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Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #88

[Ben ReeveBen on a chair Lewis talks technology…]

Tessa and I did separate presentations at the London and South East Landlord’s Show last Friday in Bloomsbury.

After the show Tessa, her husband the stentorian voiced Graeme and I hooked up with the excellent HMO landlady for a drink, a pizza some gossip swapping and chats about the lettings industry.

Talking the talk

I did my presentation on what councils can do for landlords. I think I had around 80 people in my talk.

armourIt seemed like a bold and interesting idea 6 weeks before, when the organisers asked me for a topic. On the day it seemed like the worst idea I could have had. A TRO standing up in front of a room full of landlords ??? What was I thinking?????? I didn’t even bring my body armour.

Luckily everyone was lovely to me and genuinely up for it, if only councils can get their heads around a different way of providing a service they would find a useful partnership sitting in their own front gardens.

High praise came from one landlord who approached me after my talk and said “You talk just like you write”. I’m hoping it was a compliment.

So what have I got to write about this week? It’s technology that caught my attention.

Time to talk Technology

Tessa and I are big fans of the internet and technology in general, especially where it can be used in housing applications, so I was intrigued to read the blog of Paul Bromford on what he has been finding out about using social media as a social landlord.

I presume Paul works for Bromford housing Association, an excellent and famously innovative organisation.

Social media myths

Paul finds it a bit of a curate’s egg in practice and highlights 10 myths about its use by social landlords. #1 myth being ‘Social Media is easy’, about which he says:-

“It’s easy to set up an account, but it’s not easy to make it work – To engage with customers we used to knock doors. In the virtual world they could be anywhere, anytime. It’s hard work.”

Too right Paul.

As a writer of and disseminator of housing news myself (twitter) I was particularly interested in what Paul says about the #10 myth ‘Social media is great for broadcasting news:-

“People engage with people not press releases. If there is one thing we all have to embrace next year it is putting the social into social media.

The most popular post I have written this year was about the way housing has a tendency to talk about itself rather than create a compelling narrative around the difference it makes to peoples lives. I think we have improved. But we could do so much more in 2013.”

And yes. People do engage with people and I think that’s the challenge of blogging and also the online training work that Tessa and I do. The internet is after all only a tool, like a felt tip pen. It’s being able to communicate the human that makes it fun and worthwhile.

Housing blogs?

On a similar tip Jules Birch who writes for industry magazine Inside Housing covered his favourite housing blogs  among which was Popbitch.

I have to confess this has been a guilty pleasure of mine for some time.  It’s a celebrity gossip site written by industry insiders, full of the most scurrilous rumours that you just know are true and that they could never print in a mainstream paper.

The only problem is I hardly ever watch TV and only listen to Radio 4 or Jazz FM so I have no idea who they are talking about 90% of the time and it’s been a long time since they ran any gossip about Margaret Rutherford, which is about where my celeb watching came to an end.

Blog snobbery

People can be very sniffy about blogs, which I find strange as there are so many reliable and useful ones out there, especially for those involved in housing. Landlord Law Blog is one such resource as is Nearly Legal, PainSmith, Alex’s Archives and a host of others.

I was recently up in front of District Judge Burns, who knew Tessa from years back. As the case finished and we were filing out I mentioned to her that Tessa sent her regards. She brightened and said “Yes I’ve been following her progress and often read her work”.

I said “Oooh you may have read my articles on Landlord Law Blog”, at which her smile faded, eyes glazed over before saying flatly “I don’t read blogs”. Talk about a slap down.

Blogs can be tremendously useful, if it wasn’t for the Guardian Housing Network, a blog for whom I also write I wouldn’t have known about a new data tool that is of use to people in housing to follow trends in the renting world.

Info database coming soon

The Housing Action Charitable Trust (for whom I also train occasionally – small world housing isn’t it?) have developed ‘Community Insight’  an information gathering service which allows housing workers to access a huge amount of data gathered from different sources.

Of interest to those in the private sector is the announcement that access to the database will be available to the public from February 2013.

