Investing in homes and lives

Investing in housing reaps benefits beyond bricks and mortar, writes Wheatley Group Chief Executive Martin Armstrong.

Martin Armstrong

The year had barely begun when housing was hitting the headlines with a new report calling for millions more new social homes to be built to fix the country’s housing crisis.

The review, by housing charity Shelter and produced by 16 independent commissioners, including former Labour leader Ed Miliband and ex-Tory chairman Baroness Warsi, called for £214 billion to be invested in England and Wales over the next 20 years to tackle homelessness, reverse frozen social mobility and build strong communities.

Of course, here in Scotland the landscape is different and we are fortunate to have the support of the Scottish Government and our partners in local government as we push on with our efforts to renew and transform our housing stock.

But wherever you are from in the UK, your life chances are shaped by the home you are from. Poor quality and insecure housing continues to be associated with low levels of educational achievement, poor health, poverty and yawning inequality.

That’s one of the reasons why, since its creation in 2003, GHA, now part of Wheatley Group, has invested in social and affordable homes on an enormous scale, transforming the skyline of Scotland’s biggest city and the lives of people who live here.

In fact, since Glasgow’s council housing stock was transferred to GHA in 2003, we have invested £1.6 billion upgrading more than 70,000 homes, £285 million building new affordable housing in the city; and almost £70 million on community infrastructure. We have built more than 2,485 new homes, have another 957 under construction and there are 1,400 more in the pipeline. A further £45 million has been invested in community regeneration, supporting and improving the well-being of tenants, some of whom are among Glasgow’s most vulnerable people.

And just last week, a study by the influential Fraser of Allander Institute found that this investment was reaping rewards, not just for the people who live in our homes but for the country as a whole.

In fact, they found GHA had contributed a massive £2bn to the Scottish economy and created nearly 2,500 jobs every year since 2003.

If proof were needed of the value to our society of investing in social housing then this is it.

What the Fraser of Allander report shows beyond any doubt is that housing associations like GHA can be a powerhouse for our economy, improving housing and the lives and life chances of thousands of people.

Wheatley has built on the work of GHA and is now the largest developer of social-rented homes in the UK. From 2021 to 2025, we plan to sustain a house-building programme of up to 650 homes a year that would take the total number built between 2015 and 2025 to over 7500.

It is an enormous opportunity to drive forward further with the social change we want to see, tackling poverty and disadvantage in our communities.

Vitally, we will ensure that people in our communities who most need help will benefit from that investment, taking on jobs and training places and enjoying being part of a flourishing community. It is not so much trickle-down economics as a ladder that can help the people who need it most out of poverty.

Already our charitable trust, the Wheatley Foundation, has taken great strides to tackle poverty and disadvantage from the ground up. Our Modern Apprenticeship programme, which has helped scores of our tenants and their children take their first steps on the career ladder, the Wheatley Pledge and our community benefits projects that ensure our projects directly benefit our communities, and our bursary programme which has helped more than 100 of our customers go to university or college are all playing their part. Of course, people getting into work and out of debt, improved health and wellbeing, and secure, stable accommodation all represent huge savings to the public purse as well.

The Fraser of Allander report into GHA’s £2 billion contribution to the economy is a timely reminder that investing in housing reaps benefits way beyond the bricks and mortar.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019