Black’s Blog: The chief housing officers taking on damp, homelessness and refugee accommodation

Black’s Blog: The chief housing officers taking on damp, homelessness and refugee accommodation

Jimmy Black on ALACHO’s efforts to tackle damp, homelessness and the need to house refugees.

Politicians pass laws, and managers issue instructions, but who decides what actually happens? Ultimately, the people who do things. So you can pass all the laws you like saying houses should be above the tolerable standard, free from damp etc, but nothing will change unless the folks who actually deliver services are convinced and empowered.

We have known for decades, or perhaps centuries, what causes condensation. It happens when the balance of heating, ventilation and insulation is inadequate for the reasonable lifestyle of the tenants. That’s all very well to say…

So we wash down surfaces and paint them with antifungal paint; or install “false walls”; issue advice to keep the heating on and the windows open; and we tell people to keep the lids on their pots. And if the condensation returns, well, we tried, and if the tenants don’t take our advice, what can we do?

In fairness, sometimes tenants do get it wrong. I remember explaining politely to someone that the tumble dryer hose really needed to go out the window. But too often the tenants are blamed when poor building standards and fuel costs are the real culprits.

Housing officers are in a difficult position because the real remedy for condensation is likely to involve significant capital expenditure. As we move towards net zero, and retrofit homes with insulation, problems of condensation ought to disappear. Ironically, where tenants live in airtight, mechanically ventilated homes, the advice will be to keep the windows shut.

ALACHO is the Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers, a kind of support group for bosses. The members share information, discuss best practice and grapple with the issues of how to deal with the hugely challenging issues currently faced by the housing industry and the people they serve.

John Mills, co-chair of ALACHO and head of housing Services in Fife, says the housing world was given a “jolt” by the coroner’s report into the death of Awaab Ishaak in Rochdale, due to prolonged exposure to damp and mould.

SHN editor Kieran Findlay and I interviewed John on the latest episode of the Scottish Housing News Podcast, and he describes the initiatives ALACHO has taken to encourage landlords to help and support their tenants with condensation when fuel costs are so high. It’s part of a co-ordinated effort across the social housing sector with the housing regulator closely involved. Convincing and empowering housing officers must be part of that, as well as educating tenants.

Dampness is just one of the issues John covers in the podcast. We talk about the rapid rehousing of homeless people. That was going well before the pandemic, but now the numbers in temporary accommodation are high and there are not enough available homes. The refugee resettlement programme is another pressure point, and John says that the two cruise ships housing Ukrainian refugees are due to sail before summer, and new accommodation will need to be found.

We also spoke about the recent cut to the affordable housing budget, which will mean fewer new homes for people in need. John welcomes hints that other funds may become available to mitigate the cut, but wonders how the housing sector will achieve the Scottish Government’s ambitious targets.

John Mills was the 2021 winner of the CIH Scotland Leadership in Housing Award, and Fife Councillor Judy Hamilton said: “(John’s) passion and enthusiasm for the subject are obvious every time he speaks.”

Kieran and I enjoyed interviewing him and we both agree with Councillor Hamilton. It’s a good listen.

All episodes of the Scottish Housing News Podcast are available here as well as on the following platforms:

Share icon
Share this article: