What will tenants seek post-Covid?

Stuart Nicholson of Marley explores new research on the way Covid experiences have altered the views of social housing residents when it comes to their homes and the surrounding area

The Government has clearly pinpointed the nation’s housing stock as a key enabler in helping to meet its 2035 UK emissions reduction target. Better energy performance from homes, alongside more sustainable living standards and the promotion of greener living spaces, are priorities to tackle the delivery of acceptable and sustainable housing and wider communities.

This ongoing challenge facing social housing providers is set against the backdrop of increased regulatory demands enshrined in both the Future Homes Standard and the recent publication of the Social Housing White Paper. The latter provides a charter for social housing tenants that sets out seven key commitments they can expect from their landlords. In addition, it places the onus on the providers of social housing properties to ensure they meet the expectations as laid down by governing bodies. The obligations include a social housing tenants’ right to be safe in their home, as well as laying out the landlord’s responsibility to ensure the home is kept in good repair.

A year like no other

The social housing tenant experience of the past 12 months has seen many refocus on their homes and communities. Restrictions and health concerns have forced large numbers to spend long periods of time in their houses, with many reappraising attitudes and forming fresh views when it comes to what they think about their home, their surroundings and what is important to them.

Recent research from Marley looked to unearth the main priorities for tenants around issues such as home improvements, building fabric quality, local community engagement, and views on government and sustainability. Such knowledge can act as a helpful guide for social housing providers to ensure they are delivering in the key areas that matter to their tenants going forward.

The home

For most social housing tenants, the quality of their property is key. More than half (55%) of those questioned wanted priority given to better standards with, for example, no expectation of having to live with or endure damp conditions. Nearly half (48%) of tenants say they are seeking high quality buildings in which to live with an emphasis on the building fabric and the roof.

Against the pandemic background of the past year, more than a third of social housing tenants have undertaken some form of home improvement, with 54% admitting they were seeking ‘general’ improvement to their living spaces. This has included decisions to upgrade garden spaces, as well as enhance busy kitchen and bathroom areas with some form of redecoration.

In a clear and long-term warning to social housing providers, nearly a fifth say their attitude to wanting to improve their homes and living spaces has ‘strengthened’ over the past 12 months, while nearly one in five tenants say the Covid experience has made them want to move out of their current dwelling. This points to a growing degree of volatility and perhaps dissatisfaction that providers should be aware of.

Government and sustainability

Social housing tenants – like private renters – believe sustainability objectives need to be invested in, and they are looking to landlords to deliver the answers. In fact, 28% think that sustainability and energy efficiency measures are important when it comes to their home, and one in ten said this had become ‘more important’ to them over the past year.

Recycling, turning off appliances, limiting water wastage, and limiting heating are among the top sustainable actions social housing tenants are taking, and nearly one in ten say their landlord or housing association is actively considering the installation of green energy efficiency measures such as solar PV.

Home safety expectation

One clear message from tenants is the rightful expectation that the property they inhabit is safe and secure, including effective protection from the potential threat posed by hidden roof fires. Indeed, home safety is one of the seven key commitments set out in the Social Housing White Paper.

Building regulations require that new homes be built with fire protection measures to delay the spread of fire and allow crucial time to escape. So, when a roof is compartmentalised between adjoining homes, fire barriers are seen as an integral safety feature to prevent the spread of flames and smoke in case of a fire.

Recent Reports from the BRE and BBC Watchdog have raised concerns that some modern homes could have inadequate, incorrectly installed and, in some cases, no fire barriers at all. In terraced or semi-detached properties, this increases the risk that fire could spread rapidly through roof voids from one home to the next. The findings are relevant for social housing portfolios overseen by housing associations, with specifiers commonly presuming that fire barriers are present and installed properly on completed properties.

It is important that social housing providers investigate new product solutions that can counteract the threat of hidden fires spreading in the roof space. Fire barrier installations that offer guaranteed protection against the spread of hidden roof fires are available.

With social housing tenants clearly expressing a desire to see the creation of better standards for the fabric of the homes they have been forced to spend more time in than ever before, it is incumbent upon those overseeing the safety, security, and standard of social housing provision to ensure such expectations are met.

A copy of Marley’s research contained in a new report ‘Raising the roof: Homes and communities in a post-Covid UK’ can be downloaded on its website.

Stuart Nicholson is roof systems director from Marley