Blog: My first month at CIH: opportunities and challenges
New CIH chief executive Terrie Alafat reflects on her first month at the helm.
Since I joined CIH in April a lot of people have asked me what motivated me to take on this new challenge. My previous role was director of housing at the Department for Communities and Local Government – I absolutely loved my job but I really care about CIH and what it does so when the opportunity came up I decided to go for it.
When it comes to delivering housing we have little chance of getting things right unless we get things right on the front line. That’s what motivated me to join CIH – the opportunity to lead an organisation charged with ensuring that our profession is equipped to deliver better housing. And I actually started my career as a teacher. I love housing but I also love education so CIH is a perfect fit for me.
My first big public engagement was the UK Housing Awards which felt really fitting. I’m really passionate about what we do in housing to improve people’s lives, strengthen communities, help vulnerable people and contribute to improving the economic and social health of our society. So it was fantastic to hear about all of the shortlisted services which have made a real difference to people’s lives across the UK.
I’ve also been on my travels to CIH Scotland’s base in Edinburgh and CIH Cymru’s annual conference in Cardiff; this week I’m heading for Belfast to meet the team there. I’ve been impressed with what’s going on in the devolved nations.– I want to make certain that as an organisation there is lots of cross-fertilisation so that we are learning from each other across the UK. In the light of last week’s general election results it’s clear that further devolution is firmly on the agenda and CIH’s teams in the devolved nations will have an important role to play as housing policy is developed.
I said at TAI in Cardiff that this is a great time to be involved in housing and I firmly believe that’s true – yes there are big challenges but there are also big opportunities. That has never been clearer as we look ahead to the first few weeks and months of the new government. As a former senior civil servant, I’m still quite limited in what I can say politically until the end of June, but I think housing is going to remain centre stage under the new Government so as an industry we should use the opportunity to get in there and influence the way policies are designed and implemented. Inside government, it is only over the last four or five years that we have had the highest level interest in housing – now our challenge is to clearly demonstrate its economic and social value.
There is a huge amount of knowledge and expertise among CIH’s membership base. I think we can do more to harness that expertise and connect it to the way that policies are developed and crucially put into practice. We don’t represent any particular interest within the housing industry and we work hard to make sure that everything we say is based on evidence. There is something powerful about that and I’m really keen to make sure we get that right.
Our vision at CIH is of a housing system that works for everyone, and right now we have a very long way to go. Millions of people are being denied access to a decent home they can afford. We have got to get more homes built and we have to ensure they are the right kind and in the right places. So as an organisation and as an industry we need make sure we are clear about what works and what doesn’t. Our strength is being able to advise on the impact of policies, to point out why things aren’t working but also to suggest how things might work better.