Our history

Below you can learn about our history and how 25 years of campaigning on behalf of ethnic minorities in Glasgow became the international charity we now know as Positive Action. No matter what form it took, our work and commitment has come from a belief that everyone has the right to live stable and fulfilled lives free from poverty, homelessness or racial discrimination. We believe everyone should get the help they need in a crisis – regardless of colour, religion or nationality.

30 years of Campaigning on behalf of Ethnic Minorities

Our work began here in Scotland over 30 years ago when, in 1989, four inner city housing associations in Glasgow commissioned research to find out about the housing needs of ethnic minority communities in their local areas. The research was jointly funded by the Commission for Racial Equality and the Housing Corporation in Scotland and followed criticisms of their record of housing people from ethnic minority communities since the 1950s and 1960s.

The criticism cited research that showed people from ethnic minority communities tend to suffer disproportionately worse housing conditions than the indigenous community including severe overcrowding, substandard housing and racial harassment, particularly in rural areas and peripheral council estates.

The resulting report, entitled Race and Housing in Glasgow: The Role of Housing Associations (1989) had this to say:

“If associations do not demonstrate accountability and go beyond the rhetoric of equal opportunities and produce evidence to show that they are serving all sections of the population and not only white residents, … this will inevitably lead to the formation of ethnic minority housing associations.

“… should community based housing associations “deny” equal access to ethnic minority families over the next five years, the demand for this type of public housing could readily emerge. Ethnic minority housing associations will become a reality… and the local community associations will have failed to meet the challenges posed by our research findings. Scottish Homes, unlike the Housing Corporation in England and Wales, has yet no declared policy on ethnic minority housing associations… ”

Improving links between ethnic minorities and housing associations

The research destroyed many myths about why ethnic minorities do not live in public and social rented housing.

The Housing Corporation in Scotland responded with the publication of its first Guidance Note on ‘Race & Housing’. The housing associations involved used it to justify the creation of the Race and Housing Project. The project had two basic aims:

  • to develop better links between ethnic minority communities and the participating housing associations, and,
  • to develop greater awareness in the ethnic minority communities of the existence and function of housing associations.

In January 1992, the Race & Housing Project ran Scotland’s first Race & Housing Conference. This Conference sparked off a debate about whether we need ethnic minority-run housing associations in Scotland.

Taking Action on Housing Inequality in Scotland

Recognising that race & housing was a national issue for the whole housing association movement, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations took over and extended the original Race & Housing Project incorporating the element of equal opportunities. The Housing Equality Action Unit (HEAU) – operating under the umbrella of the Scottish Federation of Housing Association – was established for three-year period.

The Project attracted core funding from Scottish Homes, Housing Association Charitable Trust and Scottish Housing Association Charitable Trust. Comic Relief and the Tudor Trust provided specific project funding.

Working with vulnerable communities

In Summer 1992, HEAU staff visited Hilltown in Dundee. Ethnic minority tenants complained about problems of racial harassment and lack of suitable housing for families in safe areas. The shortage of private ethnic minority landlords in Dundee made it even more difficult for ethnic minority families to live in multiracial ‘safe’ areas. The local housing associations had very few ethnic minority tenants or family housing.

HEAU carried out a series of public meetings in Dundee at which councillors, housing workers and people from the communities, and the media were present. Following those public meetings, HEAU helped members of the communities in the affected areas to set up the Dundee Asian Housing Forum (DAHF).

Before HEAU’s involvement the council had all but ignored the racial harassment problems of its Ethnic Minority tenants. This outreach work brought local and national media attention to the problems of racial harassment against the predominantly Asian communities in Hilltown.

Worried about the bad publicity, the Council set up the Ethnic Minorities in Housing Working Party and changed its missive of let to incorporate racial harassment as specific grounds for eviction. This was the first time, the Council’s Housing Plan mentioned people from ethnic minority communities in the Council’s Housing Plan and in 1995, Dundee secured its first eviction of a tenant for racial harassment. The police also doubled their presence around Asian shops and on the Hilltown estate.

Further outreach work continued in the spring of 1993, when HEAU began work with the Bangladeshi communities living in the Gorgi-Dalry area of Edinburgh. While local housing agencies cited football racism as the main problem, HEAU found that the view of the predominantly Bangladeshi communities in Gorgi-Dalry was quite different. Families complained about the lack of suitable housing in the area. HEAU also uncovered a stark age difference between spouses within the Bangladeshi communities, where relatively young women were often married to men of near-pensionable age. What would be the response of housing providers providing traditional sheltered housing suitable for singles, couples and no more, to families in these situations?

