Could social housing be as personal as private ownership?

The private sector provides lots of choice. Could the social housing sector do so too?

The private sector provides lots of choice. Could the social housing sector do so too?

Could chains in social housing – Council or Housing Association homes – help more tenants to have the home they’d like?

People who’ve bought or sold houses know about ‘chains’.  Estate agents will advertise ‘no chain’ against a property they are marketing as an advantage.  And if you want that ‘no chain’ property then that’s great – but the odds are that you would prefer another.

As a house buyer, one chooses a property within one’s budget in the area you want with the characteristics you fancy.  You put in your offer.  If it is accepted you wait patiently until the chain moves.  You may have to find a buyer, the seller may have to find a property they want, but in the end a whole chain of people have their housing wishes satisfied at once.

In social housing, most moves are of the ‘no chain’ variety.  You have to be very lucky to be near the top of the waiting list and get a home that is something like what you want.  You may have to compromise size or location, but as a tenant you are somehow expected to be grateful for anything you can get – especially when housing is in short supply.

Most areas also allow people to ‘swap’ homes.  But rarely is this more than a direct one to one exchange.

I think we should be able to do better.  Imagine the following, all living in social housing.

  • Michael has recently retired and lives in a one-bed ground floor flat with his dog but would now love to have a garden.
  • Audrey is still living in the three bed property her family grew up in, but the stairs are difficult to manage and the garden is too large.
  • Paula is also in three bed property with her two teenagers.  She wants to support her elderly mum who has just had a stroke, but lives on the other side of town.
  • Gary and Julie now have three children in their small two bed terrace and the arguments are starting…
  • Paula and Marc are expecting their number one, but are still living with Paula’s mum and dad in their two bed bungalow.

Following current practice you might be able to suggest some exchanges.  Perhaps Audrey could swap with Gary and Julie, at least Audrey’s garden problem might be reduced.   Or maybe Michael’s flat would suit Audrey – though Audrey’s house would be rather big for Michael and his dog.

It is really not very satisfactory.

So what happens if we make it into a chain, like the private sector does?

  • Paula and Marc can move to Gary and Julie’s small terrace
  • Gary and Julie can have Paula’s family three bed house
  • Paula can move to Audrey’s house on the other side of town near her mum
  • Audrey can have Michael’s flat and
  • As soon as a small house or flat with a garden becomes available for Michael, the whole chain moves and everyone can be a bit happier!

This works in the private sector.  And I want it to work in the social housing sector too.

There’d need to be safeguards – like tenants would need to be up-to-date with their rent and property be in reasonable condition.

Wouldn’t it be great if this wasn’t just a system in Derby, but across the country?  It could then open up employment opportunities for people currently fearful to apply for a job beyond commuting distance from their current rented home.

Now all we need is the IT, the safeguards and a willingness to give real choice and flexibility to people in the social housing sector, and hopefully improve social mobility too!

Who will help to make this happen?

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