On 16 March 2023, the Centre for the New Midlands held an affordable housing roundtable at Eighteen, 103 Colmore Row in Birmingham. This was attended by 18 senior leaders representing the public, private and not-for-profit sectors all working to deliver affordable housing in the West Midlands region.
In this article, Gary Fulford (Group Chief Executive, whg) explains why whg joined forces with RSM UK and the Centre for the New Midlands to help bring together a broad range of voices to help map out a collective vision for how we deliver desperately needed affordable housing across the West Midlands region.
A safe and secure home is fundamental to living a successful life and vital to a strong and thriving economy. Yet it is widely accepted that the UK housing system is broken – we are in crisis. Homeownership is becoming a far-off fantasy for many young people and competition for private rented properties is fierce. These factors combined make these housing tenures increasingly unaffordable for far too many and the supply of affordable, social housing has failed to keep pace with demand over decades.
I have spent most of my professional life working in social housing in the Midlands. I know that if we are to fix the system and have any hope of ‘levelling up’ we must look at tenure and affordability, just as much as absolute supply. Research by the NHF and Crisis in 2019, from the Heriot-Watt University, identified a need for 145,000 new affordable homes each year to 2031.
In the Black Country town of Walsall, where whg provides the majority of social homes for rent, we have a waiting list of more than 18,000 households but let an average of 1,200 properties each year. A waiting list almost equal to the number of homes we own is just one stark illustration of how unsustainable the situation has become and the Everest-sized challenge we are facing.
There is no silver bullet to solving a crisis that has been decades in the making. This requires wholesale reform of a housing and planning system that was conceived in another generation. We can and must collaborate, work in partnership and harness the art of the possible to supercharge our efforts to deliver the housing our region needs.
It is against this backdrop that whg joined RSM and the Centre for New Midlands to discuss how we do just that. How do we work together to deliver new affordable housing for the West Midlands and what do we need from our policy makers to make it happen?
The Centre for New Midlands formed with a mission to debate, shape and create a better region. Working with the Centre to bring together diverse voices from across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors to help map out a collective vision for delivering desperately needed affordable housing in the West Midlands has never been so important.
This region is not without ambition. The trailblazing devolution deal negotiated by West Midlands Combined Authority and Mayor Andy Street was announced the day before our roundtable met. It is a welcome step-change for the future delivery of affordable homes in the West Midlands and ensuring decisions are made as close as possible to the people they affect, must be a good thing.
The challenge is clear and the prize is there for the taking. We need to collectively meet this head-on, with the necessary vision and willingness to deliver change. We look forward with passion and determination to working with the Centre for New Midlands and others to play our part. I believe this is just the start of a new chapter where the region can take charge of its own destiny by putting a safe, secure and affordable home for all at the heart of its ambition.
ABOUT OUR AUTHOR:
Gary Fulford has been Group Chief Executive of whg since 2009 and has 35 years’ experience in the social housing sector.
Gary is well connected and highly regarded across the sector and as such holds a number of senior posts on external bodies. These currently include: chair of the National Housing Federation West Midlands Regional Committee, board member of PlaceShapers and board member of the West Midlands Housing Association Partnership.
He has a personal affinity with Walsall, being from the borough, and is a business ambassador for Acorns Children’s Hospice, which has a base in the town.
Gary is a lifelong Wolves FC fan and a keen traveller, both throughout the UK and further afield, including fundraising trips to Nepal.