Chat with Mark Henderson

December 8th, 2015 by Home Group Client, Jess in Features

Mark Henderson

Home Group client Jess chats to Home Group’s Chief Executive, Mark Henderson about housing, cuts to mental health budgets and student accommodation.

Jess: What do you think led to the housing crisis and why did it take so long to be recognised as such an important issue?
Mark: Bottom line, there’s 1.8 million people on the housing waiting list in the UK. It’s been like that for decades and has just got worse and worse. The problem is that we’ve never built enough houses. I think we need to build something like 245,000 houses each year in this country to meet demand and I think in the last year we built something like 140,000 - so that’s 100,000 less than we needed. So because we are not building enough, the house prices go through the roof. If you build more houses, house prices will inevitably become more affordable.
Everyone will tell you that the country is being covered with houses, but there is more space being used for golf courses in this country than there is for houses would you believe.

Jess: You have been involved in the Homes for Britain campaign. What else does Home Group do to redress the Housing crisis?’
Mark: Well, one thing we can do is make the case for more houses and be part of the campaign that counters the idea that building houses destroys the countryside etc. We also have to do our own bit and build more houses ourselves. We (Home Group) built about 1,500 new homes last year, we will build about the same this year and we want to build even more. Some of that will be for sale, some for affordable rent and some a variety of tenures like flexible rent and that sort of thing, where we provide a range of affordability levels for households on a variety of incomes. So there’s a bit about lobbying government and a bit about putting your cash where your mouth is and simply building more houses

Jess: A lot of programmes seem to focus on helping people become homeowners, like ‘Help to Buy’ or ‘Right to Buy’. Shouldn’t there be equal focus on providing affordable and stable renting opportunities?
Mark: It’s a difficult one, do you want to own your own home?

Jess: Yes, one day
Mark: Well I guess that’s where everything starts. You’ve got this new government, and they are saying they want people to be able to own their own home, which is why you’ve got things like Right to Buy coming in to help people buy their own house. That said, it’s pretty damn hard to buy your own house. So there has to be rented properties as well and they have to get the balance right. If we address the housing crisis, start building more homes each year and make houses more affordable, then the idea of owning your own home will become more realistic for more people.

Jess: How do the spending cuts in mental health services impact on Home Group’s service delivery. How can we work with those challenges?’
Mark: That’s a tough one because we can’t run services at a loss as we’d just go bankrupt. I think one thing we need to do to help us support our own mental health services is to be as efficient as we possibly can. So investing in the organisation’s IT, sorting out repairs and maintenance of our properties and that sort of thing, and making Home Group as efficient as it possibly can be is one of the things we can do.
Regarding mental health specifically, two things can happen. Firstly, when I was in Norwich I saw our project workers there working with clients on mental health wards to help get them off the ward and back into their home, back to independence. On the one hand, this is an opportunity for Home Group to help out where the cuts are impacting, because supporting clients in this way and encouraging independence will save the NHS a fortune. People often stay in mental health wards simply because they have nowhere else to go. This is where the housing sector can step in and provide support.
However, in Norwich there were previously five mental health wards just five years ago, and there’s now only one. That means there are potentially four wards of people with mental health issues who are now on the streets or in their own home and not under the supervision of qualified mental health staff. At this level, we have to ensure we have the necessary skills to manage low level mental health issues as we see more and more clients with complex needs and vulnerabilities. So it’s a good opportunity for us to help.

Jess: In Oxford we have to compete with students among others for private accommodation. How can Home Group help us to increase our chances for move-on?
Mark: It’s not just Oxford where that problem exists. Right across the country, developers of student accommodation are paying well over the odds, which is driving out residential homes. We need to be pretty imaginative with our partnerships with local councils, working with them to use public land for affordable housing to avoid us getting into a bidding war to buy land – which inevitably prices out affordable housing.. So it’s about making the best use of public land and the best use of our current buildings. We need to maximise the use of what we’ve already got to help our customers and clients find affordable housing. But it’s incredibly hard.

Read more from Mark by visiting his blog.