Housing Studies Association Conference, 2016 edition

by Ken Gibb

Every year I endeavour to get a rapid response post out about the annual HSA event. This is my effort for 2016. Good to see old friends, network and just have space to reflect on what is going on in housing studies. The event was, as always, well-organised and the Heslington campus at York University continues to work really well as our venue (Although more on this below). This year the tweeting was pretty much constant and generally good value (#hsa16).

I think it would be fair to say that there were quite a few rather worrying or even bleak papers presented, not that they were not often also interesting and enlightening. It is just that, as we largely agreed, there is a lot to be concerned about. Cases in point: the impact of welfare reform past and prospective (Christine Beatty), the behavioural impacts of benefit cuts to private tenants (Peter Kemp) and the neo-liberalisation of London (Anna Minton), to name but three of the plenary papers. 

More positively, Bob Black discussed the impact in Scotland thus far of the Commission on housing and welfare. Chris Walker of the Policy Exchange courageously entered the lion’s den to challenge the views held by [almost] the entire audience regarding the housing association sector and how the sector might meet Government policy objectives. Omar Khan from the Runnymede Trust did an excellent talk on housing and ethnicity, presenting a rich array of evidence and suggesting that inequalities will not disappear by themselves and should be a standard part of housing policy. Sarah Johnsen rounded things off analysing the ethical and practical issues surrounding the emerging use of social control on the (rough sleeping) homelessness.

Not for the first time, I found myself in the final morning hangover slot, speaking in the first session on the morning after the conference dinner. I was talking about our recent Housing and Work Incentives project for JRF. Alongside me, Suzanne Fitzpatrick and Glen Bramley did a really interesting quantitative paper in that session about the structural and individual factors associated with homelessness. In Auckland, I recently heard something strongly complementary using Australian data from Gavin Wood.

The general theme this year seemed to be that we are in a difficult place (perhaps a tipping point) for housing policy and provision. Apart from the seemingly increasing adversarial nature between government and the social housing sector, much was made of the unevidenced and often incoherent, rapidly evolving, policy response. Of course, this is, primarily, the story of contemporary England but we must not be complacent on the Celtic fringe.

Mark Stephens spoke at the dinner having earlier tweeted to see if anyone could pass on any housing jokes. I think the general agreement was that there were not any. However, Mark told an entertaining story about the long standing location of HSA conferences in Universities drawing on vacant student accommodation to put up delegates. Could it be that there has been a long-running conspiracy from the HSA board to get us all into the sumptuous sleeping surroundings we all know so well? Does the board have a need for thin mattresses and monk cells? I should declare an interest – I was honorary secretary of HSA in an earlier life so maybe implicitly or explicitly I was part of the process that created the HSA  model that has led us in recent years to happily wander around the Heslington campus at this time of year.  

My most striking memory of the social aspects of the conference? After the dinner last night there was a handy time interval allowing for a drink before getting the bus back to the University. Essentially the entire conference landed on a local pub right in the middle of a pub quiz. The locals were not happy by the deafening change in room volume though I suspect the bar was more pleased to have our business.

While I do not have a housing joke to hand, My joke de jour is still I think worth repeating, here goes:

“A man is walking down the high street at lunch time. He sees a bar advertising ‘a pie, a pint and a kind word for £5’. He goes in and orders his beer and is favourite pie. Receiving his change he asks the barman – ‘what about the kind word?’ The barman replies: ‘Don’t eat the pie’.