So the fruits of various surveys and research carried out by a wide variety of housing organisations will be available to the PRS landlord and tenant to better help them too. I look forward to what the database throws up.

Smartphones for the homeless?

This afternoon I attended a conference in Camberwell on how social media can be used to help the homeless.

Fascinating stuff. Someone asked the thorny question of how homeless people can afford smartphones.

I have often wondered that myself but was persuaded by other delegates, more in tune with street-sleepers who pointed out that even those on the street have an income and that smartphones help them find out where possible accommodation is, where foodbanks are operating and can generally connect them up with each other and help ameliorate the isolation that goes with sleeping on the street.

Homeless united

They can literally create twitter networks to cover each other’s backs in case of attack whilst sleeping in doorways, where they are particularly vulnerable.

And let’s not forget that come Universal Credit all access to benefits will be either online or by phone. My council’s library staff tell me that although we have 68 computers in the borough’s libraries, there is always a queue of 10 or so for each terminal as it is, and UC isn’t due in for another 10 months.

Smartphones also allow the homeless to blog and feel they have a voice. So I have been converted by today’s conversations.

Why should we think that essentials for a homeless person should be merely food and warmth? £40 a month for unlimited phone calls and texts, a standard 02 tariff, seems like an acceptable expenditure for the 21st century homeless person, works out at £9.20 a week, to help with safety, food and accommodation. Good use of money I think.

I started off as a teenager working in a direct access night shelter for 1,200 men. They were isolated, prone to attack and had no access to information about places to stay or eat. It wasn’t a good place to be. If technology can improve the lives of our increasing homeless population I personally think it’s a step forward, even if government policies, in terms of homelessness are a step backwards.

Follow John Bloggs (@bullringbash on twitter)  to see a compassionate view from an ex homeless man who has embraced social media to help the homeless.

Ben Reeve Lewis



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6 Responses to Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #88

  1. Social media is only social when people interact. A friend tweets/blogs/posts on facebook/pinterest etc everyday, but never interacts, just posts and runs. What’s the use of that? And, yes the homeless social networking thing is good. As long as hostels recognise need for chargers PAYG vouchers.

  2. Yeah good point. Putting the social into social media isnt always easy or clear cut. This was something that was discussed at the homelesness thing I went to yesterday in Camberwell

  3. Good Blog Mate

    I was wondering the same on smartphones after watching the panorama program although this was a family of 8 with about 4 phones.

    From looking at the comments on twitter a lot of people could not felt if you could afford a smartphone you should pay your council rent!!

    Sadly the Croydon family are a typical example why alot of families are made homeless due to issues with HB (not returning forms etc).

  4. I only watched 10 minutes, it was too much like being at work Pete (surely not THAT Pete Tong?)

    I dont know about you but I no longer use my house phone apart from an open internet connection. BT are rip off merchants and iPhone tariff is far cheaper, flat monthly fee. And 02 Priority Moments can actually get the homeless free food here and there

    Its certainly true that many people in a tight corner need to look closely at what they are spending their money on but like all of us we cant turn on a sixpence.

    I was interviewing a person in mortgage difficulties the other day and pointed out to her that she was spending £70 a month on gym membership. She got really defensive about cancelling it but later relented. She had worked her whole life until recently and adjustments come slow.

    Same happens for the newly single or newly bereaved, getting used to living alone, sometimes we need people to help give us a heads up.

    Also many people just dont understand the forms or the mad, complex system. I work in that area and I have to say, one look at a DWP form and I want to flush my head down the toilet. The explanatory notes need their own explanatory notes.

  5. Nice Blog and yes it is an upgrade from the old Blog (although that was good). Been reading some interesting articles, thanks for the share!




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About the post author:

Ben Reeve-Lewis

Ben is an enforcement officer for a London Local Authority, a housing law trainer, an author on housing law who writes for the Guardian & occasionally pops up wittering away on TV. He also runs Easy Law Training with Tessa & Graeme. Occasionally he sleeps. Find him on Google, and Journalisted. Any opinions expressed are Ben's personal views & don't reflect those of any organisations he may refer to.



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