Public Housing: 3 Innovative Ideas to Address Tenant Needs

Below are ideas for helping tenants given by 3 speakers at the international public housing conference in Amsterdam.

Idea 1: From Northern Ireland: Supporting those with dementia

The speaker did a good job explaining the increasing needs of elderly tenants.  The presenter focused on how a housing organization can help those suffering from dementia.  Dr. McPeake revealed that in the UK the average age exceeded 40 for the first time in its history, and by 2040, almost 1 out of 3 persons there will be elderly.  With these changes, social housing organizations must prepare themselves for the illnesses and issues that come with aging.  The speaker believes that dementia is one of the toughest challenges to be faced.

In the UK, the costs of dealing with dementia are higher than cancer and heart disease and will continue to climb.   In response to this, there are 3 ideas:

  1. Ensure staff understand dementia: Their agency actually created dementia champions who are highly trained to understand and respond to dementia.
  2. Design and build specifically for the needs of those with dementia.
  3. Build dementia-friendly communities:

Example 1: Hemsworth Court: a place where only persons with dementia live and the design practices allow dementia patients to live and function successfully.

Example 2:  The current wave of renovations of existing stock specifically to help dementia patients.

Idea 2:   Housing Young People: An example from Milan, Italy

Mrs. Zaccaria told the audience that the need for housing for young people in Milan is high and even higher than other Italian cities.  For example, a university student spends 500 euros for a single room within the city.  The housing options provided by the universities in the city are not enough to deal with the demand.

To counteract this problem a few projects have been launched.  A pilot to house those aged 18-30 who study or have short-term work within the city started a few years ago.  The main objectives are to provide low-rent housing, improve skills in public estates,  and overcoming exclusion and segregation by providing a social mix.  The project is taking place in two social housing estates within Milan.  Both of the buildings being used had a high vacancy rate as well as social issues.  24 mini-flats were renovated and 2 public spaces were created.  The rent is 370 euro per month but the young people must do 10 hours of voluntary work within the neighborhood.  This work has created stronger connections between the neighborhood and the inhabitants of the pilot building.

The public spaces are being used to create shared activities for the neighbor and persons within the area.

Idea 3:Supporting Tenants from Paris, France

The speaker of this third portion gave a presentation about innovative policy of dialogue with tenants for a better living situation.  Paris Habitat is the largest social housing provider in France.  Social housing in France is available to the 1/3 of the population within the country who fall under the wage criteria.  In Paris, they are trying to improve relations in-between tenants and staff.  They wish to create a better situation for everyone to have a positive dialog.

Paris Habitat is trying to treat tenants as a client, a stakeholder and a policy maker instead of a simple user of housing.  There are a lot of meetings each year involving both staff and residents.  Paris Habitat create co-funded projects that tenants can control.  The tenants also help decide on renovations and building programs.  They can come into Paris Habitat and request which services they require.  For example, TV, phone and internet services, maintaining a plumber, basic housing insurance.  Every 4-5 years a new board is elected, and there is a 150,000 euro budget per year given to tenant association funds.  To check in with tenants, Paris Habitat does yearly surveys with up to 12,000 people responding.

Ideas and innovations:

  • On site meetings: They try to have important meetings at the various buildings within the portfolio.
  • An experimental project for 10 buildings, 3000 flats and 600,000 euros and tenants get to help choose what these projects will be. The tenants will propose ideas and tenants will vote.
  • Finances to tenants:  Paris Habitat backs resident-led programs and ideas.  For example, there was a fashion week by a tenant association.

The panel did a good job of giving various examples of what social housing providers can do to respond to tenant needs.  One question that I pose to all the readers is, what wider, holistic strategies can social housing providers use to factor in tenant diversity?  How can the industry take stock of the competing problems, issues and needs of all the tenant population and respond in a way that is equitable and fair?  If all the resources are put toward elderly housing, is another group being missed?  These are all questions we should be thinking of as we move our work forward.

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