Hong Kong Housing Authority visits Bromford
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Opportunities team leader Eleanor Box shares her fascinating insight on some recent overseas visitors and how the difference between social housing in Hong Kong and what we offer at Bromford couldn’t be more striking…
When we were asked to host the Hong Kong Housing Authority’s visit to Bromford, we didn’t really have any idea about what to expect. We didn’t have any knowledge of housing in Hong Kong but we were asked to speak to our guests about our approach at Bromford, our relationship with customers and our focus on neighbourhood working.
Our guests arrived in Lichfield with their tour hosts from the Chartered Institute of Housing, who were responsible for carefully coordinating the five housing managers and one development manager from HKHA. We whisked four of our visitors off to attend home visits with our starting well coaches Karen, Sam, Sharon and Sam while Elaine Brown, Jordan Whitehouse and I met with the remaining housing manager (our equivalent of a neighbourhood coach) and development manager.
We took them back to over four years ago when we introduced the Bromford Deal right through to where we are today. You can only begin to imagine the differences in terminology and language we had to overcome but the most apparent thing that came out of this was the stark difference in social housing provision. Saying this, it turned out to be a really interesting and enjoyable discussion. Our guests asked lots of questions and were amazed at the level of service our customers receive, comparing some of the services we provide directly to how they deliver elements of housing services which are supported through their equivalent of social services. They couldn’t believe how much time we spend with our customers and how we customise our services to meet customer and community needs.
To put things into perspective, we found out that within one of their 80+ floor residential blocks they can have over 1,000 people living on each floor and more than 100,000 within a single block. Housing managers have a team of around 12 housing officers responsible for approximately 200,000 properties. In comparison each of our new neighbourhood coaches will be working with around 175 households – so it’s no wonder we are able to provide such a comprehensive, customer-focused approach.
Property in Hong Kong is extremely expensive with the average property price being £400,000 for what we would consider a cupboard and certainly not the standard of living we are accustomed too. On top of that, there is currently a 250,000 long waiting list for housing. Tenants are means tested and have a property for life as long as they don’t go over the maximum household income. This is the most affordable housing option in such a highly populated country with rent being only 10-15% of market value.
Housing managers have to be contactable 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is hard work and long days (managers are contracted to 40 hours a week, but work much more in reality). If a lift breaks down in one of the apartment blocks this has to be resolved urgently, as being 80 storeys high using the stairs isn’t an option and one broken lift can affect 1,000s of people.
Average properties are only one or two rooms, with whole households living in close quarters. There are no homes with their own gardens. All of our guests had lived in Hong Kong all of their lives. They owned their own properties in high rise blocks. In a place where a property the size of a normal three bed house in the UK would set you back over £1m – so space is very much at a premium.
Housing teams in China spend a lot of time managing anti-social behaviour and tenants with mental health issues are probably their most challenging. One of their major issues is tenants throwing items of rubbish from their windows which can be a significant health and safety concern when being thrown from the 60th floor. They use CCTV to track which window the rubbish was thrown from so that action can be taken against the appropriate tenant.
The four guests who went out with our starting well team were buzzing on their return. They were amazed at the time and service we give our customers and as you can imagine couldn’t believe the size of our homes and how much space there was for the families and individuals they met. They were full of praise for the starting well coaches they had shadowed. We ended the visit with a guided tour of the Lichfield Hub.
Though unexpected the visit went really well and it was really enjoyable to meet such interesting people working in the same sector from another country. It also highlighted that we are very fortunate for having the social housing provision we do in the UK and, particularly, the excellent work that Bromford does with our customers. So if you ever get the opportunity to get involved with something like this in your own organisation we would highly recommend the experience.