the more deeply uncharitable attitudes of some who have made fortunes by feeding off the rapidly expanding private rented accommodation market have been spectacularly demonstrated by the likes of Fergus Wilson.

At the time of writing, this multi-millionaire landlord and his wife Judith have been doing a stunning Scrooge double act. They decided Christmas was the right time to evict all benefit recipients (working as well as unemployed) from their numerous properties. Their TV ‘celebrity’ rating has risen so rapidly that by the time you read this they will probably be the new ‘Nick and Margaret’ of some bizarre ‘Apprentice meets Benefits Street’ ‘reality’ show, fronted by Iain Duncan Smith.

The Campbeltown CHORD project was highlighted in the 2013 SURF Awards

The Campbeltown CHORD project was highlighted in the 2013 SURF Awards

Thankfully, as this festive and festering fever fades, back in the real ‘real’ world, many readers of this magazine continue to strive all year round for better housing and communities. I’m glad to say that the inspiring results of that work are frequently highlighted in the annual SURF Awards for Best Practice in Community Regeneration.

When the Scottish Government Minister Margaret Burgess presented the 2013 SURF Awards in December, the successes of Housing Associations were once again evident in many of the 15 shortlisted projects.

These include: GHA’s support of the highly commended Corkerhill Pitches project; Argyll Community Housing Association’s input towards the CHORD Town Centre Regeneration initiative in Campbeltown: Tenants First Housing Co-op’s innovative public art project in Peterhead; and Govan Housing Association’s backing the Portal project, which was the Creative Regeneration category winner. And around the same time, the Link Group picked up the UK Social Enterprise Of The Year award; a great credit to that longstanding regeneration organisation, and to enterprising housing associations everywhere.

Market Failure and Creative Enterprise

It is clear that we are going to need a great deal of that sort of creative enterprise in 2014; especially since the ‘housing market’ is apparently as dysfunctional now as it was two thousand years ago. The widespread tempests and floods that followed Christmas may have added to the biblical theme but the chronic lack of adequate accommodation, like poverty and inequality, is very much a man made phenomenon. Political dogma and deregulated greed has resulted in a grossly distorted ‘housing market’, which frequently fails to deliver its most basic social function – adequate and affordable accommodation.

Housing Associations in Scotland have always played an important role in helping to tackle housing shortages and at the same time to build and sustain real communities. From their local roots, many of these truly practical social enterprises have readily understood the long-term economic and social wisdom of addressing wider regeneration challenges. Sadly, some have not. After their initial development activity, some housing associations have been content to just sit on the ‘talents’ granted to them by their fellow citizens in the form of tax funded HAGs etc., while the world changed around them.

And yet, there are some things don’t change so much. The image of poor families travelling far from home in search of accommodation and a safe place to live and work is as current as it is biblical or Dickensian. So, it’s encouraging that dynamic housing associations and the communal enterprising spirits that created them are still around. In this special year for Scotland, SURF will do all it can to support and highlight their successes, while encouraging others to join them in doing even more to make better places for all of us to live, work and thrive in.

For more details on the outcomes of the 2013 SURF Awards process, including an overview of all 15 shortlisted and winning regeneration initiatives, please click here to download a dedicated publication.