A little over a month ago, my colleagues and I began our preparations for next year’s elections to the National Assembly for Wales, and our campaign to focus on the three big issues facing Wales. We wanted to talk about how housing associations can play a role in tackling homelessness, preventing climate breakdown and reducing health inequalities. Little did we know how rapidly our sense of priorities would be challenged by the emerging global pandemic.
With housing associations across Wales providing more than 150,000 homes and care services – many to the most vulnerable in society – we have seen the sad fallout over the last few weeks of this virus. While many of the families who live in our members’ homes have had to deal with the tragic loss of loved ones, we have also seen tenants lose their jobs or have their access to their communities and services cut off by social distancing and isolation measures.
This has meant that housing associations have had to adapt. While they continue to provide services in the most challenging of times, finding new ways to work, and looking to ensure the viability of other services at the heart of our communities, it would be easy to feel today that they are on the frontline in the war against this virus. But the truth is that it social housing tenants who are most likely to feel the brunt, not just of the virus itself, but of the economic impact too.
That is why I am proud that housing associations have come together with local authorities in Wales to make it clear that we will not evict anybody from a social home in Wales who is affected by financial hardship due to COVID-19.
Furthermore, we want to make it really clear that tenants who are suffering financial hardship will be supported consistently. Housing associations have joined together with local government today to make a clear commitment to tenants throughout this period, pledging that they :
- Will keep you safe and secure in your home
- Will help you get the financial support you need
- are here to support you and find solutions if you have difficulty paying your rent
- Will do everything they can to support your wellbeing
These are high level principles which we hope will set really clear expectations of what a social housing tenant in Wales can expect in an uncertain world. We are going further too, to enshrine these principles into a clear protocol which will be available publically to all landlords.
Every housing association (and local authority) will be delivering different types of support, but all of us (or all housing associations) are united in working with and supporting tenants facing financial difficulty to pay their rent. This will be done an individual basis, ensuring that the support is targeted and appropriate to each tenants who needs it.
I have also been struck by the way housing associations are adapting their services to support both tenants and the wider community throughout this period. Newydd Housing Association, for example, have diverted their brilliant HAPI project in Rhondda Cynon Taf online, with community singalongs and exercise classes keeping people active. And with staff roles changing during lockdown, we’ve seen associations redeploying their staff to offer calls to those who may be suffering from loneliness and isolation during this period too. Tai Calon Community Housing are one of many who have chosen to support their local food bank, redeploying staff and resources to help their vital services reaching the most vulnerable.
Coronavirus has challenged us in new and rapidly changing ways. From a policy perspective, the breadth of issues and the pace with which we’ve had to deal with them has been intense, but bears no comparison to the work housing associations are having to carry out on the ground.
We know that the uncertainty is likely to continue for many months, and I hope that housing associations’ clear offer to tenants will ensure that those who need it most are able to navigate these uncertain times with a little more certainty.
Stuart Ropke, Chief Executive of Community Housing Cymru
Housing associations in Wales will be profiling the work they are doing to support tenants in Wales through a new campaign called ‘With You‘. Follow this campaign through CHC’s Twitter page @CHCymru and searching for the hashtag #withyou