Yoric Irving-Clarke from the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) reflects on the dual features of ‘macro’ policy and ‘micro’ experiences that wove their way through this year’s HSA conference.

Having now had time to reflect on this year’s conference, write a blog for CIH and read Jules Birch’s excellent report for Inside Housing; I am writing this blog for the Housing Studies Association website.

The theme of this year’s conference was housing as a site of “…struggles, politics, marginality and resistance in the contest for housing”.  There were many excellent and thought-provoking presentations from a variety of academics and practitioners – there are always hard choices regarding what to attend and what must be missed.

From the sessions I attended this year I came away thinking about the tensions between the ‘macro’ or housing as policy and ‘micro’, housing as experience. In keeping with the theme of the conference, this has been a source of tension for some time with ‘housing policy’ largely seen in terms of supply, numbers and how much housing is built and where, somewhat overshadowing what is sometimes termed the phenomenology of housing and home – or how ‘home’ is experienced and how this impacts upon issues of identity and self-actualisation.

The opening plenary session touched on both areas with Hazel Easthope (University of New South Wales), Paul Watt (Birkbeck) and Francesca Albanese making the point that homelessness is not inevitable and is a result if inequality rather than deprivation – a fault of government policy rather than personal behaviour. Paul Watt’s thoughts on New Labour’s legacy in the sector were particularly interesting, criticisms regarding the inadequacy of supply during their tenure and the failure of policy in the immediate post-Olympic period were telling. He quoted a young person living in the shadow of Olympic village who said the legacy housing from the Olympics would not be “for them” and so it proved. The presentations also touched on the personal and the concept of ‘home’ and feeling ‘at home’. This clearly means different things to different people and would be a fruitful area for future research.

One of the most valuable aspects of the HSA conference is the mix of policy and practice based papers with the academic. This was reflected in the workshop I chaired, Sophie Boobis and Cuchulainn Sutton-Hamilton from Crisis gave a thought provoking presentation on the Homelessness Reduction Act and how successfully it can achieve a reduction in homelessness given the limited housing stock available to rehouse people are homeless. Katie Colliver (Heriot-Watt) also asked some interesting questions about homelessness and normativity. What concepts underpin our responses to homelessness?  Desert, need, vulnerability, utility, rights and equality were all posited as potential influences. This focus on the intensely personal continued on day 2 with an excellent paper from Lindsey McCarthy (Sheffield Hallam) and Peter Matthews (Stirling) challenging notions and definitions of homelessness from feminist and LGBT+ perspectives respectively. The key message from this being it is as important to feel at home with oneself as it is in one’s surroundings – and this presents additional challenges for some.

Although probably not the site of struggle that the organisers had in mind when theming the conference, the conflict between ‘housing policy’ as a tool for delivering large scale housing supply and services and the struggle for personal ‘identity’ very much came across to me throughout. When we think of policy as a tool for delivering enough affordable, quality housing as a numbers game we miss the personal, how does housing make us feel? How does it form and support our ideas about our identity and what can we do to make sure we genuinely feel at home in our surroundings and within ourselves. Of course, this applied to more than just houses, it affects the ways in which we advertise and provide homes and services, the assumptions we make that underpin services and of course the management of the wider environment.

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