Are you a houser?

I am nearing the end of some fascinating work on housing in interwar England (more on this another time…) and quite by chance came across a Catherine Bauer who was highly influential in the US advocating for the poor, recognising the relationship of people with their environment and influencing public policy, particularly around housing and planning. She and her colleagues were known as the ‘housers’. What a great term which is now firmly established in my vocabulary!

In parallel in 1930s London, Elizabeth Denby was key in advocating for the urban poor. She wrote about slum dwellers from their perspective, a radical departure from top down and male dominated approaches of the time, and was the first woman to present at a RIBA conference. With Maxwell  Fry, she designed Kensall House in Ladbroke Grove, offering good quality housing, but also much more in terms of quality of life to its new residents.

But back to the US, and all due respect to their research that helps us understand housing and communities far better, in particular around issues like social capital, architecture and surveillance, defensible space and  the urban environment generally.

The US continues to have some radical approaches to housing highly vulnerable people with complex needs who have fallen outside of the mainstream. To watch a short YouTube film on this click here. Informed by this work, Housing First in England is using a similar model to support individuals and meet their needs in new and innovative ways. Their work has been very well evaluated by respected academics, and to find out more click here.

On the subject of complex and chaotic lives, it was in fact a social worker (interestingly not anyone I know in housing) who first referred me to the biography Stuart: a life backwards, which was also made into a film (and for the foodies amongst you, click here). It seems to me that many of the issues are about housing as much as care and support and I recommend that all my students read it. (As a related aside, there is also a body of research on the importance of the humanities in teaching and learning about public health generally. For a very brief introduction and to access some wider references, click here).

Combined, this shows us once again that housing is an unparalleled cornerstone in people’s lives and on so many levels. That is something that I have never doubted. I do however continue to be amazed and inspired by what people have done in the past and continue to do today with integrity and commitment, often against many odds.

So, are you a houser? Could you be? Could we all do more?

Best wishes, Jill

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