In the aftermath of Housing 2023 at the end of last month, three key themes from the conference particularly struck me as areas for more detailed consideration.
Getting smart on damp and mould
We’ve all seen the terrible stories in the media around residents suffering damp and mould in their homes, and renewed scrutiny of housing providers from the Housing Ombudsman. However, of all the challenges presented to our sector over the last decade, this is the one where technology could solve the problem.
Damp and mould can be caused by numerous factors including the age and design of buildings, the standard of repairs or residents being unaware of the best way to prevent it. Damp is a very technical issue, one which housing officers may not know the exact cause of straight away; as a former housing officer myself, it was often difficult to work out exactly what the problem was. But with the growth in smart home technologies, we can now take proactive and preventative measure to stop the problem before it starts. Technologies such as imaging, AI and smart sensors can help detect damp and mould by taking temperature and humidity readings; they then create automated alerts to help housing providers get a fuller view across their entire housing stock and then make the most effective interventions.
This is also tied into the green agenda; during Housing 2023, we found out more about what’s being done to ensure well-ventilated buildings with healthy indoor air that also reduces carbon emissions, so ensuring residents’ health and wellbeing sits alongside our low-carbon future.
Listen with respect
Taking the residents’ voices into account is another key issue if we’re going to build the homes and services which people really need. While resident panels are useful, they’re normally only a small sample of the overall resident population. And like anything, there are sections who won’t want to engage because they’re not interested or too busy to make it a priority.
But in the wider world, we’re all used to filling in Trust Pilot reviews or satisfaction surveys; these are very useful for organisations to engage with a much wider audience and get views from harder-to-reach people. This opens new opportunities for housing providers to boost interaction and engagement through multiple different experiences.
For example, when gathering feedback on a proposed new parking scheme on an estate, people can see maps and 3D representations, and take part in online discussions with fellow residents. This will give a more nuanced view. It will also put a fuller resident voice at the heart of that issue, ultimately delivering a scheme which works for as many people and stakeholders as possible.
Often, communities can feel like things are being imposed on them without proper consultation; communication is a two-way street and through online portals, residents can raise concerns and highlight opportunities for further improvements.
Of course, this all links to the new Tenant Satisfaction Measures launched in April: we’re moving to a more consultative approach and making sure that residents’ voices are heard. For example, Teign Housing is looking at the issues which impact its residents and neighbourhoods and using an online consultation platform to ask people what they really think. The housing provider is then reviewing these outcomes at board level and putting the residents’ views at the heart of its decisions.
Spotlight on housing standards
A final hot topic is the question around whether the Future Homes standard is achievable for our sector; the standard aims to ensure that new homes built from 2025 will produce around 75 per cent lower carbon emissions than homes built under the current building regulations. It will be interesting to debate whether the supply chain can adapt in time and also how affordable this is.
Of course, many of us are striving for energy-efficient homes, without any reliance on fossil fuels. As long as technology exists, we can build new housing with the latest technologies to support the net-zero agenda. But it’s retrofit that will be the big issue; how do we convert our existing housing stock and complex buildings with a completely different housing standard in mind?
At Housing 2023, I was excited to see great examples of innovation and new thinking, and I’m looking forward to supporting the sector with the latest smart cloud technologies to provide for residents long into the future.
Mark Holdsworth is the sales director for housing at Civica.