Why Work in Housing ?
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For a sector that has suffered a dowdy image crisis for decades, it's quite a turnaround.
Housing careers used to be associated with simply managing the day-to-day maintenance of rough council estates.
But the social housing sector has moved from just providing houses to creating neighbourhoods and developing communities tenants choose to live in. Since local authorities handed over control of their housing stock to not-for-profit organisations, careers in housing are much more creative, dynamic and appealing.
For today's housing professionals this political change has created a whole different ball game, says Ed Whalley, lecturer in housing studies at Leeds Metropolitan University.
Freed from local authority traditions, they can be more innovative in their work and also liaise with partner organisations like the police, social services and the probation service.
Now housing organisations are left to their own devices much more than local authorities used to be and it means staff have the opportunity to stretch themselves by thinking of new ways to turn old council estates around or develop more inclusive communities.
A lot less red tape
Gavin Brown, who works as a housing manager for Endeavour housing association, which manages 1,600 homes in the Teesside area and employs 80 staff, agrees. Having worked as a housing officer at Middlesbrough and Sunderland City Council before he took up his current role with Endeavour three years ago, Brown, 35, says there is a lot less red tape these days.
Councils are very bureaucratic, he says. Working in housing, I found there were always Ts to cross and Is to dot. At a housing association, especially a small one like Endeavour, there's a lots of opportunities to develop the business because you have more decision-making power and therefore can help more people.
Indeed, social housing organisations and, therefore staff working in the sector, are integral to the smooth running of our society. We all need a roof over our head. A safe, secure home and a pleasant neighbourhood are essential for our health, education and well-being.
Those already working in housing are committed to this cause. Research from Asset Skills shows 55% of employees have remained in the sector for more than nine years and eight of 10 employees in housing feel they're working in an interesting and challenging area.
Furthermore, two-thirds of housing staff would like to stay with their employer for the next two to three years, either in their current job or through promotion.
The good news for job seekers wanting to get into the housing sector is that there are staff shortages across the board.
There's shortages because people don't have a realistic idea of the scope of careers available in housing, says Chris White, head of HR at the National Housing Federation.
Housing jobs can be very hands-on, working with tenants as a housing officer going into people's homes or, you can be at the other end of the spectrum possibly never seeing a tenant but liaising with government writing good practice and interpreting complicated legislation.
Scope of the sector
Take a look at The Guardian's job section on a Wednesday and you'll see the scope of housing jobs available at housing associations, local authorities, Arms Length Management Organisations (ALMOs), charities and voluntary organisations.
Like any other sector there you'll see opportunities in finance, public relations, human resources, IT and marketing. Generally job titles like anti-social behavioural officers, estates coordinator or neighbourhood managers, will be housing officer roles dealing directly with day-to-day issues involved in managing estates. Roles with development in their job title are involved in establishing new housing estates.
There are plenty of other jobs behind the scenes from income to legal and strategy officers. Regeneration, developing new sustainable communities and improving old ones, also has a number of opportunities.
People skills are a must
It's not always necessary to have experience in housing to get into these roles. For example, if you can prove you have great communication skills and are good at dealing with people you could walk into a job at the Housing Corporation as an investment officer monitoring housing association funds.
People skills are a must to work in housing, says Jill Goult at the Chartered Institute of Housing. Goult, a membership development manager, says job seekers also need to have the ability to organise their own workload, to be able to work in a team and plenty of energy and commitment. She thinks lack of experience doesn't have to be a stumbling block to getting a housing job.
Lots of organisations will interview candidates with potential and, depending on the role, they'll look at the skills they have gained in for example, voluntary work, rather than experience of working in housing directly, says Goult.
An alternative to social work
Often people choose to follow a career in supported housing rather than one in social work because they feel they will be able to make more of a difference in a less stressful job. Supported housing is where people who are vulnerable - young people, the elderly, refugees, people who have been abused - are provided with on-site support in their housing association home or with floating advice and assistance when they need it.
Work in this area can be very rewarding. Giles Conlon, 34, works as a housing officer for the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, which manages 2,000 in the Yorkshire area, employs 491 staff and specialises in providing retirement care homes. He says his most memorable experience after five years on the job was helping an older lady with mental health problems get her house refurbished.
I sat down with her and working together, we managed to find some grants which she was eligible for which paid to clear up her flat, says Conlon. Housing officers need the ability to listen and to understand how their tenants' lives can be complicated and challenging.
A diverse sector
It's perhaps for these reasons that the diversity of the social housing sector is impressive. Many people who have lived in social housing themselves now work in the sector. And Royston Betts, recruitment manager at People Unlimited, says housing employees come from a range of social and economic backgrounds and ages.
In terms of job prospects, there's plenty of opportunity to move on to different departments or try out other roles once you've gained a couple of years experience working in housing. It's common, for example, to move from housing management to development work as Caroline Ruiz has done.
Ruiz, 24, is now a development officer for Southern Housing Group, which manages over 24,000 properties, employs 900 people and specialises in providing low cost homes in the south of England. She says working as a housing officer helped her get an understanding of what tenants might require from new developments, like lots of storage and car parking.
Pay for housing jobs is also improving as the sector features more prominently on the UK Government's political agenda.
As an outline, figures from Hays social housing recruitment agency suggest that housing assistant jobs will start at around