A call to action from Khalid Mair of the Imani Housing Co-operative

You may be familiar with this story, or not so, but let me tell it anyway, over 30 years ago what are now framed as urban race riots took place in the inner cities, up and down the UK, after which came independent public inquiries, and subsequent inquiry reports recommending government investment to redress the imbalance, laying a foundation towards bringing about more social cohesion, a start to creating equal access to quality affordable homes regardless of race or origin.

The narrative of the work of the BME led registered social landlords in the subsequent 30 years is something that so many in the social housing sector are unaware of, and by default goes undervalued. Located at the heart of BME communities, the development of the BME Housing in the UK was inspired by an improbable grassroots community activism that met with allies in the social housing movement. To be more specific, key figures in the leadership of the regulator at the time (The Housing Corporation) seized the opportunity to change the landscape in the housing sector that needed to address indifference towards BME communities. The BME led social housing sector contributed to shaping a new model of social housing intervention that specifically focused on the holistic needs of the resident and the wider community.


The BME social housing sector has always been an innovator. The practice of BME housing in its early years found many larger housing associations soon following its initiative. Within the BME sector, the development of targeted training programmes that sought to develop those within their organisations and their marginalised communities to develop the skills so they could progress, alongside providing the much-needed support to tenants to get involved in enterprise as a part of community renewal and regeneration strategies.  

Effective grassroots campaigning was the driver that shaped a policy initiative that was the BME Housing strategy on a level never seen before in Europe, aiming to create new beginnings in UK history to give BME communities a stake in shaping a more inclusive society by creating their own community facing housing organisations to serve their communities in urban areas. 

Whilst providing quality homes, changing peoples lives, advocating social cohesion across communities in the UK, contributing to significantly to local economies and contributing to the evolving national identity, BME housing not only became a driver within social housing to provide equal access to social housing but continued by its very existence to make a case for social inclusion and supporting diverse communities and the challenges they face.

Where there were urban race riots in the mid-1980s, today we are now picking up the pieces of the global Coronavirus pandemic and the George Floyd protests as a new backdrop where we are awaiting subsequent inquiry reports and recommendations from these inquiries. An unlikely comparison, but one that demands a renewed reflection, at the time where all of UK society was and now again are invested in seeing positive outcomes.

BME communities in recent years have had to contend with and must reconcile the trauma of the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower Tragedy, The Windrush Scandal, and now with the fatalities, and related suffering, not mention the ongoing risks and continued stigmatisation of the impact of COVID-19. As we perceive the possibility of living with COVID-19 in the long term, social housing has a duty to respond in the positive. As BME led registered social landlords we see our duty not only to be positive but be effective with our response. 

Both BME National the UK national umbrella body the BME housing sector, and BME London Landlords (bmelondon.org) the collaboration of 14 BME led Housing Associations in London who came together in 2016 to work in collaboration, have upped the ante to work together and leverage our resources to innovate and do more for residents and wider stakeholders. 

Much activity has taken place, with seminars to look at BME Health Inequalities, Strategy Sessions to identify collective priorities moving. Engaging with local lead cabinet members to partner in local recovering plans, publishing COVID-19  and ‘Addressing Structural Inequalities Statement’ and providing online resources to understand racism, appearing at government parliamentary select sub-committees, advising mainstream HA’s with their plans for BME staff initiatives, consulting frontline community organisations to shape provision moving forward. A clear role coming into view for BME RSL’s is how to access more resources and funds to serve BME marginalised communities. 

Now we join the rest of the UK housing sector and other partners to put #Homes At The Heart campaign to work with and support the government to put quality affordable housing at the centre of the recovery plan moving forward. 

The specific context for BME led housing is that statutory homelessness is having an acute effect on BME communities in London. London had the highest overall number of homeless households in the UK; The current data on the ethnicity of rough sleepers being seen by outreach services in London is 41% come from BME communities. Additional data highlights that BME households are more likely to rent in the private rented sector,  be overcrowded, be on lower incomes, more likely to suffer from fuel poverty, more likely to live in damp conditions, less likely to own their own transport and amongst other disparities that could be mentioned.

The global protests against the injustice meted out to George Floyd, brought into sharp focus the sense of duty for BME London Landlords Collaborative to show the necessary leadership to doing more for its residents and wider BME communities to highlight and work towards addressing structural inequality. 

The disparities that affect BME communities in poverty, housing, homelessness, education, employment, health, criminal justice, social mobility are real and stark. These social determinants as related to BME communities, in themselves ask the question of society do ‘Black Lives Matter’ and, as a society, makes us all accountable to demonstrate we can answer in the positive by ensuring robust measures are in place to reduce inequality in every single indicator. We are committed to advocating for and working in partnership to support work that addresses disparities and inequalities that face BME communities in London. 

As a wider housing sector, we can only achieve this by engaging each other to realise it is important for everyone to support BME communities and create a just society. For the BME housing sector working in partnership continues to be reflected in the success of our business models. 

Now we must take it further, we must reach out to partners we have yet to work with, create more alliances, create more initiatives, we must be bold. Equally housing organisations that are not currently working with BME led housing groups, organisations, community groups must also reach out to work in partnership, they must also be bold. This is how we shape, forge, and drive the changes that are needed. We must be ready for the emergent opportunities that working partnership creates; we must attune our structures to take advantage of the moment that now presents itself.

Now more than ever the importance of working in partnership given the common societal experience we have all had with COVID-19 and are continuing to experience, has created the opportunity for us all to think and act differently. With the impending economic reality we are now being reminded of daily; institutions have no choice but to extract more value from what they have. In order to do this we need to come together as allies. The housing sector has the capacity, creativity, vision and leadership to make social innovation the new reality.

BME London Landlords the collaboration of 14 BME led Housing Associations in London and BME National stand with the rest of the UK housing sector and its partners supporting #Homes At The Heart.

Khalid Mair is Executive Chair of Imani Housing Cooperative Ltd.  provides executive support for BME London Landlords.

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