Another major finding was the discovery that every private ethnic minority tenant interviewed had an ethnic minority landlord. Reasons given by the tenants for this were: ‘white landlords do not rent to Asians’ HEAU relayed its findings to the local housing providers, who were prioritising building homes for single people in the area.

The outreach work carried out by HEAU underlined the need to

“focus primarily on the points of view of individuals within affected communities’ about their perceptions of the ‘problem’, and consider the views of housing providers within the context of those affected individuals’ views.”

This plank of HEAU’s work was crucial to the development of Positive Action in Housing Ltd because it was about meeting people in their environment and encouraging community strategies from the people living in those communities, rather than primarily from external agencies.

Spotlight on Scotland to address racial inequality and under-representation of ethnic minorities

In November 1993, an investigation, Housing Associations and Racial Equality in Scotland 1994, carried out by the Commission for Racial Equality revealed that Scottish housing associations came a poor third behind their Welsh and English counterparts in tackling racial equality.

Scottish housing providers lacked racial harassment policies and even in multiracial areas, were under-representative of ethnic minority tenants, staff and committee members.

The Commission for Racial Equality criticised Scottish Homes for not taking enough of a lead on Race Equality and Equal Opportunities.

The Commission recommended that Scottish Homes should devise a policy to support and set up ethnic minority led housing associations to tackle under-representation, historical disadvantage and current racial discrimination in the Scottish housing movement.

In its response to Scottish Homes’ draft policy, “Ethnic Minority Housing” (Dec.1993), the Commission also warned that if Scottish Homes did not make tangible progress by February 1997 to address racial inequality and the under-representation of ethnic minorities in the Scottish housing movement, then it would lead to grave doubts about Scottish Homes’ commitment to setting up an effective race equality policy. It would also mean that Scottish Homes would not be fulfilling its duties under the Race Relations Act 1976.

Falling short of the Commission’s recommendations

In November 1994, at HEAU’s Fourth Race & Housing Conference, Scottish Homes launched its first “Ethnic Minority Housing” policy. Described by Scottish Homes as its flexible approach, the policy contained plans to:

  • Appoint a race equality officer
  • Set up a Positive Action Training in Housing (PATH) scheme, and
  • Target 1.25% of the annual development budget to ethnic minority housing (from 1997), and various other measures.

However, the national housing agency ignored the Commission for Racial Equality’s recommendation to support and fund a strategy for the setting up of ethnic minority led housing associations in Scotland. This was unsurprising. In their responses to Scottish Homes’ draft policy, many ethnic minority organisations described the presentation and analysis of the black led housing associations’ debate as unfair, unbalanced and dwelling upon often repeated and discredited notions of such organisations.

The draft policy put a great store by research and yet more research into ethnic minority housing needs yet appeared to resort to using myths and misconceptions as arguments to invalidate ethnic minority-led housing associations in favour of its “flexible” approach.

Positive Action in Housing: built upon the results delivered by the HEAU

In its three-year life, the Housing Equality Action Unit:

    • ran four major race & housing conferences
    • published several best practice publications for housing providers,
    • worked with ethnic minority communities to develop community-based campaigns and support groups
    • brought national media attention to the problems of racial harassment and unsuitable housing facing ethnic minorities in Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow
    • provided an incisive race perspective to Scottish Homes’ policy development work
    • caused Scottish Homes to develop its first ethnic minority housing policy.

Because of the Housing Equality Action Unit, Scottish ethnic minority communities are actively demanding their say in how housing resources – financed by multiracial taxes – are handled by housing providers and Scottish Homes, whether through the setting up of housing associations or by sitting on mainstream Housing Association committees.

The Housing Equality Action Unit’s contribution to actively raising the profile of and tackling the acute housing needs of people from ethnic minorities living in Scotland has in no way been a small one and provided the foundation upon which Positive Action in Housing was built.

Towards the end of HEAU’s three year life, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations carried out a full assessment of the value of the Unit’s work and how best the remaining work should be carried out, if at all. Following widespread consultation with housing associations and ethnic minority organisations, the SFHA’s Equal Opportunities Working Party concluded that HEAU’s race & housing work was sufficiently developed to warrant the setting up of an independent membership-led organisation.

On Monday June 23rd, 1995, the Lord Provost of Glasgow City Council hosted a civic reception to formally launch Positive Action in Housing Limited – the Scottish Ethnic Minorities Housing Agency.

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