Letter to our customers - why we are here and what we do
10 August 2015
The election of a new Government will bring profound change to us as a Housing Association, and will impact on you as a tenant. Whether you have picked up the impact of the recent budget announcements on social housing or not, or have seen the negative media coverage about Housing Associations, I wanted to be very clear with you about our reason for being here and what we do.
Red Kite was made for the community, by the community. As tenants and leaseholders, you voted for a better quality of home, more opportunity and to be part of our business, making decisions about the things that matter to you. In just under four years, we have already carried out tens of thousands of improvements, nurtured communities, developed people and changed lives, and we continue to do so.
It may seem that the unhelpful media reports of late, including the recent Channel 4 news special that talked about Housing Associations being the reason behind a lack of housing across the whole country, as well as the ongoing tirade of benefit shows on Channel 5, all serve to tar social housing with the same brush. We struggle to change this one-sided media approach, but every housing provider is different and we all have different jobs to do for our community, so programmes like ‘Benefits Street’ aren’t reflective of our community. Most importantly, we are not like banks where every branch provides the same services.
There are huge differences between what each town, county and city needs, so there has to of course be a difference in what is provided and how. Despite the assumption, building new homes is not the only focus of what we are here to do - we know getting our repairs right and finishing our promises are the most important things that we have to do right now. We do have plans to build homes for our communities when the time is right and when we are sure that this can be done responsibly in line with our other priorities. We’re about building communities and providing high quality homes for those people who need them. Importantly, we must never forget what social housing was set up to do and how it can be a true lifeline for some people.
In the last few weeks, two of the biggest housing associations in the country announced their intention to merge into the largest housing provider in Europe, allowing them to become more commercial and build more homes for private rent. Another huge housing association’s Chief Executive announced that they would no longer build homes for social rent, focussing on those which improve their financial position. He intimated that vulnerable people looking for social housing, would not be their problem. That same organisation has now seen a high profile resignation in light of this announcement because they do not want to work for a business that intends to forget where it came from and no longer work for people who need social housing. Fortunately following sector pressure, they have since returned to their commitment to their charitable purpose.
I’d like to reassure you that staff at Red Kite are totally dedicated to the purpose of social housing, choosing us as an organisation to work for because of our values. The same is true of our Board members too, who are all unpaid and driven by the same values. We are staying true to these. At no point will our vision to provide high quality housing falter. But more than this, we will do everything we can to be more than just about providing homes, by helping you and your communities to reach your potential.
With many housing associations contemplating their future in light of the Governments changes to housing policy, there is clear uncertainty for those people who look to social housing as an invaluable way to provide homes for themselves and their families. We are yet to see the full detail and impact of announced policies such as pay to stay, security of tenure and expanding Right to Buy. There are broader questions over how the Government sees the role of housing associations in terms of priorities and scope of work. While the Government’s requirement for us to reduce our rents by 1% for the next four years will put some much needed cash back in the pockets of our customers, the impact on us as an organisation is to remove nearly £9 million from our business. Since we created Red Kite, we have being driving costs out of the business, which has left us well placed to deal with this significant financial challenge and be confident that we can remain an independent business and free to work with who we choose, rather than being forced to merge with another financially stronger partner. That said, the coming years will mean a difference in the way that social housing is provided, and the resources available. We will keep you updated on the challenges and changes.
We are so passionate about what we stand for and what we will continue to focus on, that following the Channel 4 news report, we specifically invited Jon Snow and his team to come in and see the different approach we have to making sure we support you and the range of partnerships and projects we have in place to release the potential of our customers. We were, however, not taken up on this offer.
I recently made a statement about how I believe passionately in social housing – giving people the best chance in life was the reason I joined a social landlord – so now, more than ever, I want to reassure you without any hesitation that we will never lose sight of what we are here to do and will stay true to our values. Red Kite will continue to speak up for our customers and do whatever we can to maintain the things we know are so important to you, despite the changes that the new Government will bring.