There has been much reported on how this pandemic has shown no discrimination - that it has affected us all and that it is universal.
While true to some extent, the pandemic has also brought to the forefront the inequalities that many in our society face. COVID-19 has significantly affected those from poorer areas with limited access to quality, affordable homes.
The Office of National Statistics (ONS) announced in July that the most deprived areas in Wales had mortality rates involving COVID-19 in March to June 2020 of nearly twice as high as in the least deprived areas. Also, the indirect consequence of the pandemic, and the emergency measures put in place, has also had a profound impact on the most vulnerable in society’s physical and mental health.
Even before the pandemic, inadequate housing cost the Welsh NHS more than £95m each year.
The consequences of inadequate housing are obvious: homes that are unhealthy (for example, too hot or cold, poorly ventilated) can lead to respiratory diseases such as asthma; unsuitable homes (which may be overcrowded, not fully used, not meeting the needs of the occupiers) can result in higher infection rates and increased risk of injury through household activities; individuals in unstable homes (i.e. where there is a risk of eviction or homelessness or violence) are more likely to suffer negative health consequences such as mental health issues, alcohol and drug misuse.
In June 2020, the Institute of Fiscal Studies published a report (“COVID-19 and Inequalities”) warning that unless policy-makers start to focus on the long-term implications of the pandemic, there is a risk that the widening of inequalities in health or education will persist.
The housing sector has long championed that healthy homes mean healthy tenants and communities. The Future Generations Commissioner’s report, published in May, highlighted examples of good practice within the housing sector on collaboration and partnership working. The report stated that while housing associations are not caught by the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, the sector is embracing it and using it as a framework to drive innovation. The projects highlighted by the Commissioner focused on the physical and mental well-being of its tenants.
It is not surprising that this pandemic has forced the question of how we can design and build healthier homes and neighbourhoods higher up the agenda of other bodies too. The “15-minute city” is a concept which is not new but is certainly one that is being considered more widely as local authorities and others look at ways to create greener, healthier, and more sustainable communities. In July, an advisory group which supports the Welsh Government’s Housing and Decarbonisation programme published its Stage 2 report “Homes of Today for Tomorrow”. That report looked at how the nature of the Welsh housing stock could be adapted to ensure that decarbonisation targets are met whilst also considering energy costs and affordable warmth.
Many see the sector at the heart of this pandemic’s recovery. It has an opportunity, by collaborating with colleagues in housing, local authority, health, and construction to push for change that allows individuals to live well in a thriving community. Cross-sector collaboration can sometimes be tricky – there may be different cultures to consider, governance arrangements may differ, the parties may have competing priorities. However, if there is one thing that the pandemic has shown, where there is a will, there is a way.
If your housing association is thinking of collaborating there will be a number of issues that will need to be considered including whether there is a need to undertake due diligence of the party organisation (and if so, how extensive should that due diligence be), what structure should the collaboration take (corporate, contractual, informal or hybrid arrangement), ensuring that there are adequate governance arrangements in place to deal with reporting, decision-making and resolving deadlock scenarios and termination provisions.
The crisis has exposed a broken housing system and there is an urgent need to address this. There is however no quick fix. Recovering requires long term thinking and planning.
If you would like to discuss any aspect of planning for successful collaborations, including commercial or governance issues arising, please do not hesitate to contact us.
We also have a dedicated support page for organisations needing legal advice in relation to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic in the public, social housing and third sectors.
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