Organisations are urged to take affirmative action , reports Hannah Foxcroft

People with the greatest housing needs are predominantly black or minority ethnic, the Federation of Black Housing Organisations (FBHO) claimed this week. Yet 90 per cent of black communities are housed by white-led, mainstream housing associations. Indeed, within these 2,000 mainstream housing associations there is only one black chief executive. What's more, not only are black and minority ethnic communities inadequately reflected within the organisations that have crucial roles in their communities, but those who do have jobs are unlikely to find a progressive route in to senior management.

Harris Beider, executive director of FBHO, is consequently calling for all local authorities and mainstream housing associations to address this imbalance, suggesting that one solution would be to work in partnership with black and minority ethnic housing organisations. "All empirical evidence shows that black communities are the most disadvantaged, have the worst overcrowding and the highest level of deprivation," he says. "Because of their background and experience, culture and ethos, black and minority ethnic housing organisations are the best equipped to meet the needs of the ethnic community, not just in terms of housing management, but in terms of housing and racist victimisation and design and build."

Having recently researched this very problem, Salford University has publicly highlighted the crucial need for black people to get into more senior positions in housing associations and local authorities in the North-west. Chris Root, Equality Advisor at North British Housing Association explains that one of the most successful resulting initiatives is the Mentoring Master Class Project which was set up by the Career Opportunities For Ethnic Minorities (COFEM) group.

The classes enable about 60 black and minority ethnic staff from housing associations and local authorities in the North-west to benefit from the experience and knowledge of six chief executives in the region. The demand has been huge and the feedback positive, claims Mr Root.

Although this project is currently limited to the North-west, Mr Root is pleased that the Housing Corporation has cited it as an example of "good practice". She is hoping that it will be used as an example of a successful networking for black and minority ethnic groups - a fundamental part of overcoming institutionalised racism throughout the UK workforce. "One of the main problems with career development is the lack of information and networking people have. Lack of qualifications certainly isn't the issue. It is the underlying difficulties."

Lars Hansen, housing manager responsible for community support at Rochdale Borough Council, claims: "The McPherson Report talks about institutionalised racism being unwitting. A lot of it is. When people interview they tend to select someone they have greater empathy with, someone who perhaps reflects their own values and background." Nevertheless, he adds, it is necessary to tackle this potential danger head on in the way that Rochdale Borough Council is currently doing. The Housing Corporation has highlighted its Asian Housing strategy - in whichthe ethnic mix of the community must be reflected in the workforce - as "good practice". In fact, it is a direct result of this that it is now a national requirement that a town where one per cent of the community are of Asian origin, an Asian housing strategy needs to be in place.

Mr Hansen explains: "The only way we could reflect the needs of the community, was to reflect the local community in the workforce. We can only employ the best person for the job, but it is about making sure that there is a level playing field."

Rochdale hasn't met all its targets yet but is not giving up, as Mr Hansen explains: "If you are publicly committed to something you can't go back and hide, you can't just have it as a document that sits in a filing cabinet."

Meanwhile, the Federation of Black Housing Organisations urges all local authorities and housing associations to "recognise there is a problem and recognise that positive action provides a way forward. It is not about equal opportunities" it claims, "it is about affirmative action".