The housing challenges in the United States can seem overwhelming at times, with no solution insight. Unfortunately, we are not alone with this problem as evidenced by the discussions at the 16th Leadership Exchange of the International Housing Partnership (IHP) in Glasgow, Scotland, in October.
Started by “housers” from the United States and England in 2003, IHP was formalized in 2009 and has grown to include housing organizations from Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. Each country has a national organization of affordable housing developers/owners that is modeled on the Housing Partnership Network (HPN), a collaboration of 110 of the leading affordable housing nonprofits in the United States. While the policies and practices in each country vary, the challenges are very similar, and there is much to learn from each other.
The amount of affordable or social rental housing varies widely, with the United States and Australia having just 4% subsidized for people with low incomes compared with 13% in Canada, 17% in England, 25% in Scotland, and 40% in Ireland.
After a warm welcome in the Glasgow City Chambers from local officials, the meeting kicked off with a discussion of housing policy issues and trends in each country. High interest rates, high construction costs, an influx of immigrants needing housing, increased houselessness, and higher-acuity residents with a greater demand for support services were common themes.
At the same time, each nation is facing unique challenges and deploying different strategies.
Australia has made great strides with the establishment of the Housing Australia Future Fund and the National Housing Supply and Affordability Council to expand production with $15 billion in grants and loans.
The United Kingdom has had flat growth, high inflation, and shifting political ideology and priorities with multiple prime ministers—and even more housing ministers—over the last few years. The country is keenly focused on renovating and demolishing/rebuilding its aging portfolios, as well as professionalizing the sector.
Ireland’s economy is doing well, but the country has a large shortage of housing and laborers to build it. And, Canadian housing organizations are seeing strong demand for more affordable homes and rising homelessness. There is $200 million in new resources for the preservation of Indigenous housing.
This year’s meeting was hosted by Housing Partnership United Kingdom and Ireland (HPUKI) and held at the office of Wheatley Group, a Scottish social housing organization with a portfolio of 64,000 homes. Peer-exchange sessions were held on workforce and culture, property development and operations, sustainable development and green communities, using data to better serve residents, and approaches to homelessness. Tours were taken of the Sighthill Transformational Regeneration Community, the Scottish Parliament, a district heat pump station, and a construction innovation center. The meeting wrapped up with a look to the future of work with guest speaker Dr. Nicola Millard, principal innovation partner at British Telecom.
As one participant put it: “Fantastic mix of great speakers, conversation on important topics, and really valuable visits. The opportunity to share issues and approaches from different parts of the world was great.” Another attendee noted that we are expert at admiring the problem, but we need to focus more attention on solutions. The sector is indeed expert at describing and documenting the housing crisis. What we need is more work on innovative, collaborative solutions that will move the needle on affordable housing supply. The IHP Leadership Exchange provides a chance to learn from our successes and failures, conduct R&D on good ideas (the Australian term for rip-off and duplicate), and share a common quest for addressing our countries’ housing needs.