Affordable Housing and Tenant Empowerment-Part I

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For nearly 30 years, Professor David Mullins has conducted research on a range of topics relating to social housing.  He has coauthored a number of books, including Housing Policy in the UK (2006), After Council Housing (2010), and Hybridising Housing Organisations (2013). As a Professor of Housing Policy, he leads the Housing and Communities Research Group in the School of Social Policy at the University of Birmingham. He is a coordination committee member of the European Network for Housing (ENHR), and he will be a speaker at the European Federation for Living’s (EFL) autumn conference in Gent, Belgium.  In anticipation for the conference, held 22-23 November, EFL had the opportunity to ask Professor Mullins a few questions about his research interests, the research group he leads, and what he will be discussing at EFL’s autumn conference.

Question: What topics and themes has your research generally explored in the past? How did you become interested in these topics? 

Answer: Most of my research has been about organisational change in social housing. This may be because my first University project in 1989 was about the transfer of council housing to housing associations in England. Tracking change in the housing association sector defined the rest of my career. Over the years I have widened my geographical focus to study organizational change in social housing in Australia, Austria, China, Denmark, Hong Kong, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain and the US.

Question: Why do you believe housing to be an important subject of research, specifically in today’s society?

Answer: Without decent, secure and affordable housing, it is not possible for families to progress – e.g. through work, education, or community living. Housing is a very important platform for social progress because without it society cannot function effectively. Take the example of high cost areas, without some form of intervention, people on low or medium incomes have no prospect of securing a decent home. One of the key achievements of social housing has, therefore, been to give people access to decent homes in high cost areas.

Question: Tell us about the Housing and Communities Research Group. What issues does it center?  What research projects are going on at the moment?

Answer: We are a small group within the Social Policy School at the University of Birmingham. We undertake research, teach, and support postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers on housing and communities. Our projects focus mainly on responses to housing needs of low and middle-income groups

A simple model we use at the core of our teaching and research depicts housing at the intersection between Government, Markets and Communities. Combining and balancing state, market, and societal influences is the essence of the non-profit housing association hybrid model that has proven so successful in many countries, including the Netherlands and England. Now, however, we believe the balance has become skewed and communities have too little influence in comparison to governments and market actors. This is why we are involved in a stream of research on tenant empowerment and community-led solutions to housing problems.

In England, the old model of social housing as a way of meeting needs of affordable, secure, and good quality homes as a platform for social progress is under attack by both government and profit-seeking actors. Socially driven housing associations can, and do, resist these pressures and use cross subsidy to reinforce, rather than undermine, their social mission. Our research tries to track how hybrid organisations manage these dilemmas and how much emphasis they place on community benefit rather than simply complying with government policies or maximizing their commercial return.

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Part II of this interview will be released tomorrow:

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