By: Leigh Dunbar @Leigh_Dunbar
Housing officers all over the country have gone from nipping in and out of tenant meetings and calling in at tenant’s homes, to long days in their own homes locked down behind a laptop. The ongoing pandemic has forced a physical distance between landlord and tenant, and while many sign up, pay their rent, go to work and live happy, peaceful lives in thriving neighbourhoods, often tenants of community-based housing providers have high levels of engagement: they call into the office to pay rent, raise repairs at the front desk, discuss ASB with a duty officer, or seek help from the finance team, food bank, or support officer. Some tenants we never see, others come in for tea and toast. That’s the beauty of the job. But now, tenants have to call up rather than call in. Offices are closed and nobody knows quite when they will re-open, or what the service will look like when (or if…) they do.
We’re in a strange position as housing officers. It’s a professional relationship with tenants, but we know so much about their personal lives. We are often the first port of call when there has been domestic abuse, job-loss, food crisis. We see the success of new tenants, their work in the community, their children thrive at school. The housing officers I work with across the sector don’t want to lose that relationship with their tenants. We love knowing about their family, their needs, their aspirations. It’s the driving force for how we work and the service we provide.
What would we say to those tenants we normally see so often if we could pop round, or if we saw them out and about? I hope this letter from housing officers to tenants sums it up, wherever you live and work, and that it gives everyone some hope that for those tenants all over the country that need us, we are all still here.
A Letter in Lockdown: From My Home to Yours
How are you? I hope you’re well. I really mean that. I hope that you and your family are healthy and happy. I hope you haven’t suffered any loss.
We haven’t seen each other in a while now. How are you coping? Have you spoken much to your family? Did the neighbours help with your shopping?
It’s been lonely at times, hasn’t it? Frightening too, not knowing how long this will last, or what the world will look like when it’s over. My days would normally be full of back-to-back appointments; some in the office, sometimes I’d visit your home. We’d talk about your neighbours: their loud music, their 2am visitors, their unruly kids. You’d tell me about the new medication your doctor gave you, and I’d say how much better you looked since I last saw you, steadier on your feet too. You’d say you don’t think you’ll need that handrail anymore. You’d tell me that they fixed the leak in your shower, and they’d been to cut your grass too. We’d agree it looked much better, nicer to sit out.
Our services have changed a little. We’ve had to do everything from a distance. I spend my days on the phone, emailing, chatting online, on video calls. I can’t believe how quickly you’ve adapted! We’re further apart, and yet busier than ever! For many, it’s been great to contact us from the comfort of your home: to not have to find childcare, struggle with transport or to get out in ill health. I’m speaking to new tenants every day who are at home in the digital world and find us so much more accessible. Don’t worry though, we’re not leaving anyone behind. We know that some of you need to see us in person and we’ll be right back out there as soon as it’s safe for both of us.
Our office might look dark, the door locked, the shutters down, but our screens are bright! We are all in our own homes. The kids are running riot in the background and the dog is barking at the postman. We are logging in early, finishing late, talking constantly to our colleagues and partner agencies to help you with rent arrears, urgent repairs, emergency accommodation. We’re excited to make things better for you, and for us. We’re listening.
Your Housing Officer
Leigh qualified as a solicitor in 2014, specialising in housing litigation for Registered Providers in England and Wales. It took three hours in the team and one unforgettable witness statement for Leigh to fall in love with all things housing. Any legal ambitions for partnership soon disappeared in favour of working within housing itself to help shape the service provided and the experience of tenants.
Leigh now works in the Community Safety Team at Wythenshawe Community Housing Group, is working towards Chartered CIH Membership and has keen ambitions to become more involved in housing policy and provision.
Leigh’s experience in housing law has inspired her first novel which, like all the best books, remains in draft form in a drawer under her desk…