Where the heart is

Decent housing has a key role to play in tackling social exclusion and the creation of sustainable communities.

Poor or unpopular housing can give a neighbourhood a bad reputation and encourage crime and substance misuse, sinking it further into deprivation. Living in poor housing has also been linked to ill health as well as reduced educational attainment and employment opportunities.

Recruitment crisis

Despite the sector's best efforts to make itself more attractive, it is in the throes of a recruitment crisis. There is poor awareness of what working in housing can offer and this masks the real picture of a sector that is bursting with diverse roles for energetic, driven graduates.

More than four million homes in England are government subsidised rented housing owned by councils and independent not-for-profit landlords called housing associations. These homes are referred to as social or affordable housing and are often located in deprived neighbourhoods.

Housing professionals increasingly engage in "joined up" or "multi agency" work with the police, social services, health professionals and community groups. Housing associations in particular do training and capacity building, and even social events, to foster community spirit with the people who live in their properties.

Pay and benefits

As in other public sector areas, you are never going to earn millions working in housing, but benefits such as paid overtime, flexi-time and generous holiday allowance are usually the norm. The salary for a housing officer, which is one of the most common positions, according to the weekly social housing magazine Inside Housing, starts at an average of £18,000 to £20,000, although it tends to be higher in London.

Housing director, the top position in a council housing department, pays on average £73,100, according to the Employers' Organisation for Local Government, while a survey by Inside Housing, found that it was not uncommon for housing association chief executives to earn £100,000 a year.

Frontline posts

If you're someone who wants to get out there and make a direct difference there are a number of frontline posts available for practical, unflappable, good communicators able to handle stressful situations.

Good housing management can make a vital contribution to tackling deprivation. Staff working in this area will typically have a patch, with a number of homes for which they are responsible. Their duties can include getting tenancy agreements signed, helping new tenants settle in, advising on housing benefit and rent arrears problems, and tackling nuisance.

Graduate Gary Le Pla, a 28-year-old housing officer for London's Family Housing Association, says of his role. “We're the focal point, tenants come to their housing officer for everything.”

Out of the office work

He is in the office three days a week and out for the rest in his patch. Some housing officers spend even less time in the office, so if being chained to a desk is your idea of hell, housing management might be worth exploring.

Another graduate building a career in housing is Sarah Morris, the tenant liaison officer for London's Camden Council. Placing tenants at the heart of service delivery has been earmarked by the government as a priority for social landlords, so roles like Sarah's help to make it happen.

The 27-year-old's duties include being familiar with relevant good practice and developing Camden's strategy for tenant participation accordingly. She also runs meetings for tenants and devises ways to get wider involvement of groups such as ethnic minorities and younger people, who are underrepresented in tenant associations.

Key skills

She says that meeting tenants is the best part of her job. “I take the required good practice from the government then speak to people about the reality of living on a housing estate and see how it applies to them,” she said.

“Diplomacy is one of the skills you need to do this job because quite often what tenants want isn't the same as what the council wants and vice versa, so you need to get through this by negotiation.”

Away from the frontline, social landlords also employ people to formulate policy and manage performance. The positions have tasks ranging from keeping up to speed with legislation and briefing staff on it, statistical analysis and ensuring the landlord complies with performance standards.

To work in this area you need to be organised, analytical and good at breaking down complex issues.

Policy jobs

Nazma Zulfiqar graduated in 2002 and works for the Luminus Group, a social landlord based in Huntingdon. The 23-year-old joined the strategic services group 18 months ago as a trainee policy assistant. She has since been promoted to service review officer and is enjoying the variety of the role.

“Every day is different,” she said. “I could be writing a report for the group chief executive, running a focus group or designing a poster.”

Homelessness

Intrinsically linked to housing is the emotive issue of homelessness. Councils are required to deal with people presenting as homeless, so they need empathetic workers to offer advice, seek solutions and put applicants in touch with other agencies that may be able to help. Working in homelessness can be tough; there won't always be an easy answer so anyone entering this area must be able to deal with pressure.

Shelter is the biggest housing charity and the employer of 25-year-old graduate Clare Atkin whose job title is writer/editor and is responsible for producing copy for all public facing communication such as policy guides for landlords, adverts and Shelter's website.

Playing an important social role

She said: “I might not be helping people into homes or winning legal battles but everyone has a role to play and mine is to make people understand what we do; whether that's encouraging donors to get involved or others to approach Shelter for advice and information.”

The idea of making a difference in some way is a huge motivator. “Working for something you really believe in is not a luxury that many people have,” she said.


  • A "decent home" is defined as one that is warm, weatherproof and has reasonably modern facilities. There are 1.1 million homes that do not meet the decent homes standard in the social housing sector.
  • Rough sleeping has been reduced by more than 70% since 1998 but the hidden homelessness population — those living in hostels, squats, bed and breakfast accommodation or sleeping on someone's floor — is estimated to be 380,000, its highest level since 1997.
  • It is estimated that anything between 23,000 and 55,000 new homes need to be built each year to stem the affordable housing shortage.


Chartered Institute of Housing
www.cih.org

Crisis
www.crisis.org.uk

National Housing Federation
www.housing.org.uk

Shelter
www.shelter.org.uk
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