This quarter’s issue contains articles on the following topics:
The National Housing Federation’s Housing summit was held on 19th October 2021. The work of Bangla Housing Association was showcased at the Summit, as an example of how locally based initiatives can help communities recover from the pandemic. The association’s COVID Advice Project, involved Bangladeshi-speaking Health Advice Project Workers delivering COVID advice to 10,000 Bangladeshi households in Hackney and Tower Hamlets.
The pandemic has drawn our attention to pre-existing inequalities. In the Covid-19 crisis, ethnic inequalities have shown up in two fundamental ways: first, through exposure to infection, and second, through the impact of lockdown on income.
At the same time, the consequences of the crisis are not uniform across the community. According to Public Health England, the people most at risk of dying of Covid have been of Bangladeshi ethnicity.
How new immigration rules affect housing and benefits
The first newsletter of 2021 from the CIH and BMENational focuses on the immigration rule changes and how they affect housing and benefits, especially for European nationals in the UK. In the meantime, the countdown has begun for European nationals who still need to apply for settled status – our clock tells you how much time they have left.
The newsletter brings you articles and news items on:
We note with dismay the plans by the Home Office to continue with mass deportations to Jamaica.
With a continuing health emergency caused by the Covid-19 pandemic we believe that lives are at risk, as the UK government are prepared to deport men, women and children to countries where they have few, if any, links having lived the majority of their lives in this country, also placing them at risk of destitution.
We are concerned that the government is going ahead with the deportations despite the findings of the Windrush Lessons Learned Review which highlighted the an institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation at the Home Office. This is now backed up by the Equality Human Rights Commission report on the development and implementation of hostile environment policies which concluded that the Home Office broke equality law and these policies impacted disproportionally upon the Windrush generation and black people validly coming into this country in later years.
We believe that the deportation plans are another area where the systemic and individualised barriers experienced by our residents lead to failure to effectively integrate race equality goals into public policy.
We will continue with our work on providing homes for our communities, building vibrant neighbourhoods and tackling homelessness.
As leaders in our sector, we believe that it is our responsibility to call out discrimination and bias especially where it affects community cohesion. We urge the government to listen to its own reviews and stop further deportations.
BME National is a collective of over 45 housing associations working in some of the most disadvantaged parts of the country. Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) housing associations were set up in the 1970s and now manage over 65,000 homes. BME National also provides a consultative and promotional platform for BME housing issues. BME National aims to highlight the contribution BME housing associations make to successful, vibrant and integrated communities while promoting equality and diversity in the delivery of housing and support services.
Bangla Housing Association, based in East London where there is a high proportion of Asian and ethnic minority residents, recently secured a grant from the National Lottery Community Fund, which is supported by Government, to create a Covid-19 advice project for the Bangladeshi communities in Hackney and Tower Hamlets.
BHA secured the grant, working in partnership with Spitalfields Housing Association and supported by BME London Landlords group of 14 BME led Registered Social Landlords.
In this blog post, BHA chief executive Bashir Uddin, explains the origins and aims of the project.
The Bangladeshi community in Hackney and Tower Hamlets is the largest Bangladeshi community in the country. Bangladeshis suffer twice the Covid 19-related death rate compared to people of white British ethnicity, according to Public Health England.
Research from NHS England, Public Health England, the Runnymede Trust and a number of health think tanks provide a number of reasons for this phenomenon.
They include greater poverty, intergenerational living, being in higher risk occupations, and significantly, poorer uptake of information. All point out that these factors combine to impact this community disproportionately in terms of infection, hospital admissions and death rates.
As the number of coronavirus cases are on the rise again, it is vitally important that we must get the message out effectively because with the right advice we can save lives.
Many in the Bangladeshi community have first-hand experience of those who have died during the pandemic. Personally, I have lost two close relatives due to this virus. One of them was just 44 years old. It’s clear that the messages about how to stay safe have not been getting through.
Working with Spitalfields Housing, Bangla Housing Association will use its grant from the National Lottery Community Fund to launch a project based on following three clear practical steps.
1. Employ two Bengali speaking health professionals for six months who will visit Bangladeshi homes from the Housing Associations and the communities within which they live. The health professionals will network and liaise with NHS providers and local authority teams in Hackney and Tower Hamlets. Their role will be to provide culturally sensitive but practical advice, particularly in advance of any second spike in cases.
2. With the help of the health workers and partners, we will develop a translated leaflet and campaign materials that will be distributed via a range of community organisations, schools and youth associations. The information will be paired with presentations by the health workers, as well as handed out during visits to homes.
