How can we turn people’s inspiring stories from #Housingday into higher levels of turn-out and making housing a vote changer in future elections?
Tenants who give their time and talents to help their communities; surviving on a breadline budget and countless individual stories of people achieving great things against the odds. Only a few hours into #Housingday and my Twitter feed is already full of evidence to challenge negative perceptions of social housing and the people who live in it.
So how can we capture this energy and find ways for the sector to not only showcase the value it generates for families, neighbourhoods and the country but also change the perception of those living in social housing by enabling them to influence their reality?
The obvious focus point is the day in May when the entire nation takes to the polling stations to vote. Or, in the case of many in the social housing sector, not vote. In the 2010 general election, only 55% of people living in social housing cast their ballot – compared to 74% of homeowners. No surprise then that affordable housing continues to bump along the bottom of the public’s political priorities.
There is some good stuff going on: the Yes to Homes and Homes for Britain campaigns are making the case for urgent action to tackle the housing crisis. And some politicians are starting to respond – although Ed Miliband’s view that it can be covered in two-minutes shows there’s still a long way to go.
To encourage residents to use their vote, housing providers need to keep on reminding customers of their rights and explaining what the sector does and why. If we genuinely think the housing crisis can be ended in a generation, we need to help customers understand and feel enthusiastic and empowered about the role they can play in making it happen.
We should be researching why so many social housing tenants don’t vote, and offering help and encouragement so that more people do. From straightforward information and help to join the electoral register to free polling day travel, landlords should be making it their business to boost the voting turn out.
Housing organisations are often trusted, local brands, so they should be adding their voices to the plea for democratic engagement.
On 17 March 2015, @homesforbritain is staging what’s expected to be the biggest housing rally in a generation in London. The whole housing world should be there – from private developers to homelessness campaigners and social housing providers to private landlords. But the attendees who can make most impact are tenants and residents themselves – so that decision makers can hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. Maybe then the people who are affected most will receive more than lip service.
Of course everyone has the right to choose whether to vote or not, and who to vote for. And we’ll have to park the “if voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal” argument to one side. But helping the people whose stories we’ve heard today to find their voice and know someone is listening could be the legacy of #Housingday.