Monday, January 21, 2008

Lessons from Ujima?

The demise of Ujima, the UK’s largest black and minority ethnic (BME) housing association has not had much coverage beyond some discussion in the Guardian and its blog (and, of course, Inside Housing). You might expect it to be bigger news – as Patrick Butler asks “Is this the housing sector's Northern Rock?”

For me Ujima raises three sets of questions:

1) How does this affect the social housing sector in the eyes of lenders? The Housing Corporation says that we do not need to worry. Yet this is the first housing association to go bust. Lenders are looking for safe harbours after the credit crunch. Is social housing as safe as they thought?

2) The related question – how good is regulation? The conventional wisdom (that I share) is that the Housing Corporation’s financial monitoring is generally good. Perhaps we need to check out lessons from Ujima. But we should not fall into the sloppy reasoning of presuming that because something went wrong therefore something was wrong. Bad things can happen even with good regulation.

3) Does this symbolise broader changes in thinking? In particular, why is the BME brand of Ujima being binned? What does this mean for organisational ethos? Over recent years “multiculturalism” has become taboo for much of the political class. Likewise, the discourse of cohesion has shifted towards an emphasis on the problem being inter-cultural ignorance rather than inequality and discrimination. For me, this was typified by the film American film Crash which I suspect was popular with British policy-makers. It seems to me contradictory and sad that when there is so much talk of co-production and community empowerment, black leadership and self-help seems to fallen out of favour.

Any answers?

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