3. We will produce a digitally sharable short video to post on the Bangla and Spitalfields Housing Associations websites and Facebook pages for the Bangladeshi community. The videos will be shown at community events including lunch clubs for the elderly in Hackney and Tower Hamlets, at mosques, and other local community groups.
The project will aim to reach most of the 10,000 households and 40,000 strong community across both boroughs. Emphasis will be given to the most vulnerable, including the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
The project will also recruit volunteer ambassadors who will support the health workers to impart information through social media campaigns and undertake awareness raising campaigns in local schools. These ambassadors will, mainly be, young people and local community leaders.
Our COVID-19 advice project starts at the beginning of October and will run for six months.
This is a timely project focused on getting clear messages out to the Bangladeshi community in their first language, which is not a method yet being used to provide targeted advice to an at-risk community on how to protect itself from the risk of COVID-19.
This funding from the Coronavirus Community Support Fund distributed from the National Lottery Community Fund will help us reach those who are vulnerable and at-risk in the Bangladeshi community in East London and get them to realise how serious it is to protect yourself against Covid-19 and the serious consequences if they do not.
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.
By Tracey Gore
It has taken me sometime to be ready to put my thoughts down on paper in respect of the murder of George Floyd and the reverberations that have been felt right around the world, I have been hurting like everyone else.
At a time when we are all dealing with COVID-19, the horrific impact that it is already having on our community, so many of us have lost family and friends to this disease, the restrictions of not being able to visit family, the reality of not being able to be with them when they are taking their last breath is in itself traumatising. The actual confirmation that this disease is disproportionately impacting upon the BME community compounding our pain. Racial inequality continues to harm our health and wellbeing, we have been suffering.
When the video emerged showing George Floyd being pinned down to the floor; handcuffed; knee on the neck; knees on his body; calling for his mother; pleading for his life; hearing his words “I Can’t Breathe” – at that moment, non- of us could breathe. The pain, the inhumanity of the police officers, the casual disregard of another human being, the realisation for all of us to see, that those officers did not see George Floyd as human. Any person with an ounce of decency saw the senseless murder of George Floyd for what it was, murdered for simply being black. The world stopped breathing as the reality of racism, the dehumanisation of black people was laid bare. For the majority of people, seeing him die in front of our eyes would have made them sick to their stomach, for black people they relived their personal and collective trauma of racism, they didn’t just see George Floyd, but every black person who had died at the hands of the police. They relived every negative encounter they had had with the police. They relived every act of racism that they had experienced during their lives, they relived every moment when their child had come home hurt and broken from the racism they had experienced in school, on the bus, in their work place, they relived the talks they have with their children when they walk out the door, the talk about how they have to navigate their daily lives, how to live in two worlds. Every woman heard the cry of George Floyd when he called for his mother, and in that instant there was the realisation that but for the grace of god that it could be my child; it could be a member of my family.
We have lived with racism and discrimination for far too long, our historians have documented it to remind the world. We have lived it. We have for many years been fighting the good fight in standing up to racism, calling it out and demanding change, I stood on the shoulders who came before me, who fought to enable me, a kid from Toxteth to become the Director of Steve Biko Housing Association, every generation opening the door a bit further for the next.
The leaders of this City, public, private and the voluntary sector have been told for years what the issues are and how to fix them. There are enough policy documents, consultation exercises, research reports and reviews to fill every room in the Town Hall. Now is the time to act and to implement change. We have gone beyond asking what the problem is and what do you want to happen. It’s time to act. Taking action to address racism and discrimination is a direct route to the healing process.
What has lifted my spirits in these awful times that we are living through is the way our young people are responding, the way they are coming forward asking the questions, raising the issues, sharing their experiences, demanding change.
Our own staff member Shelique Braithwaite shared her own experiences and thoughts recently on Facebook, the Goddess Project a young black women’s group, have been supporting each other by self-love and debate and discussion, Sumuyya Khadar, artist, CLT Board member and activist has been producing powerful artwork, one of many of our young people, writing and creating powerful thoughtful, inspiring pieces. So many of our young people have been showing up and speaking out, it makes me proud. In times like these I go to my books, I draw strength and healing from the greats, Maya Angelou tells me to Rise, “Out of the huts of history’s shame, I rise, Up from a past that’s rooted in pain, I rise”. Our young people are rising.
I have for a long time tried to uplift our young people, working with and supporting our youth organisations, advocating for change to make their lives better. I have always believed young people are our future, young people will make the change we so badly want to see, we need to support them, to give them the tools, hand over the baton and open the doors.
