No Solutions that are not shared solutions
A team from the University of Birmingham led by Dr Chris Allen and Ozlem Ogtem Young have recently evaluated current approaches to Antisocial behaviour (ASB) and community safety by, Peabody, the large London based housing organisation created by an endowment from George Peabody 150 years ago. The report is now available on the Peabody website . This blog reflects on some of the things I learned as a member of the evaluation team.
There seems little doubt that ASB is a pressing problem for housing providers like Peabody. Reading Peabody’s impressive 21st Century Peabody vision and latest Business Plan it is difficult to see how this could be delivered without effective action on ASB. People cannot feel a full sense of belonging or feel part of the wider local community when they fear or experience behaviour that leads to ‘harassment, alarm or distress’. For those of us who see a wider role for housing providers than simply bricks and mortar the case for action to prevent and respond to ASB seems hard to refute.
Yet there are widely different views about why this is the case and what are the limits of the remit or capacity of housing providers to respond to or to influence it. The tendency to include very different types of problem with palpably different solutions and responsible agencies within the umbrella term ASB does not help. Certainly there are higher expectations of housing providers than their current capacity to deliver, and even where they do identify and take appropriate action residents are not always aware of these actions and rarely feel ownership for them. Not surprisingly therefore perceptions of ASB and of actions against it receive almost as much attention in this report as the actions themselves.
The ability of housing providers to act alone is questionable and necessarily limited. This report shows the importance of co-production of effective responses to ASB. Since residents’ perceptions are a key part of the problem, ASB will not be resolved without collaboration with residents in its resolution. Simon Yau, an academic visitor from Hong Kong helped us to understand the ways in which housing provider and resident led responses can interact to co-produce effective and sustainable responses. Moreover, as a classic ‘wicked problem’ ASB will not be conquered without joined up working by housing, criminal justice, youth work and other local partners. Such joined up working can be most effective in concrete projects with a shared purpose such as the Race Equality Foundation ‘Parenting Facilitators’ project which one local authority participant in our study told us about.
I learned much by being part of the research team and gaining privileged access to the views of residents, staff and leading national experts such as the Chartered Institute of Housing ASB Team, the Social Landlords Crime and Nuisance Group and Housemark whose invaluable mapping of ASB and responses provides a national context for this work. The tenacity required by victims of serious ASB to withstand appalling threats and demand responses from housing providers and other agencies was movingly demonstrated by a resident board member who spoke at the roundtable. This convinced me further that there will be ‘no solutions that are not shared solutions’ based on deeper understanding between residents, landlords and partner agencies.
Peabody is to be congratulated for supporting this research and unearthing the extent of difference in key actors’ views of the nature of ASB and the effectiveness of responses. Now is the time for new approaches to galvanise the deep commitment that many of those actors have to resolving the multiple problems that fall under the umbrella term ASB . There needs to be much greater sharing of information and building of understanding between those actors so that residents can take responsibility alongside housing staff and other local agencies for programmes that not only respond to and resolve incidents, but genuinely prevent and divert the problematic behaviour that underlies ASB. Community Investment initiatives must be part of this since true ‘early intervention’ is about creating the conditions for alternative behaviours by potential perpetrators by meeting their needs for meaningful activity. The £750 million that housing associations invest each year in community activities to promote jobs and training, learning and skills, health and well-being and stronger communities is surely part of ‘early intervention’. It is therefore encouraging that HouseMark is planning to begin to assess the impact of these activities on ASB, rather than simply counting the cost of more reactive (but essential) responses to incidents after they occur.
The report includes findings and recommendations that are relevant to most housing organisations. So what are the key lessons from my perspective? First and foremost housing organisations need to think – ‘what can we do together, that we could not do alone’? Listen to residents and give them the authority to share information and power. Work with partners collaboratively by focussing more on what can we each do better together rather than who to blame and who can claim the credit for successes. Be clearer about the different types of ASB and appropriateness of different solutions. And finally invest in communities since prevention is always better than cure.
Professor of Housing Policy
April 19th 2013
 National Housing Federation (2012) Building Futures – Neighbourhood Audit Summary and Key Findings.