LSE research has shaped social housing policy among professionals and in government and helped residents living in high-rise buildings to take action.
What was the problem?
There are currently around one-and-half million people in the UK (tenants and owners) living in high-rise, council-built flats. These buildings have often been badly managed and neglected, and their residents face additional social stigma associated with living in social housing. Poor management and maintenance of social housing have strongly negative impacts on the health and wellbeing of social housing tenants.
The urgent need to address these long-term failures in social housing management was brought into sharp focus following the catastrophic 2017 Grenfell Tower fire disaster in west London. Residents’ warnings about building safety had gone unheeded, and in the aftermath of the disaster, many more problems with the maintenance and safety of high-rise housing received renewed attention.
What did we do?
LSE Housing and Communities, led by Professor Anne Power, has developed a body of influential qualitative research that draws on extensive interviews with residents to identify flaws with and proposals to improve social housing practices.
Most recently, Power and colleagues investigated lessons to learn from the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire disaster. This was informed by previous research insights that tenants and leaseholders wish and need to be respected, listened to, informed, and to count as equal-status partners with their social housing landlords. In the Grenfell context, the specific recommendations included implementing on-site management, a single point of control for all high-rise buildings, an MOT-equivalent test for multistorey blocks, and an approach of drawing on the lived experience of all residents within blocks.
Earlier research and advocacy over three decades investigating conditions in disadvantaged neighbourhoods had identified the key drivers of poor outcomes for residents – including disrepair, fuel poverty, low energy efficiency, unsuitable housing management, and a lack of empowerment.
Professor Power’s review of 10 years of government programmes to improve poor neighbourhoods showed that neighbourhood management – a coordinated and localised effort to tackle basic area conditions and environments – delivers measurable improvements that can increase resident satisfaction, restore confidence, encourage investment, and signal wider progress, outperforming different approaches in comparable areas. The cost of organising this additional layer of supervision was relatively modest and pays for itself in reduced vandalism and disrepair.
Complementary qualitative analysis from 1,400 in-depth interviews over 10 years with 200 families bringing up children in difficult neighbourhoods in east London and northern England provided longitudinal evidence around specific aspects of neighbourhood renewal and management, community cohesion, and empowerment. It documented views on why community matters, schools as community anchors, crime, safety and prevention, family ill-health, work, training and benefits, and housing and regeneration. Positive impacts included involving families with children in shaping neighbourhood activities, delivering services at a local scale, and responding quickly to the minutiae of neighbourhood problems. However, many parents still felt a lack of control and an inability to escape the problems of the area, because of underlying inequality and a lack of housing options. Additional recent work has explored the stigmatisation of social housing tenants.
Wider work across six European countries provided evidence for the effectiveness of local leadership, community enterprise, resident involvement, and local control of housing. This approach was also shown to be useful in large cities such as Birmingham, and to address the pressing issue of climate change.
Research by LSE Housing and Communities has influenced local and national government strategies and the work of housing providers to implement more effective, tenant-focused neighbourhood management. To achieve this, and engage with service providers, in 2015 LSE Housing and Communities co-founded the Housing Plus Academy – an academic and professional association partnership.
The Academy is funded by 17 leading housing associations, and partners include the National Housing Federation and the Chartered Institute of Housing, the main professional bodies for social housing. Over 1,500 participants, including front-line staff, social housing tenants, and third-sector organisations, have attended its 40 Housing Academy residential think tanks and several one-day workshops, which are based on LSE evidence and recommendations, and serve to challenge, extend, and implement that material. Good practice from each event is widely shared with social landlords and government, meaning tenants’ and staff perspectives are fed into high-level policy and practice decisions. The 2019 “Housing Plus Academy Impact Report” showed that all but one of the policy think tank participants made changes to their organisation as a result of attending. Examples included establishing a tenant scrutiny panel with local powers to determine operational priorities.
Following the Grenfell Tower fire disaster, LSE Housing and Communities ran a bespoke programme funded by Direct Line, which informed their “Lessons from Grenfell” report. This included running knowledge-exchange workshops for tenants, social landlords, government, architects, the fire service, and other stakeholders living in, working in, and managing high-rise residential buildings. LSE Housing and Communities ran a residential workshop for residents from the Lancaster West Estate, where Grenfell Tower is located, which galvanised clear ideas on developing local housing management and estate-wide upgrading.
Neighbourhood management was subsequently implemented on the Lancaster West Estate. This has led to significant improvements for residents, including greater satisfaction with repairs, energy-saving works as a feature of estate upgrading, and better communication between residents and staff from the local authority, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. These results are supported by central government officials, with the Head of Housing Investment and Regeneration at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) noting LSE Housing and Communities’s work “has been critical in helping them to start re-building trust and improve their local relationships following the Grenfell fire tragedy".
The recommendations from the “Lessons from Grenfell” programme have also influenced government policy, specifically helping to shape the “Hackitt Review on Building Regulations” and the “Grenfell Inquiry Phase 1 Report”, which reviewed building regulations and the management of high-rise blocks. Recommendations included listening to tenants and advocated a single point of control, technical expertise, and hands-on management for high-rise blocks. This has now been implemented by government.
LSE Housing and Communities had a direct influence on the 2018 government green paper, “A New Deal for Social Housing”, and the subsequent white paper and its proposals for greater community cohesion and empowerment, and neighbourhood management. Professor Power and Dr Bert Provan provided advice to MHCLG on the development of guidelines for tenant involvement and regarding the stigma of social housing, and a new emphasis on the role of residents in shaping change. This focus was confirmed in the social housing white paper, “The Charter for Social Housing Residents”, published in November 2020, where the Prime Minister’s foreword noted: “We’re levelling up this country, making it fairer for everyone – and that includes making sure social housing tenants are treated with the respect they deserve.”