Our annual young achievers’ awards ceremony has always been designed to give young people rightful recognition of their achievements and to enable them to have a voice, to share their hopes, dreams and concerns, to inspire them on their life’s journey.
Over the next few weeks and months I will be working to open the doors for our young people, to facilitate a discussion with our city leaders, to lift their voices so they can be heard. I ask City Leaders, Chief Executives, Directors, as well as turning the city buildings purple and turning social media pages black, look within your own organisations;how many people of colour do you employ? How many are in senior positions? How many sit around your Board tables? How many are on apprenticeship programmes? How many are experiencing discrimination and it is put in the too difficult to open box. Change starts from the top. It is time to open your doors, pull out the chairs, let their voices be heard. It’s time to employ people that reflect all of us and not just have pictures in brochures. It’s time for racial equality not just in the USA but right here in the UK right here in this great city of Liverpool whose wealth was gained through the trade of stolen black people.
“We have set out on a quest for true humanity, and somewhere on the distant horizon we can see the glittering prize. Let us march forth with courage and determination, drawing strength from our common brotherhood.” In time we shall be in the position to bestow the greatest gift possible—a more human face.” -Steve Biko
It’s our young people’s time. Open the door, pull out a chair, it’s time for change
Tracey Gore is the Director of Steve Biko Housing Association, she has held this post since March 2003. Tracey is a member of BME National, a National Housing Forum, chairs the strategic Equalities in Housing Group for Liverpool’s City Region Housing Associations. Tracey is passionate about working with the diverse communities of Liverpool. enabling their voices to be heard not only in the housing sector, but the wider issues that impact upon their lives.
Tracey will be speaking at a joint HDN/BMENational event on Black Live Matter -details below
The pandemic has shed a light on existing inequalities in society.
Housing is an important social determinant of health, and the current lockdown arrangements have highlighted the central role of the home in people’s lives. Inequalities in housing provision have major repercussions for the health of our communities.
As BMENational we make a commitment to work with partners to address these inequalities. Our partners include mainstream housing associations, central, regional and local government, health authorities and the voluntary and community sector. We reaffirm our commitment to our communities both today and as we emerge from the pandemic.
Read more about our position below.
I want to change a perception which, sadly, too many large housing associations have: “If you’re small, if you’re BAME, you’re not good.” Instead, I want a different mantra: “Being small and being BAME means you’re brilliant.” As the Assistant Chief Executive and Director of Operations of a small BAME association, of course, I would say that. But I do so on the basis of a lifetime of experience.
I am proud that Manningham Housing Association is getting rave reviews for customer service excellence, diversity and inclusion, alongside other areas. In my view, it is because we are a BAME association with a clear purpose of being, a clear social purpose and the foundations of our organisation are built on supporting people who are disadvantaged or being discriminated against. These essential building blocks make up our DNA.
I am sometimes asked, more than 30 years since most were established, is there still a need for BAME associations? The answer is a resounding yes, but I say this with a heavy heart.
When we still have around a third of social housing tenants living in overcrowded conditions, who is going to provide large family homes other than BAME associations? If I had a five-bedroomed house available tomorrow, I could guarantee 50 applicants within three days. Nowhere else in the sector is there a willingness to meet that need. We are also fully committed to neighbourhoods with high levels of deprivation where larger, more prosperous organisations are instead choosing to divest.
Whilst BAME associations have been around for decades, we have had to adapt in order to remain effective. They began emerging during the late 1950s in a small trickle but really escalated in the 1980s during Margaret Thatcher’s premiership. She saw community disturbances, including the Bradford riots, and amongst the key complaints were the poor housing conditions and lack of access to good quality homes that BAME communities faced. The Housing Corporation was tasked with addressing the situation and produced a series of five-year strategies, including essentially forcing larger associations to support and grow the BAME movement through the transfer of housing to them. Unfortunately, we are now much less diverse as a sector than we were back then. The political will to support this new group of associations faded and forced some BAME associations to merge with their mainstream counterparts. However, rather than flourish and be used as “Trojan horses” to positively impact the newly expanded business, many were simply asset stripped and killed off. That is why the diminishing number of BAME organisations that remain must continue on our mission. There is a lot the wider housing sector can learn from the BAME housing sector – they only have to ask.
Meeting housing need is just a part of what we do. As well as investing in bricks, we also invest in people by improving health outcomes, creating educational opportunities and providing career paths.
I left school with nothing. I never had any role models and my teachers showed little interest in my future. My only option was to drive taxis. And then along came West Pennine Housing Association which offered me a housing officer traineeship through the Positive Action Training in Housing (PATH) scheme. That gave me the chance to improve my life and teach my children to aspire. I have one daughter who is a pharmacist and another who is going to university to become a lawyer. If I had not been given my chance, perhaps they would not have had theirs. I would have been unable to give my children the quality of life they now have. 28 years later, I remain forever grateful to West Pennine Housing Association and to my first manager, Julie Appleton. She helped me and guided me. It is an ethos that BAME associations keenly embrace.
By giving one BAME employee the opportunity to shine, an organisation is giving a whole family a chance because their children will have a role model to look up to. And this principle passes from one generation to the next. That can really begin to affect a community on a major scale, with one person having a massive impact on many life chances. When I employ a new manager from a BAME background, my first conversation is to say, “do not forget your responsibilities or how you got here. That is your duty as no one else is going to do it.”
But BAME housing associations cannot and should not do this alone. We always strive in our staffing make-up to be representative of the areas where we work. But we are not compromising on quality. Indeed, this approach significantly improves our performance. Not enough non-BAME associations choose to follow this lead.
I once challenged a speaker at a seminar on practice in diversity and inclusion who said: “Leaders want to do the right thing but they don’t know how sometimes, so I feel for them a little bit.” I questioned this and asked that if leaders wanted to grow their business and did not know how, would she also feel for them? If they genuinely care about diversity and inclusion, they will learn about it. She had a “penny drop” moment and put our exchange in LinkedIn. I respected that. If leaders really care about diversifying their workforces, they must do something about it. They will not succeed if they think “small equals not good” and “BAME equals not good enough.”
By giving opportunities to BAME people which they will not receive elsewhere, they work hard for you, have high levels of loyalty and deliver extremely effective performance. We are good because we are BAME and are delivering the lived experience.
Ulfat Hussain is Assistant Chief Executive and Director of Operations at Manningham Housing Association
This article first appeared in Inside Housing December 2021
Midlands housing association and BMENational member, Nehemiah Housing has kicked off 2022 by recruiting a new member of staff for a key role within the organisation.
Marcia Cunnison has been appointed to the role of Customer Engagement Officer. She brings to the role an extensive background totalling over 25 years in customer service, 13 years in quality management and six years in both the social and private housing arena. Her role will involve driving customer engagement and importantly driving improvements in the services Nehemiah delivers, to modernise and evolve the way the association engages with tenants and importantly, to involve more tenants in co-created solutions.
Marcia is also keen to develop closer partnerships with community organisations and as a Member Pioneer at the Co-Op she has already started to use her extensive community network to develop key partnerships with local charities for the benefit of the local communities in which Nehemiah operates.
The Chief Executive of Nehemiah Housing Association, Llewellyn Graham, welcomed Marcia to her new role saying: “We wanted to attract a talented individual with a vast array of experience to develop our relationships with our tenants and wider communities across the West Midlands. We are delighted, therefore, to have appointed Marcia to this new role. She brings a wealth of experience with her and is sure to play a key role when it comes to encouraging our tenants to play their part in shaping the future of our organisation.”
Marcia is looking forward to the challenge and comments on her appointment: “I believe that the diverse nature of the organisations I have worked with from a private housebuilder to large social housing providers and a major water company has given me an understanding and insight into the needs of people, how these might be met and allowed me to gain many transferrable skills that I am looking forward to using within my new role at Nehemiah.
Effective communications and tenant engagement and involvement for organisations like Nehemiah are more important than ever. With the pandemic we have not been able to do as many engagement activities as we would have liked to. So, I want to make a positive impact on the people we serve and I am looking forward to meeting our tenants, partners and suppliers and really getting to know the business from all aspects.”
For more information about Nehemiah Housing Association, visit www.nehemiah.co.uk
Speaking at The Great Northern Conference in October 2021, Shruti Bhargava outlined the critical role played by Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) housing associations in tackling inequalities in our communities.
Shruti, who is also the chair of Unity Housing Association, stated that the Covid-19 pandemic had highlighted social inequalities including those associated with poor housing. BME communities were concentrated in the areas with multiple levels of deprivation leading to decreased life expectancy amongst the population.
The exclusion of BME-led organisations from power structures had negatively impacted on economic development in our poorest communities. Members of BMENational were at the forefront of levelling up initiatives and were more than just landlords. Particularly important was the work being done to close employment skills gaps and promote entrepreneurship.
Click below to hear a recording of Shruti’s speech.